People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 34

August 22, 2010

 Wikileaks: War Crimes Exposed


Yohannan Chemarapally


THOUGH the tens of thousands of documents released by Wikileaks in July which cover the period between 2004 and 2009 don’t reveal any substantial new evidence that was not already there in the public realm, it details the killings of more than 20,000 Afghan civilians between the years 2001-2009. The Obama administration, instead of introspecting, is threatening dire consequences for those involved in the leak of the documents alleging that they now “have blood on their hands”. The government in Pakistan though inured to a great degree by the continuous allegations of collusion with sections of the insurgents, has now to fend off more criticism.


180 of the files released pertain to the ISI’s help to the Taliban in training and arms supplies. The British prime minister, David Cameron on a visit to India in the last week of July agreed with his hosts about Pakistan’s involvement with terror groups trying to destabilise the continent. The Wikileaks logs also reveal that Indian development projects and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan were of particular concern to the insurgents and were regularly targeted by militants at the prompting of handlers from across the border.


Even before the Wikileaks logs were released it was clear that the Pakistani political and security establishment was far from happy with the growing Indian presence in Afghanistan. The Indian side had said that the attack on their embassy in Kabul was the handiwork of the Haqqani faction of the Taliban, which has close ties to the Pakistani security establishment. After the Wikileaks expose, the Indian government issued a statement demanding that Pakistan “cease forthwith its policy of sponsoring terrorism and stop the utilisation of its territory for recruiting and providing haven to terrorists”.




The Pakistan government has described the documents as “skewed” and out of touch with the reality on the ground. The Obama administration will however find it difficult to gloss over the documented evidence of strong linkages between the ISI and Afghan Taliban, despite the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton’s recent assertions that Islamabad needed just a little more of friendly prodding to fully subscribe to the American agenda in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, who was given an unprecedented three year extension mainly at the urging of the Obama administration, was the man overseeing the ISI’s activities in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the period covered by the leaked documents.


The US and its NATO allies have said that the leaked files have not revealed anything new. The Obama administration was quick to point out that the events covered in the “Afghan War Diary” as Wikileaks calls the leaked documents, occurred during the previous Bush administration. But they do reveal some previously unknown massacres, like the targeting of a bus load of civilians by French troops in October, 2008 and a similar incident two months later involving US troops. Many innocent civilians were killed and seriously injured in both the incidents. There is also an incident which occurred in 2007, when US planes targeted a village to kill a Libyan fighter belonging to the Al Qaeda. Instead, those killed were seven Afghan police officers.


The “War Diary” documents numerous instances of serious indiscipline among the Afghan security forces trained by the West. They include firing on innocent civilians, profiting from the drug trade and infighting and mass desertions. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai wants the same Afghan forces to be completely in charge of the country’s security by 2014. At the “Kabul conference” held in early July and attended by top officials from all the countries involved in Afghanistan, there was open support for this deadline proposed by Karzai by none other than the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.


Another important revelation was that the Taliban had acquired heat seeking ground to air missiles that may have resulted in the downing of a few US and NATO planes and helicopters. The media had written about Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders being selectively targeted for assassination and the collateral damage that has frequently resulted from such strikes. The “War Diary” however fleshes out the details. It describes the activities of Task Force 373, an American created squad specifically created to eliminate individuals on America’s wanted list in Afghanistan. Task Force 373 has become even more active after the Obama administration took over two years ago.




The “War Diary” also throws more light on the increasing use of Reaper and Predator drones which have rained bombs on thousands of unsuspecting innocent Afghan civilians from 50,000 feet. The Obama administration has considerably accelerated the use of the killer drones and other forms of targeted killings. Counter-insurgency and militarily defeating the Taliban has been put on the backburner. Eliminating Taliban and al Qaeda leaders with whom the Americans and the Pakistanis do not want to do business with seems to be the order of the day. Senior White House sources have told the American media after the leak of the documents that they are hoping that the recent bonhomie between Karzai and Kayani will help get the so called “good Taliban” on board, so as to facilitate a political settlement. $300 million has been officially set aside by Washington and allies like Japan to lure middle ranking Taliban leaders to the negotiating table. The ISI is expected to do most of the arm twisting and cajoling to get the recalcitrant Taliban on board.


