Leaked United States military reports from Afghanistan appear to contain “evidence of war crimes,” the man who published them said Monday.
WikiLeaks.org – a whistleblower website – published what it says are about 75,000 United States military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year. It has another 15,000 documents which it plans to publish after editing out names to protect people, according to Julian Assange, the founder of the website. The first-hand accounts are the military’s own raw data on the war, including numbers of those killed, casualties, threat reports and the like, he said. “The material does not leave anyone smelling like roses, especially the Taliban,” he said, also implying that some U.S. troops had behaved improperly.
The leaked documents comprise “the total history of the Afghan war from 2004 to 2010, with some important exceptions – U.S. Special Forces, CIA activity, and most of the activity of other non-U.S. groups,” Assange said. (CNN) He claims the documents reveal the “squalor” of the war, uncovering how many relatively small incidents have added up to huge numbers of dead civilians. The significance lies in “all these people being killed in the small events that we haven’t heard about that numerically eclipse the big casualty events. It’s the boy killed by a shell that missed a target,” he told CNN before the reports were published. “What we haven’t seen previously is all those individual deaths,” he said. “We’ve seen just the number and, like Stalin said, ‘One man’s death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic.’ So we’ve seen the statistic.” (CNN)
CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The United States “strongly condemned” their release. Pakistani officials dismissed the contents as lies, and the Afghan government expressed amazement. “The Afghan government is shocked with the report that has opened the reality of the Afghan war,” said Siamak Herawi, a government spokesman. (CNN)
The New York Times reported Sunday that military field documents on WikiLeaks suggest that Pakistan, an ally of the United States in the war against terror, has been running something of a “double game.” Pakistan has been allowing “representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in the secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders,” said the newspaper, which had access to the documents in advance.
Herawi focused on the allegation that Pakistan was secretly supporting al-Qaeda, and charged that Washington needed to deal with Pakistani intelligence, known as the ISI. “There should be serious action taken against the ISI, who has a direct connection with the terrorists,” he said. “These reports show that the U.S. was already aware of the ISI connection with the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The United States is overdue on the ISI issue and now the United States should answer.” (CNN)
But Gen. Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service who is mentioned numerous times in the WikiLeaks reports, called the accusations lies. “These reports are absolutely and utterly false,” Gul said Monday. “I think they [United States] are failing and they’re looking for scapegoats.” (CNN)
Senator Jeff Sessions, a conservative Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said suggestions that even rogue elements of the ISI were seeking to confound the U.S. war effort were troubling. “That would be very disturbing if they were participating in strategies to fight U.S. soldiers. It would be unacceptable,” Sessions told reporters. (Reuters)
Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan’s federal information minister, said allegations against the ISI are “baseless. If someone has any evidence, it should be brought to us and we will take action,” he said. “The Pakistani military, especially the ISI, has sacrificed more than any other forces in the war on terrorism.” (CNN)
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit dismissed the reports as “far-fetched and skewed… If anything these betray the lack of understanding of the complexities involved,” Basit said. “Pakistan’s constructive and positive role in Afghanistan cannot be blighted by such self-serving and baseless reports.” (Reuters)
A spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Farahnaz Ispahani, said the “unsubstantiated leaks” based on uncorroborated “one-sided reports… will not deter the Pakistani government’s commitment to the eradication of terrorism, peace with our neighbors and stability in the region.” (CNN)
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on Monday downplayed the documents’ release, saying many of the reports are based on conjecture and rumour. “Some of these have already been proved wrong in the past, and some are just hearsay or statements by individuals,” Husain Haqqani said. “The fact of the matter is, this is routine and I don’t think as big a deal as it’s being made out to be.” (CBC)
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon slammed the documents’ release, saying it could endanger the lives of Canadian Forces serving in Afghanistan. In a statement, U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones said the release “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security… These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.” (CBC)
WikiLeaks has previously made headlines for posting controversial videos of combat in Iraq. The site gained international attention in April when it posted a 2007 video said to show a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq killing a dozen civilians, including two unarmed Reuters journalists.
At the time, Maj. Shawn Turner, a U.S. military spokesman, said that “all evidence available supported the conclusion by those forces that they were engaging armed insurgents and not civilians.” (CNN)
Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, suspected of leaking a classified 2007 video, has been charged by the U.S. military with eight violations of the U.S. Criminal Code for transferring classified data, according to a charge sheet released by the military earlier this month. Attempts to reach Manning’s military defence attorney, Capt. Paul Bouchard, were unsuccessful Sunday. However, U.S. Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins has said Bouchard would not speak to the media about the charges.
Assange says WikiLeaks has attempted to put together a legal team to defend Manning, something it will do for any “alleged” whistleblower that runs into legal trouble because of WikiLeaks. Assange – a former teen hacker who launched the site in 2007 – denies that WikiLeaks has put troops in danger. “There certainly have been people who have lost elections as a result of material being on WikiLeaks,” he said. “There have been prosecutions because of material being on WikiLeaks. There have been legislative reforms because of material being on WikiLeaks,” he said. “What has not happened is anyone being physically harmed as a result.” But he said he hoped his website would be “very dangerous” to “people who conduct wars in an abusive ways.” (CNN) Assange said the organization gets material from whistleblowers in a variety of ways – including via postal mail – vets it, releases it to the public and then defends itself against “the regular political or legal attack.” (CNN) He said the organization rarely knows the identity of the source of the leak. “If we find out at some stage, we destroy that information as soon as possible,” he said. (CNN)
The latest documents cover the period from January 2004 to December 2009. The information is not new for anyone who’s been tracking the conflict, military analyst Mercedes Stephenson told CBC News. But Stephenson said some of the information contained in the documents, including times and dates of attacks, damage to vehicles and number of injured, could pose a risk to NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. “There is a reason certain information is not released by coalition forces and it’s because it allows the Taliban to judge the success of… or to figure out coalition tactics,” Stephenson said. “And that jeopardizes soldiers’ lives.” (CBC)
The United States has repeatedly urged Pakistan to hunt down militant groups, including some believed to have been nurtured by the ISI as strategic assets in Afghanistan and against arch-rival India. Islamabad says it is doing all it can to fight the militancy, adding that it was a victim of terrorism itself. Last month was the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001, with more than 100 killed, and civilian deaths have risen as ordinary Afghans are increasingly caught in the cross-fire.