Accuracy in Media

On July 25th this year, Wikileaks released 92,000 files onto its website. It had coordinated the disclosure of stolen army records with three newspapers – the UK Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel and the New York Times. Editors of these news outlets were given time to peruse and filter the information contained within the “Afghan War Logs.” This gave them time to select salacious tales to present as headlines of multiple articles. The first dump of the “war logs” dealt with the period from 2004 until the middle of 2009.

At the time there were threats of “more revelations to follow.” Many people assumed that these would concern more recent disclosures provided by 22-year old Private First Class Bradley E. Manning who is currently in military custody. Australian citizen Julian Assange, who runs Wikileaks, suggested that there were 200,000 Afghan “war logs” which would be disclosed.

On Friday October 22, Wikileaks dumped more classified army documents into the “public domain.” The revelations that have now emerged do not feature Afghanistan. They are concerned with the Iraq War. There are 391,832 of these documents. Once again, the same news sources have been granted exclusive previews of the information, allowing them to create complex web pages. Der Spiegel, for example, has an interactive graphic showing the location of war-related events in Iraq. Rather lacking in objectivity, this graphic (produced by the German newspaper) is entitled: “The Atlas of Horror.”

It also has a photo feature emotively entitled “Images of a Bloody War.” showing images from Iraq. The first picture shows a small girl crouched on the ground, spattered in her parents’ blood, howling while a soldier stands by. None of the 16 photos are part of the leaked collection, but come from news-related picture libraries (Getty, Reuters, AP, AFP) and have already been presented to the public with the army’s permission. They are presented as a means to “compare” data in the war logs with official press releases.

Spiegel features incidents that are classed as “dubious” Apache helicopter attacks. In April, Wikileaks had released a video of a helicopter attack of civilians, taken from one of two helicopters involved in the incident, which took place on July 12, 2007. Juilian Assange had presented this video to the Press Club in Washington, and it had been at that time, according to der Spiegel, “the whistleblowing organization’s biggest scoop to date.” Assange called the 18 minute video clip: “Collateral Murder.”

The tone of the Spiegel article implies that the clipped text of the reports that appear in the War Logs bely something worse; they are seen as only the visible promontory of a hidden hinterland of countless putative atrocities:

But there is a huge gulf between the brief text of the military report that has now been published by Wikileaks and the footage captured by the helicopter’s camera. The discrepancy makes clear that the military incident reports do not manage to capture the brutal reality of the war. In fact, the opposite is true — the reports actually distort the reality.

Comparing the video evidence and the terse, unspectacular-seeming original report raises the question as to what might have happened during incidents where the internal military reports make for more dramatic reading. And there are plenty of those. Just looking at reports involving the tradition-steeped 227th Aviation Regiment with its fleet of Apache helicopters, which was responsible for the “Collateral Murder” incident, reveals enough examples.

Spiegel’s narratives offer much opinion on the original Iraqi events and suggest that the reports in the logs are incomplete or inaccurate:

It is possible that reports give a one-sided version of events, partly intentionally and partly subconsciously — so that wrongdoings, accidents and crimes by the opposing side are portrayed more clearly than one’s own.

Repeating the leaks of July, in addition to der Spiegel, previews were granted to the New York Times and the British Guardian newspaper.

The first Wikileaks dump of classified information was regarded as the greatest disclosure of classified military information concerning a war that was being currently pursued since an earlier event in 1971. In that year, Daniel Ellsberg had released to the New York Times 1,000 four-year old papers that he had photocopied. These papers, called the Pentagon papers, related to the Vietnam War and showed that Lyndon Johnson’s administration had lied. Ellsberg has expressed his belief that Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are his heroes.

Last week, on October 22, just before the 5 pm EST release of the documents, Democracy Now! Produced a short video (now displayed on the front page of Wikileaks) in which the first warnings of a new “dump” were made. In this video (shown below), Daniel Ellsberg discussed the revelations that were about to be placed on Wikileaks. Ellsberg also speaks favourably of Barack Obama in relation to the Afghan and Iraqi Wars, even though he admitted that he had not seen the leaked documents.

An interview with Assange, conducted by CNN’s Atika Shubert, began with a discussion about people who have left the organization. Assange mentioned that he had been forced to suspend Daniel Schmitt (real name Daniel Domscheit-Berg) but was wary of admitting claims that others have left the organization on bad terms. At around 2: 46 of the video above, Assange is asked about the allegations of the two Swedish women. He refused to discuss his “personal life” and finally leaves.

Even the New York Times, which published two sets of previewed leaks, has reported on the “notoriety” of Assange. After the Stockholm claims, some of his former allies had defected from the WiIkileaks network. Assange himself is described in the article as “someone whose growing celebrity has been matched by an increasingly dictatorial, eccentric and capricious style.” His former allies claim that Assange has a vendetta against the United States.

