WikiLeaks Iraq War Logs Expose US-Backed Iraqi Torture, 15,000 More Civilian Deaths, and Contractors Run Amok

AMY GOODMAN: The online whistleblower WikiLeaks website has released close to 400,000 classified US documents on the Iraq war, the largest intelligence leak in US history and the largest internal account of any war on public record. The disclosure provides a trove of new evidence on the violence, torture and suffering that’s befallen Iraq since the 2003 US invasion. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange unveiled the new documents on Saturday.


JULIAN ASSANGE: In our release of these 400,000 documents about the Iraq war, the intimate detail of that war from the US perspective, we hope to correct some of that attack on the truth. We have seen that there are approximately 15,000 never previously documented or known cases of civilians who have been killed by violence in Iraq. Iraq, as we can see, was a bloodbath on every corner of their country. The stated aims for going into that war, of improving the human rights situation, improving the rule of law, did not eventuate and, in terms of raw numbers of people arbitrarily killed, worsened the situation in Iraq.


AMY GOODMAN: Despite US claims to the contrary, the war logs show the Pentagon kept tallies of civilian deaths in Iraq. The group Iraq Body Count says the files contain evidence of an additional 15,000 previously unknown Iraqi civilian casualties. The number is likely far higher as the war logs omit many instances where US forces killed Iraqi civilians, including the US assault on Fallujah in 2004.


The war logs also show the US imposed a formal policy to ignore human rights abuses committed by the Iraqi military. Under an order known as "Frago 242" issued in June 2004, coalition troops were barred from investigating any violations committed by Iraqi troops against other Iraqis. Hundreds of cases of killings, torture and rape at the hands of the Iraqi troops were ignored.


New evidence of other possible US war crimes has also emerged. According to the war logs, a US Apache helicopter killed two Iraqis in February of 2007, even though they were trying to surrender. The helicopter unit was the same that killed kill twelve people and wounded two children in a July 2007 attack captured on video and leaked by WikiLeaks earlier this year. This is the moment the US forces first opened fire in that attack.


US SOLDIER 1: Have individuals with weapons.


US SOLDIER 2: You’re clear.


US SOLDIER 1: Alright, firing.


US SOLDIER 3: Let me know when you’ve got them.


US SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.


US SOLDIER 1: Come on, fire!


US SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.


US SOLDIER 4: Hotel, Bushmaster two-six, Bushmaster two-six, we need to move, time now!


US SOLDIER 2: Alright, we just engaged all eight individuals.


AMY GOODMAN: That July 12th, 2007 attack was the one that killed the two Reuters employees: the videographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh, the father of four. The logs also show US gunships killed even more civilians just four days later. On July 16th, 2007, fourteen civilians were reported dead in a US attack in eastern Baghdad.


The documents also reveal that the private military firm Blackwater has killed more Iraqi civilians than previously known. There are reports of fourteen separate shooting incidents involving Blackwater forces, resulting in the deaths of ten civilians and the wounding of seven others. That doesn’t include the Nisoor Square massacre that killed seventeen civilians. A third of the shootings occurred while Blackwater forces were guarding US diplomats.


Of over 832 deaths recorded at checkpoints between 2004 and 2009, an estimated 681 were civilians. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, fifty families were fired on and thirty children were killed.


The disclosure marks the biggest leak in US history, far more than the 91,000 Afghanistan war logs WikiLeaks released this summer. Seventy-six thousand of them they have released so far. WikiLeaks says it still plans to release the other 15,000 withheld Afghan war documents. An Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, has been in prison since May, when he was arrested on charges of leaking the classified material.


The Obama administration has lashed out at WikiLeaks for the latest disclosures. Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell said WikiLeaks is endangering US troops.


GEOFF MORRELL: The bottom line is, our forces are still very much in danger here as a result of this exposure, given the fact that our tactics, techniques and procedures are exposed in these documents, and our enemies are undoubtedly going to try to use them against us, and making their jobs even more difficult and dangerous.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined now for the rest of the hour by three guests. From Washington, DC, Pratap Chatterjee, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, an investigative journalist who has written extensively about contractors employed in the global war on terror, has written two books on the subject: Iraq, Inc. and Halliburton’s Army. He’s written about the war logs for The Guardian of London.


