Only we could pretend we did not know. Only we in the West could counter every claim, every allegation against the Americans or British with some worthy general the ghastly US military spokesman Mark Kimmitt and the awful chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, come to mind to ring-fence us with lies. Find a man who'd been tortured and you'd be told it was terrorist propaganda; discover a house full of children killed by an American air strike and that, too, would be terrorist propaganda, or "collateral damage", or a simple phrase: "We have nothing on that."
Of course, we all knew they always did have something. And yesterday's ocean of military memos proves it yet again. Al-Jazeera has gone to extraordinary lengths to track down the actual Iraqi families whose men and women are recorded as being wasted at US checkpoints I've identified one because I reported it in 2004, the bullet-smashed car, the two dead journalists, even the name of the local US captain and it was The Independent on Sunday that first alerted the world to the hordes of indisciplined gunmen being flown to Baghdad to protect diplomats and generals. These mercenaries, who murdered their way around the cities of Iraq, abused me when I told them I was writing about them way back in 2003.
It's always tempting to avoid a story by saying "nothing new". The "old story" idea is used by governments to dampen journalistic interest as it can be used by us to cover journalistic idleness. And it's true that reporters have seen some of this stuff before. The "evidence" of Iranian involvement in bomb-making in southern Iraq was farmed out to The New York Times's Michael Gordon by the Pentagon in February 2007. The raw material, which we can now read, is far more doubtful than the Pentagon-peddled version. Iranian military material was still lying around all over Iraq from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and most of the attacks on Americans were at that stage carried out by Sunni insurgents. The reports suggesting that Syria allowed insurgents to pass through their territory, by the way, are correct. I have spoken to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers whose sons made their way to Iraq from Lebanon via the Lebanese village of Majdal Aanjar and then via the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to attack the Americans.
Baghdad in flames in 2003 (Getty Images)
But, written in bleak militarese as it may be, here is the evidence of America's shame. This is material that can be used by lawyers in courts. If 66,081 I loved the "81" bit is the highest American figure available for dead civilians, then the real civilian mortality score is infinitely higher since this records only those civilians the Americans knew of. Some of them were brought to the Baghdad mortuary in my presence, and it was the senior official there who told me that the Iraqi ministry of health had banned doctors from performing any post-mortems on dead civilians brought in by American troops. Now why should that be? Because some had been tortured to death by Iraqis working for the Americans? Did this hook up with the 1,300 independent US reports of torture in Iraqi police stations?
The Americans scored no better last time round. In Kuwait, US troops could hear Palestinians being tortured by Kuwaitis in police stations after the liberation of the city from Saddam Hussein's legions in 1991. A member of the Kuwaiti royal family was involved in the torture. US forces did not intervene. They just complained to the royal family. Soldiers are always being told not to intervene. After all, what was Lieutenant Avi Grabovsky of the Israeli army told when he reported to his officer in September 1982 that Israel's Phalangist allies had just murdered some women and children? "We know, it's not to our liking, and don't interfere," Grabovsky was told by his battalion commander. This was during the Sabra and Chatila refugee camp massacre.
The quotation comes from Israel's 1983 Kahan commission report heaven knows what we could read if WikiLeaks got its hands on the barrels of military files in the Israeli defence ministry (or the Syrian version, for that matter). But, of course, back in those days, we didn't know how to use a computer, let alone how to write on it. And that, of course, is one of the important lessons of the whole WikiLeaks phenomenon.
A car bambing in Baghdad in 2006(Sudd.Verlag/AP)
Back in the First World War or the Second World War or Vietnam, you wrote your military reports on paper. They may have been typed in triplicate but you could number your copies, trace any spy and prevent the leaks. The Pentagon Papers was actually written on paper. You needed to find a mole to get them. But paper could always be destroyed, weeded, trashed, all copies destroyed. At the end of the 1914-18 war, for example, a British second lieutenant shot a Chinese man after Chinese workers had looted a French military train. The Chinese man had pulled a knife on the soldier. But during the 1930s, the British soldier's file was "weeded" three times and so no trace of the incident survives. A faint ghost of it remains only in a regimental war diary which records Chinese involvement in the looting of "French provision trains". The only reason I know of the killing is that my father was the British lieutenant and told me the story before he died. No WikiLeaks then.
But I do suspect this massive hoard of material from the Iraq war has serious implications for journalists as well as armies. What is the future of the Seymour Hershes and the old-style investigative journalism that The Sunday Times used to practise? What is the point of sending teams of reporters to examine war crimes and meet military "deep throats", if almost half a million secret military documents are going to float up in front of you on a screen?
