WikiLeaks Publishes More Secret War Documents

WikiLeaks released thousands of classified documents on the Iraq war again Friday. The Pentagon has already criticized the release. Robert Siegel talks with NPR's Tom Gjelten about the document dump.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The whistleblower site WikiLeaks has released another batch of classified U.S. military documents - these covering the war in Iraq. The secret files - about 400,000 in all - cover the period 2004 to 2009. Many are, what the military calls, significant activity reports - basically, raw intelligence files from U.S. troops in the field. The documents are a portion of a huge collection of secret files that were apparently leaked by someone in the U.S. military. An earlier batch of documents pertained to the war in Afghanistan.

Well, joining us now is NPR's Tom Gjelten. Tom, this release happened late this afternoon. How did WikiLeaks make these documents public?

TOM GJELTEN: Well, Robert, as with the last batch, what they did was leak them first to some selected news organizations, actually a couple of months ago, and those news organizations then had time to study them. Obviously, with nearly 400,000 documents, we, at this point, are just dependent on the analysis that those other news organizations made of these documents. There are choices of which documents to put on the Web. This afternoon, we looked primarily at The New York Times and the Guardian newspaper websites, which reported on it extensively.

SIEGEL: And what do we know so far about the contents of these documents?

GJELTEN: Well, Robert, as you said, they are significant activity files. Now, I thought the - what the Pentagon spokesman said about them was interesting. He described these as initial raw observations by tactical units, essentially snapshots of events both tragic and mundane.

Now, the Pentagon says, understandably, that these files do not tell the whole story, but, as snapshots, they can be revealing. I think that what jumped out to me in many of these documents was the evidence of abuse by Iraqi detainees by the Iraqi forces themselves - very well documented in these reports.

The question here is what the attitude of U.S. forces were when they learned of that abuse or even witnessed it firsthand? They generally reported it. We see in these documents. But there's also many cases where it's clear they did not investigate further or do anything to stop it. There are references to deaths of Iraqi detainees in custody, beatings, burnings, even sodomy, and, as I say, it is somewhat troubling that the U.S. forces did not intervene.

I actually recall, Robert, from 2005, this was quite vigorously debated, what the policy of the United States should be at the time with reference to that kind of abuse.

SIEGEL: Yeah. So Iraqi abuse of Iraqi detainees, one important subject of these documents. There's also some stuff about Iran here and the role of Iran in the Iraq War.

GJELTEN: A lot of evidence of how Iran was supporting militia units that the United States was fighting against. Another important issue here is the documentation of killings of civilians - something the Pentagon does not like to talk about - tragic examples of people killed at checkpoints, several cases of people being killed from helicopters and questionable, I think, legal judgments about whether that was appropriate or not.

SIEGEL: Okay, many topics. What do you make of all these?

GJELTEN: It's hard to say. It's hard to conclude about U.S. military policy. We don't know how representative these incidents are, what was left out. Again, we can just sort of look at it anecdotally.

SIEGEL: And reaction to the release today?

GJELTEN: Well, the Pentagon is, understandably, very angry, as they were when the documents from Afghanistan were released. They said this decision to release them was made cavalierly. They do point out - and I can't say I disagree - that the period in Iraq that these documents covered was already very well chronicled. They say it does not bring new understanding to those events. Again, they emphasized the danger to U.S. intelligence that may be raised from the release of these documents.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.

GJELTEN: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: NPR's Tom Gjelten.

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