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Karzai Fears For Afghans Cited In WikiLeaks Data Dump

Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told journalists in Kabul the release of secret documents endangered Afghan citizens who've cooperated with NATO.  Musadeq Sadeq/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Musadeq Sadeq/AP

Will one result of WikiLeaks' unauthorized data dump of 90,000 classified documents related to the Afghanistan War be reprisals against Afghans identified in the leaked material as helping NATO?

That's a very real concern for many people, not least of whom are those whose names or other identifying information are in the documents.

According to the Times of London and the New York Times, their review of the documents showed that they contained the names or locations of dozens of Afghans who have helped the NATO.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed concern Thursday about the release of the documents and what it could mean for some of his citizens.

The Associated Press reported:

Karzai also told reporters he ordered his Cabinet to study the war papers, especially those that address Pakistan and civilian casualties in Afghanistan. He also said documents that disclosed the names of Afghans who have worked with the NATO-led force were "shocking" and "irresponsible."

"Their lives will be in danger now," he said. "This is a very serious issue."

The New York Times reported that the U.S. military is also trying to understand who may at risk because of the leak.

A Pentagon spokesman, Col. David Lapan, said that a Pentagon assessment team had not yet drawn any conclusions, but that “in general, the naming of individuals could cause potential problems, both to their physical safety or willingness to continue support to coalition forces or the Afghan government.”

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been asked about the possibility that his publication of the documents could result in deadly reprisals. His answer wasn't exactly one that Afghans might find reassuring.

Here's part of his exchange with NBC's Meredith Viera on Wednesday.

MS. VIEIRA:  Well, since releasing these documents, you've said that there is a mood to end the war in Afghanistan.  You hope this information will shift political will in a significant manner.

If, in the process, you have also jeopardized the lives of these Afghan informants — if somebody is executed because now their name is out there, would you consider that your form of collateral damage?

MR. ASSANGE:  Yes, that would be true in our case.  If we had, in fact, made that mistake, then, of course, that would be something that we would take very seriously.

MS. VIEIRA:  Well, I have to — this has to be very sobering for you, sir, because your number one concern, you said, was to protect these people. You could have put dozens, maybe many more than that, in harm's way.

MR. ASSANGE:  Well, once again, we are checking to see whether this is, in fact, credible.  It is probably unlikely.  We have taken care to, in fact, hold back 15,000 for review that it should have this type of material in it.

If there are those names there and they are at risk, this would be because of a misclassification by the U.S. military itself.

MS. VIEIRA:  Would you consider never releasing those other 15,000 documents, given what's going on now?

MR. ASSANGE:  Well, we reserve these other 15,000 for a detailed review.  We have even designed a computer system especially for that review at a low level, because we viewed that there was a small risk that some of them would have names within them.  And that review is progressing.

One of the most curious aspects of Assange's response is that he tries to shift the blame to the military if the names of Afghan informants are disclosed, saying it would the military's fault for a "misclassification" of the documents.

But, of course, military officials didn't want the classified documents made public to begin with. It's hard to believe he'll persuade many of his critics with that argument.

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