The Iraq War Logs published by WikiLeaks revealed 15,000 civilian deaths that were previously unknown. They also exposed torture that the United States military instructed officers to ignore.

“In our release of these 400,000 documents about the Iraq War, the intimate detail of that war from the U.S. perspective,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hoped to correct some of the attacks on the truth that occurred “before the war, during the war, and which [had] continued on since the war officially concluded.”

“The stated aims for going into that war, of improving the human rights situation, improving the rule of law, did not eventuate,” Assange added. “In terms of raw numbers of people arbitrarily killed, [that] worsened the situation in Iraq.”

Ten years after their release, Assange is in Belmarsh prison in London and faces an extradition request from the U.S. government on charges that he violated the Espionage Act when he engaged in journalism.

John Sloboda, the co-founder of Iraq Body Count, collaborated with WikiLeaks and analyzed the 400,000-plus U.S. military incident reports disclosed to them by U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

In September and during Assange’s extradition trial, Sloboda testified that a decade later, “The War Logs remain the only source of information regarding many thousands of violent civilian deaths in Iraq between 2004 and 2009.”

Iraq Body Count estimated the reports described 23,000 violent incidents in which Iraqi civilians were killed or bodies were found that were previously unknown. “The majority of these new deaths came from small incidents of one to three deaths”—the very kinds of incidents that attract that least amount of media coverage.

“If there are other sources of information or analyses being held within the U.S. government regarding the deaths of civilians in Iraq that were revealed in the Iraq War Logs, they are certainly still being withheld from the public.” 

Sloboda acknowledged the U.S. government is likely still keeping data on Iraqi civilian deaths secret.

“By making this information public,” Sloboda suggested, “Manning and Assange were carrying out a duty on behalf of the victims and the public that the U.S. government was failing to carry out.”

Over 300 Incidents Of Torture And Abuse Exposed

Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers in the United Kingdom broke the revelations into three categories:

—unlawful killings of civilians
—indiscriminate attacks or the unjustified use of lethal force against civilians
—horrendous abuse and torture of Iraqis by the Iraqi National Guard or the Iraqi Police Service, torture of Iraqis whilst in UK custody (presumably, whilst in the custody of US and other coalition forces custody as well)

[Note: Shiner’s firm represented Iraqis, who were alleged victims of war crimes.]

An order called Frago 242, which the U.S. and the U.K. apparently adopted, excused officers from taking responsibility for torture by Iraqi military or security forces.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) found ““over 300 classified reports in the Iraq War Logs alleging abuse by coalition forces on Iraqi prisoners after the Abu Ghraib scandal.”

In the time span covered by the logs, “some 180,000 Iraqis were imprisoned.” Approximately one out of 50 Iraqi males were imprisoned.

“More than 1,300 individual cases of torture and abuse carried out by Iraqis on Iraqi prisoners at police stations and army bases” were tallied, implicating coalition forces that likely witnessed or reported on the incidents.

One war log on alleged detainee abuse from September 27, 2006, indicates no further investigation was necessary because coalition forces were not involved. It details abuse by Iraqi Police.

Another war log from August 10, 2006, contains allegations of detainee abuse by Iraqi Police in the form of a “victim summary“:

A war log on October 31, 2006, contains allegations shared by a soldier against a platoon’s handling of detainees. It indicates the driver of a vehicle carrying detainees would “call back to warn the soldiers he was about to stop abruptly. The soldiers would hold on and watch as the detainees [were] propelled forward.”

Soldiers in the back would then “take turns punching the detainees,” the war log further states.  

Interrogators threatened to hand detainees over to the “Wolf Brigade” or “Wolf Battalion.”

“…DURING THE INTERROGATION PROCESS THE ___ THREATENED THE SUBJECT DETAINEE THAT HE WOULD NEVER SEE HIS FAMILY AGAIN AND WOULD BE SENT TO THE WOLF BATTALION WHERE HE WOULD BE SUBJECT TO ALL THE PAIN AND AGONY THAT THE WOLF BATTALION IS KNOWN TO EXACT UPON ITS DETAINEES.” [December 14, 2005]

According to The Guardian, the Wolf Brigade was “created and supported by the U.S. in an attempt to re-employ elements of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, this time to terrorize insurgents.”

“Members typically wore red berets, sunglasses and balaclavas, and drove out on raids in convoys of Toyota Landcruisers. They were accused by Iraqis of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills, and sometimes executing suspects.”

‘The Small Change Of War’

The Iraq War Logs were a shining example of what media organizations may accomplish when collaborating. The Guardian, Der Spiegel (Germany), Sveriges Television (Sweden), Le Monde (France), Al Jazeera, Channel 4, and BBC Radio all reported on the material.

Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, submitted testimony in Assange’s extradition case that addressed the impact of the Iraq War Logs, including how it aided his efforts to document the carnage.

“Rereading these documents now, I’m struck again by the constipated military-bureaucratic prose, with its sinister dehumanizing acronyms,” Cockburn declared. “Killing people is referred to as an EOF (“Escalation of Force”), something that happened frequently at U.S. military checkpoints when nervous U.S. soldiers directed Iraqi drivers to stop or go with complex hand signals that nobody understood.”

Cockburn highlighted an example that occurred on the outskirts of Fallujah when a woman in a car was killed and her three daughters and husband were wounded.

“The U.S. marine on duty opened fire because he was ‘unable to determine the occupants of the vehicle due to the reflection of the sun coming off the windshield,'” according to the log.

“Another report marks the moment when U.S. soldiers shot dead a man who was ‘creeping up behind their sniper position,’ only to learn later that he was their own unit’s interpreter,” Cockburn noted.

“These reports are the small change of war, but collectively they convey its reality far better than even the most well-informed journalistic accounts,” Cockburn concluded. “Those two shootings were a thousand times repeated, though the reports were rare in admitting that the victims were civilians. More usually, the dead were automatically identified as ‘terrorists’ caught in the act, regardless of evidence to the contrary.”

While presenting evidence that the U.S. government is targeting Assange for his political opinions, Paul Rodgers, professor emeritus at Bradford University in England, highlighted a speech Assange delivered at a Stop the War Coalition Rally in Trafalgar Square on August 8, 2011.

Assange referred to the “information [WikiLeaks] revealed showing the everyday squalor and barbarity of war, information such as the individual deaths of over 130,000 people in Iraq, individual deaths that were kept secret by the U.S. military, who denied that they have counted the deaths of civilians.”

“I want to tell you what I think is the way that wars come to be and that wars can come undone,” Assange proclaimed. “If wars can be started by
lies, peace can be started by truth.”

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Marjorie Cohn, professor of law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild, joined me for a conversation on the Iraq War Logs anniversary.