Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

The War Logs: Afghanistan and Iraq

Unmanned MQ-9 Reaper Drone in flight
Unmanned MQ-9 Reaper Drone in flight

The month before the sex scandal, Assange and WikiLeaks had released over 70,000 documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan in embargo to The New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel.

Among the revelations—the Taliban was being hunted from afar via Reaper drones. The unmanned aircraft were being operated remotely from a base in Nevada. The logs revealed that those suspected to be members of the Taliban were being captured and killed without a trial.

And unsurprisingly, the logs revealed that civilian deaths were higher than previously thought. Wrote The Guardian: "The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed "blue on white" in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents."

James Jones
James Jones

Perhaps the most embarrassing part of the Afghanistan leaks was the information that Pakistan was friendlier with the Taliban than previously believed. The U.S. reaction to the leaks was hostile. White House National Security Advisor James Jones released a statement: "The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which 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."

Somewhere, Julian Assange was not amused.

He fired back, telling The Guardian: "We are familiar with groups whose abuse we expose attempting to criticize the messenger to distract from the power of the message."

"We don't see any difference in the White House's response to this case to the other groups that we have exposed. We have tried hard to make sure that this material does not put innocents at harm. All the material is over seven months old so is of no current operational consequence, even though it may be of very significant investigative consequence."

In October, building on its Afghanistan documents, WikiLeaks released what it called its Iraq War logs. Without the context of reporting from the news organizations that were leaked the logs, such as The New York Times and Der Spiegel, the war logs themselves are written in seemingly indecipherable shorthand, loaded with military jargon and acronyms. But a closer read reveals more details about the two wars than had previously been reported.

Among the biggest revelations: the tally of civilian deaths was possibly much higher than had been previously reported. The new number came courtesy of a close reading of the docs by Iraq Body Count, a London-based groups that had been poring over the documents for over two months.

Worse still, the logs revealed that civilians—as many as 152—had been gunned down at checkpoints.

On IraqWarLogs.com, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism notes: "Through an extensive manual count, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal that 681, more than 80 per cent of those killed in similar incidents, were civilians. Fifty families were shot at and at least 30 children reported killed. In contrast, only 120 insurgents died in checkpoint incidents in the same period."

The logs exposed that the bodies had been dumped around Baghdad and many of those found had been subject to extreme forms of torture.

Geoff Morrell
Geoff Morrell

In Iraq, the WikiLeaks documents indicated that the Iraqi police force and army was behaving in abusive ways toward its prisoners—calling into question whether or not the forces in Iraq were truly equipped to run their own country. Prisoners were found to have injuries from beatings: bruises and burns and worse. Electrical cables were used to slash prisoner's feet. In all-caps, the report plainly stated: "Many of them bear marks of abuse to include cigarette burns, bruising consistent with beatings and open sores. Many of the detainees are cousin and are being described as walking wounded..." According to one of the detainees questioned on-site, 12 detainees have died of disease in recent weeks."

The U.S. government released a statement condemning the leaks. Said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell:

"We know our enemies will mine this information, looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment. This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, though, wasn't so sure. Indeed, after each of the WikiLeaks data dumps, he issued statements that were not so much denunciations, as much as a "so what?"

He wrote a letter to Democrat Carl Levin, head of the armed services committee: "Our initial review indicates most of the information contained in these documents relates to tactical military operations. The initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security; however, the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure."

 

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