October 26, 2010

Wikileaks Documents Stir Up Debate

The United States says it is defending its record probing civilian deaths and abuse in Iraq after leaked secret documents depicting graphic disclosures triggered concern from around the world.

Four hundred thousand leaked documents were released by WikiLeaks which detail widespread torture of Iraqi prisoners and claim to show 15,000 more civilian deaths than previously disclosed.

The US argues that the documents do not show military abuse of civilians and prisoners by the US military.

According to the AFP news agency, General George Casey, the top officer in the Army who had led forces in Iraq for three of the bloodiest years in the war, said the United States did not ignore abuse of prisoners. "Our policy all along was when American soldiers encountered prisoner abuse, it was to stop it and then report it immediately up the American chain of command and up the Iraqi chain of command," he said.

Gen. Casey also denied undercounting civilian deaths, saying that US forces regularly checked with morgues about death tolls.

"It doesn't ring true with me. We actively went out and tried to understand the impact of both our actions and the militant groups' actions on civilians," he told AFP.

The United States has trained Iraqi forces how to handle human rights, said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, who also rejected WikiLeaks' accusations.

"That's one of the reasons why we've continued to have military forces in Iraq, to help with ongoing training of Iraqi security forces. And we believe that we've seen their performance improve over time," said Crowley.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the documents showed a total of 109,032 deaths in Iraq between 2004 and 2009 -- about 60 percent of them civilian.

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Sunday said the allegations against US-led forces was "extraordinarily serious" and "quite shocking."

The Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes six US-friendly Arab kingdoms, urged the US to launch a serious investigation into possible "crimes against humanity."

The allegations also struck a chord among human rights groups, who called for an investigation, with New York-based Human Rights Watch saying that the United States may have broken international law if it knowingly and purposefully transferred prisoners to places of abuse.

The US image took a severe blow with people around the world when photos of US troops humiliating inmates at Abu Ghraib prison emerged in 2004. US military courts found 11 soldiers guilty of the crimes, giving them sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

Although US President Barack Obama opposed the Iraq invasion, his administration fought the release of the documents, saying they could pose risks to US forces and their assets in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A military task force charged with sifting through the documents did determine that WikiLeaks had removed the names of more than 300 individuals who would have been at risk, according to Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan.

"However, information remains in the documents posted that could lead to the identification of those individuals," said Lapan.

Suggestions that WikiLeaks had an anti-American agenda were "totally wrong," Kristinn Hrafnsson, spokesman for the whistleblower site, told the BBC.

"A lot of people supporting WikiLeaks are very fond of the basic principles and ideals that are the basis of American society," he said, citing the US Constitution's First Amendment which gives the right to freedom of speech.

However, Chinese state media said the leaked documents tarnished the credibility of the United States. "The magnitude of the crimes should make every righteous person angry. It again puts a big question mark against the US self-proclaimed image as the world human rights champion."


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