We still haven't got to the bottom of the WikiLeaks story, and I rather suspect that there are more than just a few US soldiers involved in this latest revelation. Who knows if it doesn't go close to the top? In its investigations, for example, al-Jazeera found an extract from a run-of-the-mill Pentagon press conference in November 2005. Peter Pace, the uninspiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is briefing journalists on how soldiers should react to the cruel treatment of prisoners, pointing out proudly that an American soldier's duty is to intervene if he sees evidence of torture. Then the camera moves to the far more sinister figure of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who suddenly interrupts almost in a mutter, and to Pace's consternation "I don't think you mean they (American soldiers) have an obligation to physically stop it. It's to report it."
A car bomb attack in Baghdad on December 8,2009(Reuters)
The significance of this remark cryptically sadistic in its way was lost on the journos, of course. But the secret Frago 242 memo now makes much more sense of the press conference. Presumably sent by General Ricardo Sanchez, this is the instruction that tells soldiers: "Provided the initial report confirms US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted unless directed by HHQ [Higher Headquarters]." Abu Ghraib happened under Sanchez's watch in Iraq. It was also Sanchez, by the way, who couldn't explain to me at a press conference why his troops had killed Saddam's sons in a gun battle in Mosul rather than capture them.
So Sanchez's message, it seems, must have had Rumsfeld's imprimatur. And so General David Petraeus widely loved by the US press corps was presumably responsible for the dramatic increase in US air strikes over two years; 229 bombing attacks in Iraq in 2006, but 1,447 in 2007. Interestingly enough, US air strikes in Afghanistan have risen by 172 per cent since Petraeus took over there. Which makes it all the more astonishing that the Pentagon is now bleating that WikiLeaks may have blood on its hands. The Pentagon has been covered in blood since the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, and for an institution that ordered the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 wasn't that civilian death toll more than 66,000 by their own count, out of a total of 109,000 recorded? to claim that WikiLeaks is culpable of homicide is preposterous.
The truth, of course, is that if this vast treasury of secret reports had proved that the body count was much lower than trumpeted by the press, that US soldiers never tolerated Iraqi police torture, rarely shot civilians at checkpoints and always brought killer mercenaries to account, US generals would be handing these files out to journalists free of charge on the steps of the Pentagon. They are furious not because secrecy has been breached, or because blood may be spilt, but because they have been caught out telling the lies we always knew they told.
US official documents detail extraordinary scale of wrongdoing
WikiLeaks yesterday released on its website some 391,832 US military messages documenting actions and reports in Iraq over the period 2004-2009. Here are the main points:
Prisoners abused, raped and murdered
Hundreds of incidents of abuse and torture of prisoners by Iraqi security services, up to and including rape and murder. Since these are itemised in US reports, American authorities now face accusations of failing to investigate them. UN leaders and campaigners are calling for an official investigation.
Civilian death toll cover-up
Coalition leaders have always said "we don't do death tolls", but the documents reveal many deaths were logged. Respected British group Iraq Body Count says that, after preliminary examination of a sample of the documents, there are an estimated 15,000 extra civilian deaths, raising their total to 122,000.
The shooting of men trying to surrender
In February 2007, an Apache helicopter killed two Iraqis, suspected of firing mortars, as they tried to surrender. A military lawyer is quoted as saying: "They cannot surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets."
Private security firm abuses
Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism says it found documents detailing new cases of alleged wrongful killings of civilians involving Blackwater, since renamed Xe Services. Despite this, Xe retains extensive US contracts in Afghanistan.
Al-Qa'ida's use of children and "mentally handicapped" for bombing
A teenage boy with Down's syndrome who killed six and injured 34 in a suicide attack in Diyala was said to be an example of an ongoing al-Qa'ida strategy to recruit those with learning difficulties. A doctor is alleged to have sold a list of female patients with learning difficulties to insurgents.
Hundreds of civilians killed at checkpoints
Out of the 832 deaths recorded at checkpoints in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests 681 were civilians. Fifty families were shot at and 30 children killed. Only 120 insurgents were killed in checkpoint incidents.
Reports detail US concerns that Iranian agents had trained, armed and directed militants in Iraq. In one document, the US military warns a militia commander believed to be behind the deaths of US troops and kidnapping of Iraqi officials was trained by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
(Source: The Independent, October 24, 2010)
Iraq war logs: Secret order that let US ignore abuse
Mistreatment of helpless prisoners by Iraqi security forces included beatings, burning, electrocution and rape
By Nick Davies
A prisoner was kneeling on the ground, blindfolded and handcuffed, when an Iraqi soldier walked over to him and kicked him in the neck. A US marine sergeant was watching and reported the incident, which was duly recorded and judged to be valid. The outcome: "No investigation required."
