People's Democracy

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


No. 48

November 28, 2010



Wikileaks: Iraq War Crimes Exposed


Yohannan Chemerapally



IT is no wonder that Julian Assange, the moving force behind the whistle- blower group Wikileaks, is now on top of the hit list of the Obama administration. The right wing government that is now in power in Sweden has put out an arrest warrant for Assange. The legal basis for issuing the warrant is extremely dubious. The timing, coming as it does, just after the release of the second tranche of US military documents, has raised further doubts. The latest documents put out by Wikileaks provides further confirmation of American war crimes in Iraq. The 400, 000 military documents that Wikileaks has put in the public domain provides clinching evidence that the US administration was aware of the widespread killings of innocent civilians in Iraq, despite official claims to the contrary. The documents also reveal that thousands of Iraqis were routinely tortured under the full glare of the US occupation forces.


Julian Assange said at a press conference that the released documents “revealed the truth” about the war in Iraq. “The attack on the truth by war starts long before the war starts and continues long after the war ends”, Assange said. He gave instances of earlier wars like the Vietnam War. That war was precipitated on the basis of a huge lie---the so called “Gulf of Tonkin” incident. Assange said that by releasing the American military’s Iraq war logs, his group is hopeful of correcting some of the attacks on the truth “that occurred before the war, during the war and which has continued since the Iraqi war officially ended”.


Senior Obama administration officials have kept on repeating that Assange has “blood on his hands” for allegedly imperilling the lives of American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US defence secretary Robert Gates however had to admit that Wikileaks has so far not let out classified information of the kind that has endangered lives of American servicemen.  All the same, Assange has been turned into a public enemy by the Obama administration and put on the US government’s official “watch list”. His personal computer and papers went missing recently after he checked in for a flight. Countries like Sweden, from which he operated freely until recently, are now cold shouldering him, under pressure from Washington. He has been under constant surveillance and many of his associates have started leaving the group, unable to take the pressure. Wikileaks funding has been adversely affected as donors have been threatened by the US administration. But the international community has generally applauded the courageous endeavour undertaken by Wikileaks.




The release of the Iraq War documents has been described as the “greatest leak in the history of the American military”. The documents, which are basically eye witness accounts of American soldiers from the field of action, puts into the public domain a snapshot to the bloody war in Iraq from 2004 to 2008. They are written from the perspective of the American soldiers. The logs mention civilian deaths occurring in American and insurgent attacks on 34,000 different occasions.


The latest Wikileaks documents have revealed that 15,000 more Iraqi civilians were killed between 2004 and 2008, than previously accounted for. This has raised the official toll of Iraqi deaths during the occupation to 122,000. Many of those killed were Iraqi civilians trying to navigate military roadblocks set up by the occupying American military forces on busy roads. The documents reveal that a particular US helicopter gunship was involved in more than one instance of targeting civilians who were trying to surrender. Wikileaks had earlier in the year shown footage of an Apache gunship targeting two journalists from Reuters and civilians who had rushed in to help them. Private military contractors, like the notorious Blackwater Group, hired by the Americans were responsible for many of the horrific incidents involving civilians. The Wikileaks documents gives several instances of these contractors, hailing from different parts of the world, running amok and targeting civilians. Many of the cases were hushed up or not even reported.


The US central command website still continues to insist only 65,185 civilians and 13, 754 members of the Iraqi security services have been killed from 2004-2008. Estimates of those killed, compiled by independent sources put the casualties at between 100,000 and a million. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had stated that upto151, 000 people had been killed in Iraq till 2008, as a result of the violence triggered by the American occupation. The reputed British science journal, Lancet, quotes a figure of 650,000 people killed in the conflict. The numbers of Iraqis killed as a result of the American occupation, according to experts is much more than what the Wikileaks logs reveal.


The documents also conclusively show that the American occupation forces turned a blind eye to hundreds of cases of reported torture, rape and abuse of civilians by the Iraqi troops they had trained and armed. The leaked logs reveal that there were more than a thousand instances of torture that the American military was aware of. As recently as December, 2009, the Americans were given a video showing Iraqi troops executing a blindfolded prisoner. The report had named one of the Iraqi officers involved in the extra-judicial killing but the US authorities took no action. The recently released documents record American military officials as saying that no “investigation is necessary” and passing the file back to the concerned Iraqi ministry.