Wikileaks has on earlier occasions published top secret Indian government documents. They include classified documents on the unique identification authority which was leaked in October last year. The other important document leaked by the group was the draft of the India-EU agreement and a report by the finance ministry on diluting environmental impact assessment norms. Wikileaks has said that it is yet to release huge amounts of documents pertaining to Afghanistan. There is a possibility that the covert activities of other countries including India, could figure in future disclosures. Assange recently said that his organisation has “several million files” waiting to be released on every country in the world, having a population of more than a million. Out of the 92,000 documents from the secret Pentagon files still in its possession, only 76,000 have been posted online. Wikileaks has said that it is carefully screening the rest of the documents before releasing them as it does not want any harm to come to individuals whose names figure in them.


The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, recently said that Wikileaks is already responsible for a number of deaths. The Taliban has already announced that they will hunt down the “informers” whose names figure in the documents. However, so far, there have been no known revenge killings or deaths reported as a result of the Wikileaks documents. Gates has said that the “battlefield consequences” of the leaks are “potentially severe and dangerous” for the American army in Afghanistan. The alarmist view of the defence secretary is not however shared by Major General John Campbell, the US commander in eastern Afghanistan. He told reporters that the release of the documents have not changed military operations or tactics in Afghanistan. Senior American officials tend to forget that the leaks of intelligence assessments have only substantiated the scale of civilian carnage in Afghanistan.  The 20,000 deaths that have been accounted in the document are only a fraction of the civilians who have died in Afghanistan in the last nine years under occupation.




The leaked document also proves that the resistance has popular support and does not have to depend on groups like the Al Qaeda to carry the fight to the enemy. There are reports of more than 27,000 enemy actions and more than 23,000 “explosive hazards” (IED’s) placed by the enemy. The documents also show that there were 273 demonstrations held by Afghan civilians against the presence of occupation forces. Afghan civilian casualties were understated in the US army documents. For instance, only 56 insurgents were reported killed in the NATO air attack in Kunduz in September 2009 in the documents released by Wikileaks. In actual fact, the number of civilians killed, among whom were a number of women and children, was 142.


Assange, the moving force behind the expose has said that many of the informers whose names figure in the leaked documents were any way acting in a “criminal way” by providing false information to their American paymasters with the aim of “creating victims themselves”. Assange has justified his actions on the grounds that “the vast sweep of abuses, everyday squalor and carnage of war ----the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces----and (many) thousands of war crimes”, needed to be exposed for the sake of accountability and justice. He  has said that the documents provide more than enough evidence for war crimes tribunals to prosecute the leaders of the western world. UN Security Council resolution 917 adopted in March 2010 calls “for full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and international humanitarian law throughout Afghanistan”.


Assange, who has been working under tremendous pressure and increasing threats from Washington, has said in interviews that the archives will have a decisive impact on international public opinion and decision makers in western capitals. “There is a mood to end the war in Afghanistan. This information won’t do it alone, but it will shift political will in a significant manner”, he told the German magazine, Der Spiegel, which along with the Guardian and the New York Times, were made privy to the documents.


Public opinion in the West, including the US, has turned overwhelmingly against the war in Afghanistan. July was the deadliest month for the US soldiers in Afghanistan with 66 killed in action. 102 Democratic Congressmen voted against the continuation of the war in the US Congress in the late July, signalling to the White House that their support should no longer be taken for granted. They were joined by 12 Republican Congressman who voted against the additional $33 billion being sanctioned for the Afghan war. Senator Richard Lugar, an influential Republican Senator warned that Washington could go on spending billions of dollars “without reaching a satisfying conclusion”. Senior Obama administration officials have been quick to reassure the Pakistani and Afghan leadership that they are not going to leave Afghanistan in a hurry. The US secretary of defence and the military chief, admiral Mike Mullen issued statements that they will stay in the region for as long as it takes to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda.


The US defence secretary Gates specifically stated that the US was not making a substantial withdrawal of troops anytime soon. He stressed that the Obama administration is re-emphasising the message that the US is not leaving Afghanistan in the July of 2011. He said that the date only signified “a transition process and a thinning of our ranks”. US vice President, Joseph Biden, told television that the numbers of troops to be withdrawn next year would be as low as 2000. The “exit strategy” from Afghanistan president Obama has been talking about has evidently still to be formulated. The impact of the Wikileaks documents on public opinion may yet force the Obama administration’s hand and make the occupation forces leave Afghanistan by 2014 as promised.