That was a relatively minor assault. Another of the leaked Iraqi war logs records the case of a man who was arrested by police on suspicion of preparing a suicide bomb. In the station, an officer shot him in the leg and then, the log continues, this detainee "suffered abuse which amounted to cracked ribs, multiple lacerations and welts and bruises from being whipped with a large rod and hose across his back". This was all recorded and judged to amount to "reasonable suspicion of abuse". The outcome: "No further investigation."
US and Iraqi soldiers escort detainees after a raid, in 2008 (Photo credit: AP)
Other logs record not merely assaults but systematic torture. A man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required.
This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a "fragmentary order" which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made
No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".
Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.
The systematic viciousness of the old dictatorship when Saddam Hussein's security agencies enforced order without any regard for law continues, reinforced by the chaotic savagery of the new criminal, political and sectarian groups which have emerged since the invasion in 2003 and which have infiltrated some police and army units, using Iraq's detention cells for their private vendettas.
Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains. At the torturer's whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.
US soldiers drive past a pool of blood from a car bomb in Baghdad In October 2006
(Photo: Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images)
Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.
There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces.
There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces.
The coalition's answer, laid out in Frago 242, is to find justice from the senior officers of the Iraqi security forces. It is to them that the coalition send their reports. But those reports suggest that senior officers frequently are part of the problem.
A police lieutenant whose men have been beating up three suspected drug dealers, is recorded as confiding to a US captain that "light beatings and the threat of beatings were often used to gain information from prisoners". A chief of police in Riyadh is confronted with evidence that numerous detainees have been abused by his men and that bloodstains and "suspected tools of torture" have been found in his own office: "He responded he was aware of the beatings and supported it as a method of conducting investigations."
An Iraqi man holds his wounded daughter after being injured in a Roadside car bomb in August 2006
(Photo: Ali Abbas/EPA)
In June 2009, coalition forces dealt with a prisoner who was bruised, shaken and tearful and who reported that a unit of Iraqi soldiers had beaten him on the soles of his feet and on his back and threatened him with sexual assault. The log continued: "This is not the first time that this battalion have been accused of alleged detainee abuse. There have been at least three previous accusations."
They then noted that on the very afternoon this latest alleged assault had occurred their own senior officers had been meeting the Iraqi brigade commanders who were responsible for this battalion and who claimed to have heard nothing about any detainee being abused. "Brigade has a duty to control their subordinate units; if they fail to do so, the alleged violence, if it is occurring at the battalion level, will undoubtedly continue."
And it does continue. With no effective constraint, the logs show, the use of violence has remained embedded in the everyday practice of Iraqi security, with recurrent incidents up to last December. Most often, the abuse is a standard operating procedure in search of a confession, whether true or false. One of the leaked logs has a detainee being beaten with chains, cables and fists and then confessing to involvement in killing six people because "the torture was too much for him to handle".
Sometimes, the abuse is simply rough justice. When police catch a suspected bomb maker, they beat him up and, according to the log, allow a crowd of local people to join them in doing so. When a group of 10 officers pick up three drunken lads who have been stealing bananas, they tie them up and batter them severely.
At other times, Iraqi security are clearly engaging in abuse to exact revenge. After an Iraqi soldier was killed in a firefight, his battalion went out and rounded up 32 people. Within 10 minutes, the log records, they had beaten up 18 of them, leaving 14 with visible injuries.
On another occasion, in Falluja, in January 2007, police who were investigating an attempt to assassinate one of their majors found their prime suspect in hospital with a gunshot wound in the leg: the logs record that they hauled him out, beat him up in the car park outside their base and then dumped him on the floor in an office, still bleeding from his gunshot wound.
It is clear, too, that some Iraqi security units are themselves simply engaging in crime, whether for financial or political motives. The logs record a police officer who was torturing detainees in order to extort money from their families to pay him to stop; another who allowed outsiders into the police station to assault a particular prisoner. Sectarian faultlines run through the security agencies: Shia soldiers respond to a Sunni man, who reports an IED on the roof of his truck, by beating him with cables and a piece of wood; a police station near Baghdad is taken over by Shia militants from the Mahdi army, who imprison five opponents in a secret room where they are found coughing blood and showing signs of rape.
