The Impact of the WikiLeaks War Logs

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On Friday, the Web site WikiLeaks published nearly 400,000 U.S. Army documents related to the Iraq War. The documents, collectively known as the Iraq War Logs, offer detailed descriptions of civilian deaths, the abuse of prisoners and detainees, and Iran's role in assisting Iraqi militias against U.S. troops, among other aspects of the war. The War Logs are said to constitute the biggest leak in the history of the American military, and just as when WikiLeaks released a similar series of documents about Afghanistan in July, people are asking questions about the national security implications, the behavior of American political and military leaders, and the methods of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

  • In the Revelations, Plenty of Blame to Go Around Slate's Fred Kaplan notes that "according to the Pentagon's secret report, most Iraqi civilian deaths were caused by other Iraqis" and that "while some American guards behaved horrendously toward Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, Iraqi police and soldiers have behaved much worse." Kaplan concludes that "these new documents indicate, whether Assange realizes it or not, that not all the bastards are American."
  • U.K. Papers Condemn War Once Again "It is too early for history to have formed a settled view on the war," reads an editorial in The Guardian, "but the case that it was a monumental error gets ever more compelling." The Independent writes that "The Iraq war logs constitute a 400,000-page indictment in the court of history for one of the worst judgements in American foreign policy, in which [Tony] Blair finally faces an unanswerable charge of aiding and abetting." In The Daily Telegraph, Sean Rayment writes that "fear can neither be used as either a defence or an excuse. Mistakes will be made in war, they are part of the fabric of conflict, but they must be investigated not ignored for the sake of political expediency."
  • Leaks Show That Iran Has Always Been a Threat, concludes William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. "Iran has been killing American soldiers for years in Iraq, both directly and through groups trained and deployed by Iran, as has Syria to a lesser degree," he writes. "Our policy makers need to accept that the Iranian regime--much like al-Qaeda in the 1990s--declared war on us long before the American public knew it. If anything good comes from the Wikileaks disclosure, it will be to pull the mask off of Iranian involvement in Iraq, how much the Iranians contributed to the deterioration of Iraq after the 2003 invasion (and yes, the intra-Iraqi violence), and the continuing Iranian war against us."
  • The Impact in Iraq Juan Cole at Informed Comment worries that the War Logs "may well derail the formation of a government by implicating caretaker prime minister Nuri al-Maliki in running death squads ... A member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Jalaluddin Saghir was blistering in his criticism of the Iraqi government because of the new revelations. ISCI (which Iranian official news calls SIIC) is for the moment declining to join al-Maliki’s coalition. Its leaders thus have a vested interest in al-Maliki fading away."
  • Any Real News Here? wonders Max Boot at Commentary. "The documents about the Iraq War don't tell us much that we didn't already know in broad outline," Boot writes. "While they may well compromise 'sources and methods,' to use the intelligence terminology, they are hardly a revelation to anyone who has been paying attention. Today's headlines, for example, are about the deaths of Iraqi civilians caused mainly by other Iraqis but also, in some instances, by U.S. forces. Civilians dying in war: hardly a shocker."
  • WikiLeaks Getting Better at What it Does Charli Carpenter of the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that Assange and the WikiLeaks team seem to be getting more conscientious about protecting their sources by removing their names from the documents, which they notably failed to do with the Afghanistan leaks. Carpenter also writes that "Assange is developing a clearer understanding of international law and discourse, something that will help him frame the significance of what he is trying to do," and that the WikiLeaks site is itself easier to use and navigate than it used to be.
  • Time to Revisit Our Definition of 'Journalist' At PrawfsBlawg, Lyrissa Lidsky writes that "had the documents been leaked to a responsible news outlet, it would no doubt have analyzed, organized, and assembled the information to focus primarily on the items of public interest while minimizing the risks to our troops, our allies, and our national interests." But, she says, "Assange is determined to disclose, devil take the consequences." Lidsky concludes that "the Wikileaks controversy ought to illustrate the important role played by the institutional or so-called 'mainstream' media and ought to give Congress more confidence in adopting a narrow definition of 'journalists' entitled to the protections" of the Free Flow of Information Act, a bill that would protect reporters from being forced to name their sources under subpoena.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.