Here in New York, we’re joined by Nir Rosen, an independent journalist who has covered the Iraq war since 2003. He’s a fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security and author of the new book Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World.


And joining us from London is David Leigh. He’s the investigations editor at The Guardian newspaper of London. The Guardian was one of the media outlets given advanced copies of the Iraq war logs and has published an extensive series on its website.


David Leigh, let’s begin with you. Why don’t you give us an overview of what this trove of almost 400,000 documents represents and says about Iraq?


DAVID LEIGH: It represents the raw material of history. And that’s an immensely valuable thing to have, because, as we all know, over the last six or seven years of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, this has been accompanied in the usual way by propaganda, by spin, by the sanitized version. This is the unvarnished version. And, of course, what the unvarnished version does is confirm what many of us feared and what many journalists have attempted to report over the years, that Iraq became a bloodbath, a real bloodbath of unnecessary killings, of civilian slaughter, of torture, and of people being beaten to death.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you divide the documents into different categories, as _The Guardian did, the different categories of killings, of torture, of who was involved with these? And who—begin with who wrote them. Explain what these war logs are.


DAVID LEIGH: These war logs are day-by-day and, in many cases, hour-by-hour field reports from information radioed in by small units out in the field. They really chart incidents, every single incident. And sometimes you’ll see like twenty or thirty or fifty in a single day. They have all been collated into an electronic archive, I think probably for the first time. This is probably the first—this and Afghanistan have been the first American military adventures in which this kind of archive has been collated and made available to other people in the US military, which is, of course, how it’s come to be leaked.


What it contains of significance is three different types of material, in the sense that we didn’t really know these things before. First of all, that at least 15,000 more civilians have been identifiably killed and are recorded in these logs. There are many other civilians who’ve been killed who aren’t recorded there, of course. But that increases the figures. And bodies, independent bodies like the Iraq Body Count, the London-based private group, have pinned down those 15,000 extra by wading through all these documents.


The second thing it documents is really brutal events in which the laws of war, as we commonly understood them, seem to have been overtaken by technology, air power and asymmetric warfare. The classic case in here was of a helicopter, the Apache helicopter, which later went on to shoot and kill Reuters employees. It describes how men on the ground were trying to surrender. It radioed back to base for advice, and extraordinarily, the base lawyer said, "You cannot surrender to an aircraft. Go ahead and kill them." So it went ahead and killed them.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that’s an astounding part of the story.


DAVID LEIGH: The third aspect—


AMY GOODMAN: That part of the story, David, is an astounding part of the story, that these men held up their hands to a plane overhead, to a helicopter. And in all these cases, the soldiers in the planes, they call back to the base. They are not rogue. They are getting permission, and a lawyer says, "You cannot surrender to a helicopter," so they could go ahead and kill them.


DAVID LEIGH: That’s exactly the point. The helicopter crew don’t seem to have been trigger-happy at all. They were pretty concerned. They radioed back to base: "These men are trying to surrender. What do we do?" And they’re told more than once, "They can’t surrender. You should go ahead and kill them." So what we see is orders coming from a high level.


And that plays into the third new aspect in these documents, which is that they detail literally hundreds of times—I think there’s more 900 incidents of what they class as detainee abuse of people being tortured. And they’re largely tortured by Iraqi security forces, but with the United States forces standing by or, in some cases, turning detainees over to people they know are going to torture them. And those orders seem to come from a high level. Again, you’re not looking at individual rogue sadists in the US military; you’re looking at orders.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. David Leigh, investigations editor at The Guardian. The Guardian is one of the media outlets that had the advanced copies of the documents, got to see the documents, in addition Der Spiegel in Germany, Al Jazeera, the New York Times, Le Monde in France. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.




AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about the WikiLeaks leak, that’s the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, that has released the largest number of documents from inside the military in US history, close to 400,000, our guests, Nir Rosen, investigative journalist, author of the new book Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World; Pratap Chatterjee from the Center for American Progress, has done a series of pieces for The Guardian newspaper, one of the papers that had been involved in this leak, on the private militarization of the war; and David Leigh, investigations editor at The Guardian.


A quick question before we go back to the contractors, and this is to David Leigh. I’m just wondering how this has played in Britain. While it got front-page coverage in the New York Times, which was involved in the leak, in documenting it and writing articles about it, together with The Guardian and Der Spiegel in Germany and Le Monde in France, together with Al Jazeera, as well, and Channel 4 in Britain, in the United States, the cable networks and the Sunday talk shows, overall, mentioned it almost not at all. This is the Sunday talk shows that talk about the key issues of the week and particularly look at the elections that are coming up. Almost no reference to these WikiLeaks, this largest leak in the history of the United States around war. How is it played in London and in Britain, overall, David Leigh?


DAVID LEIGH: It’s interesting you say that, because it sounds as though many of the US media are in a state of denial about this. It’s played very big in Britain. It’s been picked up by all the other British media. There’s TV programs going out tonight. The Sunday newspapers wrote leading articles about it. And the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg actually said on one of yesterday’s TV shows that this was such an issue of such serious concern that there should be an inquiry into it. So, at a high level, the politicians are responding here.


And the focus is all on concern and anxiety about these revelations of torture, because if there’s one thing that is a sore point that keeps getting scratched with the Europeans, it’s that we seems to have got sucked into a process of complicity in torture, which is contrary to all we think of as Western civilization and, indeed, international law.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s very interesting what Nick Clegg said, calling for a probe of the torture claims. But Pratap Chatterjee, I want to read you a part of the New York Times’ coverage of the role of contractors in Iraq. They write, quote, "Contractors often shot with little discrimination—and few if any consequences—at unarmed Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, American troops and even other contractors. […]


"The mayhem cropped up around Iraq, notably in one episode reported in March 2005 in which a small battle erupted involving three separate security companies.


"At a notoriously dangerous checkpoint on the main road to the Baghdad airport, a cement truck entered a lane reserved for Department of Defense vehicles. A guard from Global, a British company, fired a warning shot, and when a man initially identified as an Iraqi opened the door and tried to flee, guards from a tower started firing, too. The man dropped to the ground. Then members of an Iraqi private security team parked nearby also opened fire, shooting through the chest not the driver but a worker from DynCorp International, an American security company.


"When the truck driver was finally questioned, he turned out to be a Filipino named José who worked with yet a third company, KBR, the American logistics and security giant."


Pratap Chatterjee, take it from there.


PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, Amy, I mean, I think what it shows is the chaos. And in fact, Jim Glanz’s story, I think the headline reflects that, too, is there were no rules. And anybody who was there, anybody who’s read the reports from that time, will understand that these men worked in civilian clothes. They traveled often in unmarked cars. They were heavily armed, no doubt. But you could not tell, quote-unquote, "friend" from "foe." I mean, they talk about the militants, you know, being in civilian clothes, but that was true also of the contractors.


That incident you describe is very interesting in the fact that the people who actually get attacked are the DynCorp employee, who I think in fact was an Iraqi, a local national, even though he worked for an American company. The other person involved is a Filipino. So here you have, you know, this sort of very bizarre situation, which I was confronted with myself. When I would walk down a road to an American checkpoint, because I’m not white—I’m South Asian—I had to fear for my life. I had to start talking very rapidly in English, because I wanted people to understand that, you know, I was simply a journalist, because I knew that these people could—both the soldiers and the contractors might shoot if they thought I was an Iraqi. And a lot of times, you know, they had no idea of the difference between one nationality and the next. And that doesn’t give them carte blanche to kill people from any nationality, but what I’m trying to portray is the fact that there was a lot of confusion. There were a lot of people with no rules that governed them.