US soldiers crouch behind an Iraqi woman in 2005
(Photo: Sean Smith/Guardian)
At their worst, the accounts seem unbelievable and yet they are made credible by records of injuries. Last July coalition forces discovered the case of a man who was said to have been tortured two years earlier, in June 2007, by three Iraqi army lieutenants who "tortured him by pouring chemicals on his hands, cut his fingers off". They found he had been treated at Mosul general hospital at the end of June 2007, where the records confirmed that doctors had had to amputate his right leg below the knee as well as several toes on his left foot and several fingers on both hands. They also found extensive scars which they diagnosed as chemical/acid burns.
On that occasion, Mosul police became involved and issued a warrant for the three named lieutenants but, the log shows, two years later, no arrest had been made, and the victim had been released from hospital. "His location is currently unknown."
Numerous logs show individual members of the coalition making genuine attempts to stop the abuse. Since 2006 the coalition has had military transition teams, known as Mitts, working alongside Iraqi military units; and police transition teams, PTTs, embedded with local police. These teams are recorded on multiple occasions making unannounced spot checks at Iraqi security bases and finding torture in progress. "Captain Walker and 1st Lieutenant Ziemba
caught Captain Hassan and Sgt Alaa by surprise
In the office there was what appeared to be a battery with open ended wires
Before entering the office, Capt Walker and 1Lt Siemba heard what sounded like an individual being hit and moaning. The detainee was sitting in the centre of the room sobbing. They stopped the suspected abuse."
Even then unless HQ gives them special permission to investigate all they can do is remonstrate. The logs record the excuses offered by Iraqi security personnel: two men are covered in bruises because "they fell out of the armoured car on the way to the detention facility"; a man with a dislocated shoulder "fell off his chair"; a man in a police headquarters who is covered in injuries and reports being beaten on the feet and legs, punched in the face, electrocuted in his feet and genitals and sodomised with a water bottle, is claimed simply to have fallen off his motorcycle.
The coalition has had some success. Some Iraqi officers have been suspended. Some have even been arrested. In September 2008, in Diyala, a police lieutenant, Sabah Mahdi Zayni, was arrested for killing three Sunni civilians and because, it was alleged, he "was also responsible for abuse and rape of Sunni detainees in the Wajihiyah area". There is no record in the logs of whether the officer was charged or released.
The Wikileaks papers document human rights abuses in which both American and British troops are implicated
(Photo: Sean Smith/Guardian)
Numerous reports show Iraqi police and soldiers attempting to conceal their abuse from the coalition. A log last May records a detainee being electrocuted by Iraqi police who clamped a hand over his mouth and told him "to keep quiet because the Americans might hear his screams".
But, without the power to open a formal investigation, that success is limited. In June 2006, coalition personnel targeted the police station at Husayba: "There is evidence of torture in a holding cell
and clear evidence that human rights violations are occurring
Large amounts of blood on the cell floor, a wire used for electric shock and a rubber hose
The taped ends had the presence of blood."
According to the log, the police transition team spoke to Iraqi police commanders, counselled and retrained junior officers, organised unannounced visits to the station and physically stayed there overnight. And yet three years later, in February 2009, there was new evidence that Husayba police had set up a torture room in which they had abused some 33 victims. A senior Iraqi officer was asked to investigate.
(Source: The Guardian, October 22, 2010)
A worse record than Saddam's
It could fuel terrorism, recruitment into jihadi cells, suicide bombers and ugly attitudes towards the West. But keeping the stories hidden was always wrong
Bad boy Julian Assange, the pretty, blondish founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks was hugely admired when he uncovered oppressors and political chicanery in places like China and Kenya, but now he takes on Western duplicity and crimes. Can't have that. This spawn of Beelzebub, say our masters, a traitor whose insolence is a crime against the secretive states of the US and UK. Disregard the pique and dyspepsia of officialdom. It is a distraction, smoke from fires deliberately started to stop us seeing what lies before us.
The audacious website first released confidential and candid material on the hellish war in Afghanistan and now opens up a new front, more than 400,000 classified US files documenting the previously untold horrors of the Iraq war. Revealed are countless atrocities and the deaths of 66,000 Iraqi civilians at the hands of US and British soldiers and Iraqi personnel who had joined the allies. Men were burnt, some had parts removed, others were killed slowly; women were shot, children too, killed before they grew. Anything goes, it seems, during a military conflict and no questions are asked. As an Israeli army trainer said, when asked about the death of Rachel Corrie, the young, pro-Palestinian activist mown down by an Israeli tank: "During war there are no civilians".