The Pentagon said in a statement in the last week of October that when reports of Iraqi abuses are received it routinely notifies the Iraqi authorities concerned. A high level Pentagon directive had barred the US forces from investigating. The instruction not to investigate was handed down in May, 2006. The order tersely stated---“Provided that the US military forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted unless directed by HHQ”.  Daniel Ellsberg, the man responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War told the American media that the Wikileaks logs is “official evidence that there was a cover-up of crimes, either by turning suspects over or torturing them directly”. 


The US administration conveniently hid under the façade of international law as Iraq theoretically became a “sovereign” country in 2004 after a puppet government was installed in Baghdad. The US has argued that it had no control over Iraq’s armed forces and therefore no legal power to order them to investigate cases involving torture. Washington conveniently chose to forget that it had trained, armed and financed the new Iraqi army. The US, according to many observers, knowingly violated the UN Convention against Torture. The Convention, which the US ratified in 1994, forbids the transfer of detainees to other countries “where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture”. The US has transferred thousands of prisoners to Iraqi jails despite being aware of the fact that they could be subjected to torture. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, has said that the US has an obligation to investigate the handing over of prisoners to Iraqi prison authorities so that they could be tortured and killed. He said that this was necessary to ensure “that the perpetrators were brought to justice but also to provide the victims with adequate remedy and reparation”.




The documents also throw further light on the US role in fomenting the sectarian divide. During the early years of the occupation, Washington had thrown its weight behind the Shia parties and had stood aside as they waged a virtual pogrom against the Sunnis in cities like Baghdad. But mid way the US army changed tactics to undercut the Al Qaeda, which had succeeded in taking the battle to the occupation forces in central Iraq. The Americans lured Sunni tribal chiefs and fighters aligned to Abu Musah al Zarqawi, the leader of the Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) to form the Awakening Council. The Americans re-employed elements from Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards and created the “Wolf Brigade”. The documents mention the role of the Wolf Brigade in brutally extracting confessions from prisoners handed over by the Americans. The Brigade was trained by an American army officer, who previously worked in El Salvador to teach brutal counter-insurgency tactics to army there during the bloody civil war that had gripped the country.


The American occupation forces succeeded in their short term goal of diminishing the AQM as a serious military threat by allowing the Awakening Council fighters to go on a rampage and indulge in sectarian killings of their own. The leaked war records also serve to remind people that it was the American occupation of Iraq that gave the al Qaeda an opportunity to set up base in Iraq. It was non-existent during Saddam Hussein’s time. Before invading Iraq, the Bush administration had alleged that the secular government of Saddam Hussein had helped the Al Qaeda plan the September 11 attacks.


The Iraq war logs provide new details about the bloody battle of Samarra in April 2004 as the occupation forces tried to dislodge the resistance. They detail the use of massive air power to subdue the resistance. The city was pummelled into submission. Reporters who had covered the fighting recall that among hundreds of casualties, many were women and children. The US has not admitted to any civilian casualties. Other Iraqi towns like Falluja were also reduced to rubble. The Americans have not given any details about civilian casualties in Falluja either. The international group, “Iraq Body Count” has said that more than 1200 Iraqi civilians perished as the US regained control of Falluja.   The war logs detail how on a single day, 146 deaths were reported in a single day (17 October, 2006) from different parts of Iraq. The deaths were a result of clashes between the insurgents and the occupation forces, suicide bombings, targeted killings and beheadings. The incidents from a single day highlighted the mess the Americans had got the country into.


The war logs also contain chatter about alleged Iranian involvement in internal Iraqi affairs. US officials have been crying hoarse for years now that the Iranians have been training and supplying arms to various Iraqi groups. The Americans had said way back in 2007, that the Iranians are helping Shiite militants in Southern Iraq without providing any evidence. The Wikileaks logs only refer to doubts and surmises about Iranian activities in Iraq. As the veteran war correspondent, Robert Fisk has noted, Iranian military materiel dating back from the Iran-Iraq war can be found all over Iraq. He points out that most of the attacks against the occupation forces were carried out by Sunni militants who have no love lost for the government in Teheran.


International human rights groups have called on the Obama administration to investigate the reports that the US forces systematically tortured and abused Iraqi detainees.  They have also demanded that the Iraqi government prosecute officials responsible for gross human rights violations. A special army unit acting under the direct supervision of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al Maliki’s office is said to be involved in targeting political rivals. Maliki alleged that Wikileaks expose was timed to derail his chances of retaining the top job. Maliki is continuing as prime minister after the parliamentary elections returned a hung verdict. He is in fact assured of a second term, after intervention by the Obama administration ensured that Iyad Allawi, his main rival backed out.