Political and media reaction to the biggest-ever leak of secret war documents is misguided. Getting tangled up in whether WikiLeaks was ethical or not in releasing 391,000 documents on Iraq, and whether that might “compromise” informants or somehow risk the security of the United States and allies is to walk right into the trap set by the Pentagon’s propaganda machine.
What we should be upset about is what the documents prove — the criminal incompetence of the American occupiers who lost control of Iraq and presided over the mayhem, murder, torture, rape and death of tens of thousands of Iraqis in week after week, year after year of insurgency, civil war and sectarian warfare that left the streets of Baghdad and other cities littered with rotting bodies.
The papers show how the administration of George W. Bush systematically lied about or hid the carnage suffered by the Iraqi people in whose name he had launched the invasion.
They show that it was the American invasion and occupation that gave rise to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which launched two murderous campaigns of kidnapping and beheading foreigners, and letting loose a sectarian bloodbath on the Shiites. An invasion mounted to ostensibly save Iraqis from Al Qaeda got them slaughtered by it.
The proof comes from American soldiers who filed daily logs, the existence of which Washington never acknowledged. It will take months to fully analyze the papers, spanning Jan. 1, 2004, to Dec. 31, 2009. But they already show that:
• The number of Iraqis killed in that period alone was 109,032. That’s 15,000 more than estimated, not by the Americans (“We don’t do body counts” of Iraqis or Afghans, Gen. Tommy Franks said in 2002) but by conscientious NGOs, such as Iraq Body Count. The total also does not include casualties in 2003 or 2010. Iraq Body Count estimates the total of Iraqis dead at about 150,000, more than 122,000 of them civilians.
• Among the deaths that the Americans failed to include were the 681 killed in error by American and allied troops at checkpoints or by passing convoys. Or those killed in 2004, by airstrikes, tank shells and howitzers on Fallujah, who are listed as “enemy.”
• Americans abused Iraqi prisoners in their own custody.
• Americans were aware of the abuse of Iraqis by Iraqis — beatings, burnings, electric shocks, acid scalding and other torture — but failed to stop it or even fully investigate it.
• Americans continued to transfer detainees to Iraqi custody, although they knew or should have known that torture was routine (shades of the Canadian issue of Afghan detainee transfers).
• Americans turned a blind eye to the presence of death squads, including one belonging to the interior ministry under the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
This week’s claim by the Pentagon that it did not hide Iraqi casualties defies belief.
Initially it maintained that it did not keep such records. In June 2008, it released a chart of civilian death trends but not the data on which it was based. In August that year, the congressional research service said the Pentagon was actively withholding casualty statistics. It was only this year that the Pentagon released, under the Freedom of Information Act, papers showing 63,185 civilian deaths between January 2004 and August 2008.
The latest estimate of 150,000 dead is much lower than other studies that pegged the total as high as 1.2 million (as of August 2007). But those estimates have been criticized as unsubstantiated.
The WikiLeaks leaks have prompted calls for a proper accounting, just as its release of documents on Afghanistan earlier this year prompted a re-evaluation of the NATO mission there.
As John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count says, we need to compile “comprehensive, locally verifiable, detailed truth — painstakingly pieced together, death by death, name by name, recording each and every casualty of this conflict.”
The people in the nations that sent troops to Iraq as well as Afghanistan have a right to know the full human costs of those wars.
They already know that it’s the civilian carnage more than anything else that soured Afghans on NATO, turned Iraqis against the United States and its allies, and made much of the Arab/Muslim world anti-American; and it’s the reason most cited by terrorists, including homegrown ones in the West, as their motivation.