The authorities in Iraq did not investigate reports of abuse and killings. An Iraqi friend tells me the rape of girls, women, boys and men was widespread, a tool used both to intimidate and punish. Apparently, there are images from Abu Ghraib prison of these sadistic "punishments"; they were never released because of the feelings they could arouse in Muslim countries. So morally deformed are these men of war that they care more about inconvenient outrage than they do about crimes against the people they supposedly went to save. They should have heeded the words of Martin Van Creveld, an erudite Israeli war historian who compared the disastrous American Vietnam War with the Iraq adventure: "He who fights the weak and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins, also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel." By this reasoning, to fight the weak who are not in any sense your enemy is extreme brutishness and totally self-defeating.
A US military Apache helicopter releases an anti-missile decoy flair as it flies over Baghdad.
In many cases, Apache crew killed Iraqi insurgents even as they made signs of surrender.
(Photo: Marko Drobnjakovic/AP)
Key figures in the British Army and Government must have been privy to this information. They held their tongues and presumably sidestepped any ethical niggles. The Americans were in command and you don't get to lick the arse of the world's only superpower and then turn round and kick it. That, you understand, is the pact, the unbreakable deal behind our special relationship.
Manfred Novak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, says Obama's administration must investigate and come clean after all, this President vowed to change the image and behaviour of the US which, for too long, has co-operated with tyrants and violated human rights across the world, including in Guantanamo Bay, which is still open and where captured, lost boys became broken men.
Fewer and fewer global citizens now believe the rapturous anthems and sombre panegyrics of God's own America. After this week, the number will have tumbled further, which, in some ways, is a pity. There is much to praise about the US, its history of perpetual resistance to unacceptable state power, its energy, creativity, business, intellectual and cultural buzz. When such a great nation does great wrong, its mirror is shattered and even if the shards are stuck back together again, the cracks will always remain. And when the custodian of the free world behaves so appallingly, how do we liberal Muslims promote democratic values across the Muslim world?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (sounding like a clone of Condi Rice) slammed the Wikileaks exposé and warned that lives of US civilians and forces and their allies were now in serious danger. At one level, I fear she is right. The internet traffic over the past two days has been so fast, furious and volatile, it could indeed fuel terrorism, recruitment into jihadi cells, even more violence in unstable Iraq, suicide bombers in Afghanistan and ugly attitudes towards the West, home to millions of Muslims. But keeping the stories hidden was always wrong. Innocent Iraqi people should never have been made to suffer by the allies and even the guilty should have faced due process to prove commitment to justice and decent values. When there was evidence of liberators behaving monstrously, action should have been taken and in the public eye. Clinton must know this, as a lawyer. It is a primary principle of her profession.
I wonder if some staunch supporters of the Iraq war will now think again about the purpose and execution of that illegal and vainglorious expedition. The sanctions and war killed, maimed and destroyed more civilians than Saddam did, even during the most diabolical periods of his rule. Blair, Bush and their armies have never had to face proper, international judicial interrogations. Now imagine good Muslims worldwide, who know all about universal rights, but can see that there is no universal accountability, that Third World despots are made to pay while others earn millions writing autobiographies and lecturing the world on good leadership and governance. Hundreds of savvy, smart, keenly aware young people email me from various Muslim states asking: "What's the point? They say one thing and do the opposite. They say they want to help us and kill our people. Why should we trust the British and Americans?"
Insurgent suspects are led away by US forces. The Wikileaks logs reveal that many
of those held in Iraqi custody suffered appalling abuse
(Photo: Sean Smith/Guardian)
What do our army commanders and American leaders advise me to tell these disenchanted Muslims? And Mr Blair, I wonder if he has some wise thoughts? He is, they tell me, still one of the greatest prime ministers this country has had. And his wife, the hot human rights lawyer, does she think these abuses her husband just might have known about should be investigated? No answers will be forthcoming. Those who took us into this war are not obliged to explain themselves, not liable. In that they are worse than the dictator they toppled. Not comfortable that thought, but true.
(Source: The Independent, October 25, 2010)
Torture, killing, children shot and how the US tried to keep it all quiet
Reports by Emily Dugan, Nina Lakhani, David Randall, Victoria Richards and Rachel Shields
So now we begin to know the full extent of what Tony Blair called the blood price.
A detainee tortured with live electrical wires here, children shot by US troops at a checkpoint there, insurgents using children to carry out suicide bombings somewhere else; on and on, through 391,832 documents. At the Pentagon, these messages were the day-to-day commonplaces of staff inboxes; for Iraqis, they detail, in the emotionless jargon of the US military, nothing less than the hacking open of a nation's veins.
