In this special posting, marking the tenth anniversary of the launch of the criminal Iraq war, here is an excerpt from my book, The Age of WikiLeaks, covering the release of the “Iraq War Logs” more than two years ago and the reaction.
The release of the Iraq documents, some 391,000 in number, was originally set for August. But a week before that happened, Julian Assange told The Guardian’s David Leigh that he wanted a more diverse group of partners for this round, “and asked that Leigh delay publication to give the other outlets time to prepare programs,” Sarah Ellison would recount in Vanity Fair.
Leigh said he’d agree to a six-week delay if Assange handed over so-called “package three,” the biggest leak of all (which would become Cablegate). According to Leigh, Assange said, “You can have package three tonight, but you have to give me a letter signed by The Guardian editor saying you won’t publish package three until I say so.” Leigh agreed.
On October 22, the Iraq War Logs arrived. As with the Afghan logs, WikiLeaks had obviously set a tight embargo time and coordinated the release with the news outlets carefully. At a press conference in London, Assange said that this “constituted the most comprehensive and detailed account of any war ever to have entered the public record.” The 391,000 documents would set a new world record for leaks—the Afghanistan trove held a paltry 77,000 docs—but who was counting?
These military incident and intelligence reports “are used by desk officers in the Pentagon and troops in the field when they make operational plans and prepare briefings on the situation in the war zone,” The New York Times explained. “Most of the reports are routine, even mundane, but many add insights, texture and context to a war that has been waged for nearly nine years.”
The Times posted its deep package of “War Logs” stories about 5 pm ET. Arriving about the same time over in London, the Guardian’s coverage focused on shocking updates on civilian deaths in Iraq and the US military’s role in allowing the torture of detainees by Iraqis. The Times covered those subjects, too, but seemed equally interested in the role of other countries in that war, particularly Iran.
Assange, in a CNN interview, again charged that the US had committed “war crimes.” Secretary of State Clinton quickly condemned the WikiLeaks move.
Getting in on the WikiLeaks action for the first time, Al Jazeera suggested that the real bombshell was the US allowing Iraqis to torture detainees. Documents revealed that US soldiers sent 1,300 reports to headquarters with graphic accounts, including a few about detainees beaten to death. Some US generals wanted our troops to intervene, but Pentagon chiefs disagreed, saying these assaults should only be reported, not stopped. At a time the US was declaring that no torture was going on, there were forty-one reports of such abuse still happening “and yet the US chose to turn its back.