I’ll give you an example of somebody I know who worked for a company called Custer Battles. Custer Battles is quite famous for its overpricing of goods, and they were brought to court here in the Washington, DC area. But Custer Battles had a man whose job it was was to buy guns on the black market. And he explained to me how he would go outside, you know, dressed in local clothes, buy black market guns and supply them. We have now discovered that other companies, like Blackwater, have done the same thing. So there were no rules. There was—you bought guns from the militants. You paid them off. And then you used them against civilians. It was chaos, to say the least. And I think the Bush administration has to take a lot of responsibility for what it did. And I would hope that, like Nick Clegg, the Obama administration would start to investigate these clear violations of international law and Iraqi law and US law.


AMY GOODMAN: Nir Rosen, you, like Pratap, would be confused with being not from the United States. How did you deal with this?


NIR ROSEN: I’d shout that I was American as loud as I could. And I did have a few close calls. I can also confirm that Iraqis—American and Iraqi private security companies would buy many of their weapons on the black market. I know—I knew the guy for one of these companies, and he would purchase his weapons in Sadr City. And many of my friends in private security companies would describe a variety of incidents on the road that I’m sure didn’t even make it into the WikiLeaks trove. You’re driving down from Mosul back to Baghdad, and you see a suspicious vehicle, and maybe somebody shoots at you, you open fire, and the people you kill are not recorded anywhere. And this was happening—if you think about the amount of convoys that security companies are protecting on a daily basis in ’05 and ’06 and how violent Iraq was, on a daily basis you had incidents all over the country of private security companies engaging civilians and engaging militias.


And, of course, the behavior that we criticize, private security companies opening fire on civilians and acting with impunity, is no different from the American military behavior. These are actually former American military personnel, soldiers and officers, for the most part. And it’s not like the American military was engaged in any different kind of behavior. But there was a gradual improvement, perhaps, but even during the surge, where we were supposed to be protecting civilians, there was actually a surge in civilian casualties of the Americans, as the WikiLeaks reports. So sometimes I hesitate to distinguish between the behavior of private security companies and the American military, because, to me, I think Iraqis suffered equally from both of them.


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to the quote we played at the beginning of the show, Manfred Nowak, from the United Nations, who is calling for a further investigation, especially into the US military, the UN chief investigator on torture calling for a full investigation of the role of US forces in human rights abuses. Manfred Nowak’s call came after the website released close to 400,000 US military documents that detail how US forces did nothing to stop reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers. In addition, the WikiLeaks war logs show at least 15,000 more civilians have died, as we said. In the streets of Baghdad, local residents say the leaked documents confirm what they have known for years.


The response in the United States was very different, and I wanted to go back to David Leigh for this, which is tremendous pressure on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, saying he has blood on his hands, that in the past he released documents that were not redacted. And yet, AP got a hold of an internal Pentagon memo that said in the last trove of some 76,000 documents that were released, that no sources were compromised, David Leigh. What is your response to all of this, that the overall framing of this is that WikiLeaks—and then, I think, by extension, though they don’t say, The Guardian and the New York Times—are putting people in danger?


DAVID LEIGH: Well, it’s a kind of a sick joke to talk about WikiLeaks maybe having blood on their hands, because, as you’ve said, the Pentagon analysis was that they don’t have blood on their hands and that nobody has suffered reprisals as a result of what they did. And they did redact in Afghanistan, and they did redact this time. Whereas, of course, the people making these accusations, these generals, they have gallons and gallons of real blood on their hands. And these documents detail how they have been responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians, for example. So, who’s got blood on their hands?


AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee, you also write about drones. Talk about what you found.


PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Amy, this is about a group called Task Force Odin. Odin is actually the Norse—one of the Norse gods of war and death. He’s famous because he has one eye. Odin is also—was the name of a task force that was set up in August of 2006 by General Richard Cody. And in his task force, it stands for "Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize." What they did was they used these drones made by General Atomics called Warrior Alpha drones. They sent them out to observe men supposedly planting bombs to attack American troops. These drones were then followed by a C-12 Cessna aircraft, often with analysts and aerial weapons teams who could call in Hellfire missile strikes. And the American military at first was very excited about this approach. They felt that this was the way forward.