Today, seven and a half years on from the order to invade, the largest leak in history has shown, far more than has been hitherto known, just what was unleashed by that declaration of war. The Iraqi security services tortured hundreds, and the US military watched, noted and emailed, but rarely intervened. A US helicopter gunship crew were ordered to shoot insurgents trying to surrender. A doctor sold al-Qa'ida a list of female patients with learning difficulties so they could be duped into being suicide bombers. A private US company, which made millions of dollars from the outsourcing of security duties, killed civilians. And the Americans, who have always claimed never to count civilian deaths, were in fact secretly logging them. At a conservative estimate, the new documents add at least 15,000 to the war's death toll.
t was yesterday morning when WikiLeaks, the crowd-funded website which achieved worldwide fame for releasing Afghanistan material earlier this year, uploaded nearly 400,000 US military documents. Covering the 2004-09 period, they consist of messages passed from low-level or medium-level operational troops to their superiors and ultimate bosses in the Pentagon. They are marked "Secret", by no means the highest of security classifications.
An Iraqi man cries over the dead body of his 14 year-old daughter, a victim of the war, in 2004
(Photo: Akram Saleh/Reuters)
The Pentagon's response was to say that the leak put the lives of US troops and their military partners in jeopardy, and other official sources dismissed the documents as revealing little that was new. An answer to this came from Iraq Body Count, the British organisation that has monitored civilian deaths since 2003: "These Iraq logs ... contain information on civilian and other casualties that has been kept from public view by the US government for more than six years.... The data on casualties is information about the public (mainly the Iraqi public) that was unjustifiably withheld from both the Iraqi and world public by the US military, apparently with the intent to do so indefinitely."
The Iraq War Logs are US documents, and so detail only a few incidents involving British troops. Two, dated 23 June 2008, record a pair of Shia men who say they were punched and kicked by unidentified British troops. Both men had injuries that were consistent with their stories. There is no record of any formal investigation. Another log, dated 2 September 2008, records that a civilian interrogator working with the Americans claimed British soldiers had dragged him through his house and repeatedly dunked his head into a bowl of water and threatened him with a pistol. The log says his story was undermined by inconsistencies and an absence of injuries.
Here are the main areas where there is fresh, and significant, information:
Civilian death tolls
The Pentagon and the Iraqi health ministry consistently refused to publish a death toll of civilians, even denying such a record existed. "We don't do body counts," said US General Tommy Franks, who directed the Iraq invasion. The Iraq War Logs reveal just how hollow his words were.
Since the beginning of the war, The Independent on Sunday has asserted that the true death toll of civilians in the war was far higher than military officials were suggesting. As early as 2004 the IoS reported that the Pentagon was in fact collecting classified casualty figures and that academics believed the death toll might be as much as 100,000 or more.
A young Iraqi girl screams after her parents were shot down by US troop when
they failed to stop their car at a checkpoint. Their five children survived (Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
The logs detail 109,032 deaths, some 66,081 of which are civilians. Iraq Body Count said yesterday that an analysis of a sample of 860 of the Iraq War Logs led it to estimate the information in all the logs would add 15,000 extra civilian deaths to its previous total of 107,000. To these should be added military deaths, and IBC's revised total deaths in Iraq would now be around 150,000, 80 per cent of them civilians.
However, some care needs to be taken in using this data. The information in the logs is by no means a comprehensive tally of all deaths.
The death toll of civilians is in stark contrast to President Bush's words in 2003, when he said that new technology meant troops could go out of their way to protect Iraqi civilians. "With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians," he said.
The leaked documents provide a ground's-eye view of abuses as reported by US military personnel to their superiors, and appear to corroborate much of the past reporting on such incidents. Beatings, burnings and lashings surface in hundreds of the documents, giving the impression that the use of cables, metal rods, wooden poles and live electrical wires to torture detainees was far from rare. Although some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most in the archive seem to have been ignored.
Early on, space for detainees was limited, and Iraqis would pack them into makeshift jails. In November 2005, American soldiers found 173 detainees with cigarette burns, sores and broken bones crammed into a police internment centre near Baghdad. The log states: "Many detainees are coughing.... Approx 95 were being held in one room and were sitting cross-legged with blindfolds, all facing the same direction. According to one of the detainees questioned on-site, 12 detainees have died of disease in recent weeks."
The Wikileaks logs reveal 15,000 more deaths of civilians and police in Iraq than the figures reported by the US troops (Photo: Sean Smith/Guardian)
In August 2006, a US sergeant in Ramadi heard whipping noises in a military police station and walked in on an Iraqi lieutenant using an electrical cable to slash the bottom of a detainee's feet. He later found the same Iraqi officer whipping a detainee's back. The American provided sworn statements and photographs of "circular whip marks [and] bleeding on back." No investigation was initiated.
