Has Al-Jazeera outleaked WikiLeaks?

AL-JAZEERA has released what it described as “startling new information” from US military documents obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks, alleging state-sanctioned Iraqi torture and the killing of “hundreds” of civilians at US military checkpoints.

It said that the major findings included an alleged US military cover-up of Iraqi state-sanctioned torture and “hundreds” of civilians deaths at manned American checkpoints after the US-led invasion of 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein.

The Qatar-based satellite broadcaster also said the leaked papers, dating from January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2009, show the US kept a death count throughout the war, despite US denials.

WikiLeaks, in the meantime, released a statement on its Twitter feed claiming that it was “informed that rumors of Al-Jazeera releasing WikiLeaks files are incorrect”.

An hour later, it told the online world to keep watching WikiLeaks – which has been down since news broke it was preparing the release of some 400,000 files on the Iraq War – for the big announcement, and included Al-Jazeera in its list of sources.

“See TBIJ, IBC, Guardian, Spiegel, NYT, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, Chan4, SVT, CNN, BBC and more in the next few hours,” it said just after 7am AEDT.

“We maximise impact.”

Al-Jazeera’s English channel was to broadcast a series of programs, it said in a statement sent to AFP, “that reveal startling new information about the operations of U.S. forces during the Iraq War”.

It said the programs are based on files from WikiLeaks “who gained access to over 400,000 documents regarding the War in Iraq making it the largest document leak in U.S. history”.

“The secret materials are more than four times larger then Wikileak’s Afghanistan files,” the broadcaster said in a statement issued in English.

On Tuesday, WIkiLeaks founder Julian Assange took a swipe at Wired magazine for pre-empting the release, asking: “What is journalism coming to?”

“Over 700 articles, newspapers all over the world, and newswires fooled by a tabloid blog – and each other,” he wrote.

Al-Jazeera said the leaked documents also provide new information on the killing of civilians by US private security firm Blackwater.

“The secret US files reveal new cases of Blackwater (a company now known as XE) opening fire on civilians. No charges were ever brought,” the statement said.

Also included in the papers obtained by WikiLeaks was information on what it called the “secret involvement” of Iran in financing Shiite militias in Iraq”.

“The files detail Iran’s secret war in Iraq and discuss Iran’s Revolutionary Guard acting as an alleged supplier of arms to Shia insurgents,” Al-Jazeera said.

It said the papers also included US Army reports about Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki “and allegations of his association with death squads” in Iraq.

The Pentagon yesterday warned that releasing secret military documents could endanger US troops and Iraqi civilians.

“By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

He said the documents were “essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story.”

“That said, the period covered by these reports has been well-chronicled in news stories, books and films and the release of these field reports does not bring new understanding to Iraq’s past,” Mr Morrell added.

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