It certainly seems that Assange is motivated by a leftist political dogma, and his leaks are designed not to make the world a better place. He does not even seem to be motivated by a “war is wrong” ethos, or to be committed to making war follow “moral protocols.” He seems more concerned with undermining the reputation of America.

Consequences of the latest leak

The latest revelations from Wikileaks are not being treated by the MSM as being of as great a significance as the Afghan leaks of July 25. On his Twitter page, Admiral Mike Mullen who had said earlier of the Afghan war logs that Wikileaks probably had “blood on its hands” posted:

“Another irresponsible posting of stolen classified documents by Wikileaks puts lives at risk and gives adversaries valuable information.”

When Assange released the Afghan documents, he took little consideration for the safety of those who had been named as informants. The New York Times reports on a phone conversation that was made to a Taliban spokesman named Zabiullah Mujahid. This individual has said that a nine-member committee has been formed by the Taliban to assess the July “war logs.” He said there was a hit-list of 1,800 potential “spies” and the committee was trying to compare these against names appearing in the logs.

Mujahid claimed: “After the process is completed, our Taliban court will decide about such people.”

In the latest dump of information, names of individuals beneath a certain rank are redacted, but ultimately the current revelations have not created a wave of outrage in the Western media. There have been attempts by those publishing previewed extracts to spin the information, as happened on der Spiegel.

Ultimately, the main baddies in the latest report, the consistent perpetrators of acts of torture and summary execution, are the Iraqi authorities. American military personnel recorded witnessing such events, but were placed under orders from the Pentagon to avoid intervention.

Abu Ghraib shocked the world, but the NYT acknowledges that for most Iraqi detainees, their fate in Iraqi hands was far worse than any humiliations that may have gone on in Abu Ghraib:

Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception. In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.

Some of the main points of the Iraqi “war logs” are summarized here by the New York Times, which admits that

“the Iraq documents provide no earthshaking revelations, but they offer insight, texture and context from the people actually fighting the war.”

The summary suggests that the war relied too much on private contractors, but we already knew that. Some of the contractors were connected to Halliburton and some involved Blackwater. Some American contractors met appalling fates – Eugene “Jack” McCarthy and others who were decapitated by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of “Al Qaeda of the Two Rivers” and other American contractors who were shot, or those whose burned and mutilated corpses were suspended from a bridge at Fallujah on March 31, 2004.

The NYT states that:

Contractors often shot with little discrimination — and few if any consequences — at unarmed Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, American troops and even other contractors, stirring public outrage and undermining much of what the coalition forces were sent to accomplish.

The deaths of Iraqi civilians appear, according to the notes, to have been higher than earlier reported.

Readers who wish to review for themselves the Iraqi war logs must rely upon Wikileaks itself. The last documents from the Afghan War Logs, when downloaded and unzipped, took up 3.5 gigabytes of computer space. This time around, the information is kept online, in the form of a “Diary Dig” and also interactive “War Logs.”

The news of the Wikileaks disclosures have been greeted in Iraq with little fanfare or hysteria. The only individual to have fulminated against the incidents revealed in Wikileaks is the Iraqi prime minister, Nour al-Maliki. Maliki is a lame-duck prime minister who – as revealed here by Amil Taheri – has been so desperate to consolidate power he has tried to gain support from the Shia Mahdi army of Moqtadr el-Sadr, currently in exile in Iran. According to the BBC:

Nouri Maliki’s office accused it of trying to sabotage his bid to form a new government by making allegations he was linked to Shia death squads.

This, perhaps, is a revelation that really would be of interest to the Iraqi people and for the future stability of Iraq. So far I have not found any “smoking gun” in the leaks that make this claim. It is highly likely that Maliki – so ready to make connections with the murdering and kidnapping Mahdi army – really DOES have a history of such links to the Shia death squads.

It seems like Maliki was making a pre-emptive denunciation before he was denounced. I can not find his name on searches within either the Wikileaks “War Logs” or “Diary Dig,” suggesting Maliki has a guilty conscience, concerning a skeleton he wants to bury.

Perhaps Maliki’s over-reaction to not being mentioned is one of the most significant revelations of the Wikileaks dump, but like some of the other findings, there is little that is new in that. Few rational people believed that Maliki was anything other than a double-dealing crook.

There are some revelations in the Wikileaks “War Logs” that are worthy of inquiry but mostly the latest revelations are not “world-shattering news.” This may disappoint Daniel Ellsberg and Julian Assange, who have a specific political agenda to promote.

Anyone coming to these reports will find one thing. The maxim goes that “War is Hell”, and in the field, it is. However, the minutiae of daily records made by soldiers already tired out by fighting that war are not “exciting.” If these were all there is to document the engagements in Iraq, they would present war not as hellish, but boring.

Move along now… Nothing to see here…..

Adrian Morgan

Guest columns do not necessarily reflect the views of Accuracy in Media or its staff.

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