But some of the worst examples came later in the war. In one case last December, 12 Iraqi soldiers, including an intelligence officer, were caught on video in Tal Afar shooting to death a prisoner whose hands were tied. In another, US forces found a detainee with two black eyes, a bruised neck and "scabbing on his left ankle". The detainee said he was electrocuted by Iraqi soldiers in Mosul in order to obtain a confession. Iraqi officials stated he was injured after attempting to escape.
Amnesty International condemned the revelations in the documents and questioned whether US authorities had broken international law by handing detainees to Iraqi forces known to be committing abuses "on a truly shocking scale". The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, said there was a duty on the US administration to investigate whether its officials were involved in or complicit in torture.
Al-Qa'ida's use of special needs patients as suicide bombers
A doctor allegedly "sold lists" of patients with special needs to al-Qa'ida so they could be strapped with remote-control explosives and detonated in busy markets in Baghdad. According to the Iraq War Logs, in October 2008 a GP was arrested by US forces on suspicion of passing on the names of 11 female patients to insurgents.
A file stated that the women were "likely used in the 01 February 2008 dual suicide attack on local markets", referring to two women with Down's syndrome who were fooled into wearing explosive vests and blown up in co-ordinated attacks on pet bazaars in central Baghdad. The explosions, which Iraqi officials said were detonated by mobile phone, killed at least 73 people and wounded more than 160.
It wasn't an isolated incident on 4 April 2008, a "mentally retarded" teenage boy blew himself up at a funeral in Diyala Province, north-east of Baghdad, killing six and injuring 34. He had, the log suggested, the "facial features of a person with Down's syndrome" and was part of an "ongoing strategy" to recruit individuals with learning difficulties. And, on 28 February 2008, a mentally ill teenage boy was shot and injured by a US patrol while attempting to flee his kidnappers who were intending to use him as a suicide bomber.
An analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that, on average, 30 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated every day between 2004 and 2009 with vulnerable children handpicked as pawns for slaughter. A US soldier wrote in March 2007: "A 12- to 14-year-old boy wearing a back pack and on a bicycle rode into the intersection. The patrol passed through the intersection and the boy detonated his explosives targeting the passing vehicles." A year later, in February 2008, the log stated: "S2 [military intelligence] assessment: recent reports indicated... AQI [al-Qa'ida in Iraq] is recruiting young local nationals and also using mentally handicapped persons to target CF [Coalition Forces] within the dragoon OE [operational environment]."
The documents reveal details of the largely unaccountable, and sometimes gung-ho, actions of private security firms. According to a New York Times analysis, the leaked documents "sketch, in vivid detail, a critical change in the way America wages war: the early days of the Iraq war... ushered in the era of the private contractor, wearing no uniform but fighting and dying in battle, gathering and disseminating intelligence and killing presumed insurgents."
Among companies named in the Iraq war logs is a US firm called, of all things, Custer Battles. During the six years covered by the reports, at least 175 private security contractors were killed. Most of the dead were Iraqi drivers, guards and other staff.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found 14 civilians were shot, of whom 10 were killed by the American security company formerly known as Blackwater. It is alleged that in one-third of the cases, Blackwater guards fired on civilians while guarding US officials. The company has earned more than $1.5bn (£950m) since the 2003 invasion. On 14 May 2005 the logs allege that Blackwater shot a civilian car, reportedly killing the driver and injuring his wife and child. The guards drove on and left the injured woman and child. A year later, on 2 May 2006, Blackwater guards opened fire on an ambulance attending the scene of an IED, killing the civilian ambulance driver.
Blackwater changed its name to Xe Services in 2009 after an incident in 2007 in Nisour Square, Baghdad, in which its security guards were involved in a shooting that killed 14 civilians. After the Nisour massacre the Iraqi government demanded that Blackwater leave the country. Xe Services is still one of the US government's largest security contractors.
Shooting of surrendering men
A US Apache helicopter was ordered to kill two Iraqi insurgents who tried to surrender. The pilots of the helicopter were advised by a military lawyer that the men could not surrender to an aircraft, and thus were still targets.
The gunship launched a Hellfire missile at the truck, but the men fled the vehicle and ran into a nearby shack. The crew received further instructions to kill the men, and succeeded by firing 300 rounds a minute from the Apache's 30mm cannon.
Up to 30 children killed by US soldiers at checkpoints
As many as 30 children died at the hands of US forces at military checkpoints, the Iraq war logs have revealed. Violent "escalation of force" (EOF) incidents as vehicles were slowed down and searched "often" resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians, according to the classified documents.
