US under pressure on WikiLeaks allegations

Washington on Sunday came under increasing pressure to investigate allegations in the leaked Iraq war documents published by WikiLeaks, which Britain’s deputy premier called “shocking”.

Governments and human rights organisations alike put the focus on answers to the allegations made against US, allied and Iraqi troops as the whistleblowing website released 400 000 classified US military documents.

The flood of material from 2004 to 2009 offers a grim snapshot of the conflict, especially of the abuse of Iraqi civilians by Iraqi security forces.

The heavily redacted logs appear to show that the US military turned a blind eye to evidence of torture and abuse of civilians by the Iraqi authorities.

WikiLeaks claim the documents reveal about 15 000 more civilian deaths than were previously known about.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called the allegations “extremely serious” and said people would be wanting to hear “what the answer is”.

“We can bemoan how these leaks occurred but I think the nature of the allegations made are extraordinarily serious. They are distressing to read about,” he told BBC television.

“I’m assuming the US administration will want to provide its own answer.

“Anything that suggests that basic rules of war and conflict and of engagement have been broken, or that torture has in any way been condoned, are extremely serious and need to be looked at.

“People will want to hear what the answer is to what are very, very serious allegations of a nature which I think everybody will find quite shocking.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Barack Obama administration to the calls for an investigation, and little eagerness among Republicans to delve into the low points of a war that came to define the administration of George Bush.

Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the document release “opens up old wounds”.

“If there is information about criminal activity, follow it up. If there is a systemic problems, follow it up,” he said on Fox television. “But let’s not create controversy where there isn’t any. There are enough problems in Iraq without going back over that ground.”

Australia joined Iraq war allies Britain and the United States in saying that the leaks could put troops’ lives at risk.

Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith vowed a “painstaking” review of the documents.

Denmark’s military also said it would study the documents amid reports that the classified files reveal wrongdoings by Danish soldiers.

“We want to see the documents for ourselves and compare them to our own information,” said Danish Defence Command spokesperson Torben Kjedsen.

According to Danish media, the documents reveal how Danish troops had handed over 62 prisoners to Iraqi authorities, despite warnings they would likely face abusive treatment.

The files published on Friday contain graphic accounts of torture, civilian killings and Iran’s hand in the Iraq war, documenting years of bloodshed and suffering following the 2003 US-led invasion to oust dictator Saddam Hussein.

Other reports describe Iraqis beating prisoners and women being killed at US military checkpoints.

The files also show Iran waging a shadow war with US troops in Iraq, allegedly using militias to kill and kidnap US soldiers.

Human Rights Watch said Iraq should investigate reports that its forces systematically tortured and abused detainees.

“The US government should also investigate whether its forces breached international law by transferring thousands of Iraqi detainees from US to Iraqi custody despite the clear risk of torture,” it said.

Amnesty International called on Washington to investigate how much US officials knew about the alleged abuse.

Spokesperson Malcolm Smart said the leaks fuelled concerns that US authorities “committed a serious breach of international law when they summarily handed over thousands of detainees to Iraqi security forces who, they knew, were continuing to torture and abuse detainees on a truly shocking scale”.

The rights ministry in Baghdad said the logs “did not contain any surprises”.

Supporters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the release was a plot to undermine his bid to stay in power following March elections.

“It is a media campaign against the state and the political process carried out by several groups like the Baathists, regional forces and the new political order,” said lawmaker Hassan al-Sinaid, who is close to Maliki.

WikiLeaks held a news conference in London on Saturday, at which the website’s founder Julian Assange defended the unauthorised release, saying it was intended to reveal the “truth” about the conflict.

“Most wars that are started by democracies involve lying,” he said.

“If there’s enough truth early on enough then perhaps we won’t see these kind of wars.” – AFP

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Robin Millard
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