Wikileaks for dummies: exposing the Iraq war crimes files
The exposing of the truth about the Iraq war by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange is without doubt a most commendable act. For one thing, it has been carried out in a responsible manner, in that the site and its owner have taken extraordinary steps to avoid endangering lives. Even more important, the leaking of the documents will ultimately save millions of lives, and it begins to address the injustice done to the countless number of people already lost.
Nevertheless, a number of media outlets are determined to mislead the public about the lessons to be learned from the Iraq war leaks. Rather than explain to the public the implications of the leaked raw data, these outlets seem to go out of their way to make the best of a bad situation for the Pentagon and to derail the essence of the message that comes out from the leaking of these classified documents. In doing so, these media appear desperate to downplay the scandalous actions perpetrated by the American forces – with green lights that go high up in the US chain of command – by trying to divert the focus on to the Iraqi side alone. This is being done despite the following:
1. The US military acts were no less horrific than those of the Iraqis.
2. American policies and actions forced Iraq virtually into civil war – deliberately so in order to divide and rule, according to critics. But regardless of the intent, the US government is under a legal obligation under international law to ensure the safety of Iraqi civilians.
3. It is easier to report more of what the Iraqis were doing and less of what the American invaders were carrying out, when such actions are embarrassing or are clearly war crimes.
4. The Americans were monitoring the Iraqis but who was monitoring the Americans?
5. The new Iraqi recruits were trained by the Americans, who are themselves sometimes confused by what is the correct code of conduct.
6. When not conducting torture themselves, the Americans were either handing Iraqi detainees to their Iraqi torturers or were present at the scene of the crime and did nothing. But what must not be missed is (a) why did they not act? and (b) who were the detainees? (We know that the torturers are pro-American.)
It is most probable that those tortured detainees were not arrested for, say, shoplifting or failing to pay their parking tickets. They were most likely “suspected” or actual anti-occupation insurgents – or even just loud critics of post-invasion Iraq. They could include anyone from innocent bystanders, to Al-Qaeda extremists, nationalists, Ba’athists, Sadrists or just some apolitical guy (or woman) who simply objects to foreign military occupation.
If they were perceived to be actively anti-occupation (whether Sunni or Shi’i), then they would be treated as enemies by American and Iraqi forces alike. In this new US-Iraqi alliance, who does the capturing and who gets to carry out the torturing is really a matter of convenience.
Also, what later became a sectarian conflict did not begin that way. It started as a clash between armed anti-occupation groups and US-led forces. Then, following the establishment of the new Iraqi forces, the insurgents began finding themselves fighting US-armed (trained and paid) Iraqis who got in the way in their pursuit of American soldiers. Matters became complicated later due to a number of other factors – all resulting from the invasion and post-2003 US policies – and the conflict became one between various communities (not just along the Sunni-Shi’i divide).
For better a understanding of the sectarian conflict in Iraq, you could take a look at the roots of the Rwandan genocide. And if you look at how the sectarian conflict was contained in Northern Ireland, it makes you wonder why the exact opposite policies were pursued by the occupying coalition in Iraq, which prior to 2003 did not even have the problems of Northern Ireland.
Critics of Assange, whether US officials or in the media, have overnight developed caring hearts and began talking about Wikileaks potentially “endangering lives”. These are predominately none other than the well-established war advocates and possible war-crimes perpetrators of this world.
The Wikileaks website, which told the world that there were at least 15,000 dead Iraqis that no one knew about, wants to put an end to further bloodshed by informing the US electorate of what is – secretly – being committed in their name (which is really no news to the Iraqis). But Assange went one step further and asked the Pentagon to coordinate with Wikileaks in redacting any sensitive information. The Pentagon declined.
One must always remember that these war logs were already self-censored when originally recorded. Their authors knew that one day they could be made public and may be accessed by others. So what is recorded in them is the “official” version of certain events. This version may not always correspond to (the much darker) reality, nor does it necessarily record all that took place or was carried out by US soldiers in Iraq.
Secondly, these logs are limited to what took place in the presence of the US military and what they saw as significant to record. This means that what US intelligence services or private security contractors do on the ground would not show up there unless there was an involvement by the military. And even then the motives of these parties could not be ascertained.
It is safe to say that, for example, any covert CIA operation or unacknowledged Blackwater conduct would go right above the head of the US military, who might well mistake the consequences of such actions to be the work of some “hostile” parties and not that of their supposed allies.
These documents amount to “confessions” by the US military, and they serve as witness accounts of actions performed by their allied Iraqi (and non-Iraqi) forces. But beyond that they could include anything between speculations and bold lies. Anything related to US foes inside Iraq or in neighbouring countries is nothing more than the view held (or projected) by the American military, not some damning evidence against anyone except the US armed forces themselves and their allies in Iraq.