Wikileaks files: torture, death squads and occupation
The site itself is swamped. The media organisations that have done the barest preliminary sifting of information from the mass of files – Al Jazeera, New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the UK’s Channel 4 TV – are equally swamped. Other news outlets are focusing on particular aspects of the leaks, such as Iran (a reflection of recent US political focus), or the Pentagon’s reaction.
What has been uncovered often contradicts the official narrative of the conflict, reports Al Jazeera. “For example, the leaked data shows that the US has been keeping records of Iraqi deaths and injuries throughout the war, despite public statements to the contrary. The latest cache of files pertains to a period of six years – from January 1, 2004, to December 31, 2009 – and shows that 109,000 people died during this time. Of those, a staggering 66,081 – two-thirds of the total – were civilians.”
The figures are much higher than previously estimated and they will inevitably lead to an upward revision of the overall death toll of the conflict. As a result of the information contained in the war logs, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) – an organisation that kept records of the number of people killed – is about to raise its death toll estimates by 15,000: to 122,000 from 107,000.
The new material throws light on the day-to-day horrors of the war. The military calls them SIGACTs – significant action reports – ground-level summaries of the events that punctuated the conflict: raids, searches, roadside bombings, arrests, and more. All of them are classified “secret”. The reports reveal how torture was rampant and how ordinary civilians bore the brunt of the conflict.
The files record horrifying tales: of pregnant women being shot dead at checkpoints, of priests kidnapped and murdered, of Iraqi prison guards using electric drills to force their prisoners to confess. Equally disturbing is the response of the military to the civilian deaths caused by its troops. Excessive use of force was routinely not investigated and the guilty were rarely brought to book.
Britain’s The Independent has said the leaks are important because they prove much of what was previously only suspected but never admitted by the US army or explained in detail. An analysis by the paper says, “It was obvious from 2004 that US forces almost always ignored cases of torture by Iraqi government forces, but this is now shown to have been official policy.”
It was no secret that torture of prisoners had become the norm in Iraqi government prisons as it established its own security services from 2004. Men who were clearly the victims of torture were often put on television where they would confess to murder, torture and rape. But after a time it was noticed that many of those whom they claimed to have killed were still alive.
The Sunni community at this time were terrified of mass sweeps by the US forces, sometimes accompanied by Iraqi government units, in which all young men of military age were arrested. Tribal elders would often rush to the American to demand that the prisoners not be handed over to the Iraqi army or police who were likely to torture or murder them. The power drill was a favourite measure of torture. It is clear that the US military knew all about this.
From the end of 2007 the war began to change as the Americans began to appear as the defenders of the Sunni community. The US military offensives against al-Qa’ida and the Mehdi Army Shiah militia were accompanied by a rash of assassinations. Again it would be interesting to know more detail about how far the US military was involved in these killings, particularly against the followers of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.