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Posts Tagged ‘Wikileaks

Wikileaks files: torture, death squads and occupation

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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.

Written by makanaka

October 23, 2010 at 13:55

The Afghan War Diaries

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The full comment I wrote for Khaleej Times is here.

Ghazni Province, Afghanistan

In der Provinz Ghazni zeigen Taliban-Krieger ihre Waffen. Wenig spricht dafür, dass Afghanistan bis 2014 tatsächlich in der Lage sein wird, die Sicherheit durch eigene Soldaten und Polizisten zu garantieren - so hatten es Vertreter von über 70 Staaten und Organisationen kürzlich bei der Afhanistan-Konferenz in Kabul zuversichtlich verkündet. Der Spiegel/AFP

Described to the world as a leak, this extraordinary and terrible library of new information about the war in Afghanistan is anything but. It is instead a testament that has emerged when the conditions for its emergence are right. That they have emerged because of the disestablishment organisation called Wikileaks in no way should determine their status as primary data records. Wikileaks the organisation has for several years encouraged, sought and published the secret, the dirty, the murderous deals that help define the post-modern era: bank scams, crooked arms deals, financial disaster by design. It has done so by ensuring anonymity to those who make available such information, often at great risk and at great cost.

The Afghan War Diary is as a subject and as a deep insight into contemporary history altogether different. It is beginning to be seen as the single biggest leak in intelligence history. The weeks of analysis that lie ahead will surely confirm that. But the Afghan War Diary is more, much more. It is also a terrifying window into how a superpower has run a war the world does not want, and the costs of such a war detailed in hundreds of accounts of the deaths of innocents.

Historical ruins outside Kabul

Das unwirtliche Bergland am Hindukusch war jahrhundertelang Schauplatz kriegerischer Auseinandersetzungen und ein Durchgangsland mit wechselnden Herrschern. Auch dieses Grab von Sultan Mohammed Telai in Kabul wurde während des Bürgerkriegs in den neunziger Jahren beschädigt. Der Spiegel/AP

In the immediate aftermath of the massive store of documents being made public, two governments are immediately forced onto the defensive, that of the USA and of Pakistan. The protests against the ‘leaks’ from the White House, the US military establishment and the supporters of its wars in the region are long and loud. They are also irrelevant, for this is not the era of the Vietnam War and the leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The New York Times is involved here too, with the Afghan War Diary, and so are The Guardian of Britain and Der Spiegel of Germany. A comment in the The Times, years later, about its game-changing 1971 series on the Pentagon Papers had said they “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance”.

That is exactly what The Afghan War Diary promises, for the secret compendium of over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010 describe the majority of lethal military actions involving the United States military. They include the number of persons internally stated to be killed, wounded, or detained during each action, together with the precise geographical location of each event (Wikileaks has enabled the plotting of these deadly, tragic events on Google Earth, in a timeline of bloody death), and the military units involved and major weapon systems used.

Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Ein afghanischer Junge wartet in der Provinz Helmand auf eine Behandlung durch Militärärzte. Britische und US-Soldaten hatten Dorfbewohnern medizinische Unterstützung durch Untersuchung und erste Hilfe angeboten. Der Spiegel/Reuters

“The Afghan War Diary is the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war,” said Wikileaks in its introduction to the complex database created for the intelligence reports. “The deaths of tens of thousands is normally only a statistic but the archive reveals the locations and the key events behind each most of these deaths. We hope its release will lead to a comprehensive understanding of the war in Afghanistan and provide the raw ingredients necessary to change its course.” Implicit in this introduction is the responsibility that now rests with the readers and researchers of the The Afghan War Diary. It will be up to us, individuals and groups of concerned citizens everywhere, to employ these raw ingredients and fashion anew accountability and truth, democracy and peace.

Read what Yasmeen Ali at pakpotpourri2 has to say on the Afghan War Diaries. I quote some paras from her article:

“Why are the Americans so flabbergasted by the botch up of the Allied Forces performance in Afghanistan? Are they shocked because civilians, children, women were being killed? Or that CIA had expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan?. Or that these units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids?. Or that from  2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary?”

“Much has been written and shall continue to be written on the Wiki Leak. WikiLeaks, an online whistle-blower, has released the ‘Afghan War Diary’, a set of over 91,000 leaked US military reports from 2004-2009. Some 75,000 reports have been released online.  There has not been any ‘surprise’ in the official US circles. US National Security Advisor General James Jones said that the US “strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information…which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk” but the leaks “will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the leaked reports were not based on facts and “do not reflect the current on-ground realities”.”

“Pakistan has been an ally to USA in this war and has suffered greatly .It has everything to lose by continued instability in Afghanistan and everything to gain by stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan gains nothing by prolonging the war or running a counter policy of her own.”

Written by makanaka

July 28, 2010 at 12:08