One entry described how a six-year-old Iraqi was hit as troops fired several rounds with light machine guns. It read: "While crossing the street, patrol had an EOF where patrol fired 3 rounds of M249. One round ricocheted off the concrete hitting a 6yr old LN [local national] 250m down the road. Medical Facility reported that the 6yr old LN died of wounds upon arrival."
British soldiers arrest an Iraqi man (Photo: Nehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images)
Another detailed an incident in June 2005, where US soldiers fired warning shots at the grill of a car from 150m away. When the car finally stopped, seven were dead including two children and two were injured, because their parents had told them to lie on the floor of the car for safety. The logs detail the deaths of "significant" numbers of Iraqi civilians, including an unborn child, at checkpoints between 2004 and 2009. Of 834 people killed, 80 per cent were civilians bringing the total dead to 681.
A photographer embedded with the First Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division in January 2005, in Tal Afar, north-west Iraq, witnessed the deaths of Camille and Hussein Hassan, who were travelling with their six children. Rakan Hassan, 11, was shot in the spine and paralysed and his family was offered just $7,500 (£4,782) in compensation by the US Army for the loss of the two parents at $2,500 (£1,594) each, and an extra $2,500 (£1,594) for damaging the car (pictured). And on 29 September 2004, a car approaching a checkpoint was fired on by US soldiers and swerved off the road into a canal 1.5km north of Saqlawiyah, near Ramadi. It sank, drowning six people two women, three children aged between five and eight, and a baby.
Analysis of the logs by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Channel 4's Dispatches showed that, over the six-year period, four times as many civilians were killed in EOF incidents than those listed as insurgents.
(Source: The Independent, October 24, 2010)
Death at a checkpoint
The tragic story of Nabiha Jassim, a pregnant Iraqi woman who was shot down by US troops as she was rushing to hospital to deliver
By Andrew Wander
This is the US military's record of the death of a pregnant woman shot by its soldiers at checkpoint while on her way to give birth at a maternity hospital.
Nabiha Jassim was 35 years old when she was killed in the town of Samarra, 110km north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. She was being rushed to hospital by her brother, Khalid, when their car approached a US military checkpoint and observation post that had recently been set up. It was a journey the family would never complete.
The Iraq war files reveal that US troops manning the checkpoint believed that Nabiha's car posed a threat. As the vehicle carrying the family approached the checkpoint, the soldiers opened fire.
Nabiha was killed in the hail of bullets that ripped through the car, shattering the windscreen and leaving Khalid badly cut. Her cousin, Saliha Hassan, 57, was also shot dead in the incident, which left the road covered in blood and broken glass.
Nabiha's body was rushed to the hospital in an effort to save her baby, but the unborn child died in her womb. Had she reached the hospital safely, she would have given birth to a boy.
Iraqi soldiers hold a detainee during an operation north of Baghdad (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Her story is just one of the hundreds of human tragedies that are catalogued in the Iraq war logs, which reveal that over the course of the conflict, almost 700 civilians were killed in more than 14000 violent incidents that took place at US military checkpoints.
These so-called "escalation of force" incidents follow a repetitive and deadly pattern. An Iraqi civilian approaches a US checkpoint, fails to understand soldiers' demands to stop, and is shot dead after being assessed as a threat to the platoon manning the checkpoint.
Just as repetitive is the US military response to such incidents: they are put down as a sort of collateral damage, seen as part of the inevitable cost of conflict, as victims of the accidents that happen under the fog of war.
After Nabiha's death, the military said that the vehicle had entered a "clearly defined prohibited area" when they opened fire on it.
The war log makes no warning of any warning given to Khalid as he drove his sister and cousin towards their deaths, and he has said none was given.
"I was driving my car at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans. It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped," he told the Associated Press news agency, shortly after the incident.
A brief statement was issued by military authorities in the aftermath of the incident that said: "US forces killed two women by mistake... when they were heading to a maternity hospital."
At the time of Nabiha's death, US soldiers in Iraq were facing intense and regular attacks on the country's roads. Checkpoints had been targeted by gunmen and suicide bombers on a regular basis. There is no suggestion that her killing was anything other than a deadly mistake.
But for the friends and families of the innocent Iraqis mistakenly killed at US military checkpoints, knowing that their deaths were not intentional is scant consolation when such mistakes were repeated again and again.
Expressions of regret from the US military, however well-intentioned, are worth little to ordinary Iraqis if no lessons were learned from mistakes that had such devastating consequences.
(Source: Aljazeera, October 25, 2010)