And in particular, one area that is documented well in the WikiLeaks documents is in the six-month battle in Diyala province, in particular around Baqubah, where militants took over Baqubah, the capital of Diyala, and tried to declare an Islamic state of Iraq. So the Warrior Alpha drones and Task Force Odin called in—were able to observe and call in strikes and kill a number of people. And there are dozens of people that are documented as being—having killed in these WikiLeaks documents. And this is something that Cody then brought back to the US and said, "We are successful. Not only can we observe them, like the Greek god Odin, who was supposed to have all knowledge, we can also destroy them." Now, in reality, in fact, this warfare is quite limited. You have to actually come upon somebody emplacing a bomb before you can do anything about it. It doesn’t really help you when people are walking in and out of houses, when you don’t actually know what they’re doing. You could also, in fact, kill the wrong people, because you’re observing simply from far up in the sky.


And I think one of the most fascinating sets of documents there is around something called Operation Seventh Veil. Operation Seventh Veil is an operation to basically root out corruption and, in particular, to track down weapons smugglers. And very recently, a year ago, September 2009 and October 2009, Operation Seventh Veil was tasked with looking for weapons smugglers over the border in Syria. So they sent the drones, they sent the analysts, and they filed a number of reports. And you can go through the reports on WikiLeaks, and you will find that in almost 50 percent of the incidents, they come back saying "ineffective." And every time they file a report—there are some very, actually quite funny incidents where they say—you know, they’re observing these people, and they come down for a closer look, they send in ground troops, and they discover these people are shepherds with their flocks. They find that they are cigarette smugglers. You know, one man who’s—particularly ironic that this man, when they captured him, with the help of the Iraqi border police, he said he made $20 a day and had been doing that for years. He had no guns, and they were not able to observe—to find any weapons smugglers at all.


A lot of people, particularly in Pakistan, seem to think that the use of drones is the ability to be able to pinpoint and kill, you know, specific high-value targets. In reality, as we’ve discovered recently—there’s foundation here in Washington called New America. They’ve done a survey that has just been disclosed in which three-quarters of the people they polled in FATA, in the tribal territories of northern Pakistan, said they felt that attacks—they felt that America was trying to destroy Islam. They oppose the drone strikes. And 60 percent of them said it was OK to attack Americans.


I think, first of all, the drones cost an enormous amount of money. It’s $3 million for each of these Warrior Alphas. Then there’s all the time involved. And the very fact, at the end of the day, that their data, their sort of electronic intelligence is very poor, I think says, you know, a tremendous amount for the fact that, even in the Army and intelligence circles, that really the only way you can—if you believe in this kind of war, the only way you can really get this information is through human intelligence or, as Michael Steele, who is in charge of intelligence in Iraq, is through open-source intelligence, through journalists, actually, often who are on the ground and who meet people. Most of the stuff from drones doesn’t work. It is one thing to, as one particular general said, to attack, you know, low-hanging fruit, to find a couple of men who are planting a bomb and then attack them. And even that, you know, I think, is not necessarily guaranteed proof that these men have actually done this of their own volition. You really need to go in and to be able to try people. I mean, there is, I think—the idea of habeas corpus doesn’t exist.


AMY GOODMAN: Pratap, we’re just coming to the end of the broadcast. We’re just coming to the end of the broadcast, so I want to ask David Leigh, one of the major publications that’s worked with these documents, where do you go from here? I know Julian Assange has said 15,000 more documents will be released on Afghanistan soon. We have ten seconds.


DAVID LEIGH: It’s not so much the new documents in Afghanistan you should look out for as the question of what is going to happen to the thousands and thousands of US State Department diplomatic cables, which Bradley Manning, the US soldier, is also charged with leaking. They would cause a worldwide diplomatic crisis if they emerged, and I’m not sure that WikiLeaks is going to put those out.


AMY GOODMAN: David Leigh, I want to thank you for being with us from The Guardian; Nir Rosen, author of—well, his latest book is Aftermath; and Pratap Chatterjee with the Center for American Progress. We’ll link to all of your reports at our website, democracynow.org.

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