Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 October - 3 November 2010
Issue No. 1021
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The sound of Iraq's whistle

Secret US files revealed by the website Wikileaks this week show that the ugly occupation of Iraq was even uglier than previously thought, writes Salah Hemeid

Long before this week's disclosure by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks of secret US files detailing crimes committed during the US occupation of Iraq, Iraqis had been trying to alert the world to the war crimes perpetrated in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.

To the disgust of many, both Iraq's new leaders and the world as a whole lent a deaf ear to such crimes, shutting their eyes to accounts of atrocities and refusing to investigate reports of intimidation, abuse and killings.

However, by giving a fuller picture of the US legacy in Iraq through its leaking of secret American military documents detailing torture, summary execution and war crimes, Wikileaks has both done truth a great service and has proved, once again, that truth is the first casualty of war.

The cache of documents, consisting of almost 400,000 US army field reports, detail thousands of incidents and US intelligence reports from Iraq, together with records of engagements, mishaps, intelligence on enemy activities and other events.

The documents detail how US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by soldiers, whose conduct appears to have been systematic and often went unpunished.

The enormous cache of war logs, covering the period from early 2004 to January 2010, paints a grim picture of an Iraq burdened by persistent sectarian tensions and interference from neighbouring countries, as the country's US occupiers prepared to leave it to an unknown future.

They help explain why Iraq's struggle to rebuild a unified, independent nation continues to falter.

Thanks to the Iraq War Logs, as the leaked documents have been termed, the world now knows that 109,032 individuals are estimated by the US military to have been killed during the period covered by the documents, 66,000 of them non- combatants.

Moreover, some 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents.

Numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, in the documents describe prisoners being shackled, blindfolded and hung by their wrists or ankles, before being subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks.

They reveal that US helicopter gunships were involved in incidents in which Iraqis died, while US army patrols or checkpoints fired at Iraqi civilians on suspicion that they might be dangerous. The documents contain a horrific dossier of cases in which US troops killed innocent civilians, including women and children, during raids on private homes.

The documents also detail the role played by US private contractors in the carnage. Employees of such contractors shot unarmed Iraqi civilians and members of Iraqi security forces indiscriminately, stirring outrage in Iraq.

They disclose that US forces turned a blind eye to widespread torture by Iraqi security forces. They show that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki permitted the mistreatment of prisoners and other abuses.

The secret US documents also detail Iran's involvement in the carnage in Iraq, including its role in orchestrating the violence. Due to such interference, Iran has dramatically expanded its interests in Iraq by taking advantage of the country's instability.

Overall, the leaked documents add insight and context to a war originally waged to free Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, but swiftly plunging the country into chaos.

They amount to a real-time history of nearly eight years of war, as reported by soldiers and officers actually doing the fighting.

The United States has always denied or played down reports of abuse carried out by its soldiers in Iraq, and when such incidents have become public the Pentagon has been quick to claim that they occurred outside its rules of engagement.

As a result of the leak of the classified documents, the Pentagon is now accusing Wikileaks of espionage. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is also considering prosecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who leaked the files.

The American media has begun a smear campaign against Assange, an Australian citizen, spreading rumours of staff conflicts and allegations of sexual abuse of two women in Sweden.

Writers in the US media have begun blaming the atrocities detailed in the documents on Iraqi insurgents, saying that the latter were the ones who pulled the trigger, set the timer, or plunged in the blade, forgetting that the fiasco of the US occupation of Iraq was the cause of the insurgency.

Other writers have raised doubts about the source of the leaks, speculating that the whole episode could be connected to next month's mid-term elections in the US.

Whatever the reason behind the leaks may be, they have shown that Wikileaks activists have been able to turn the Internet into a beacon of transparency and freedom of information.

By lighting a candle in the darkness of the occupation of Iraq, they have opened up new opportunities to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice.

For its part, the Iraqi government has shied away from reacting to the reports, describing the events they contain as either old allegations or stories that are not worthy of discussion.

For this reason, what is needed now is a full judicial inquiry, not only into the civilian deaths that have taken place over the past eight years in Iraq, but also into the tragedy of the destruction of a nation and its humiliation during years of occupation.

It is not enough to urge Washington to investigate the atrocities committed during the US occupation of Iraq, a demand it has already resisted. Instead, there should be an international tribunal to probe events and allegations of war crimes.

No one expects Iraqi politicians to do more than pay lip service to the reports, since they either owe their positions to the American occupation or were among the perpetrators of the tragedy that has left the country teetering on the brink of ruin.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak has called on the Obama administration to launch an inquiry into the accounts contained in the documents, warning that the US will be in breach of its international obligations if it fails to do so.

The United Nations, which has endorsed the occupation of Iraq in numerous Security Council resolutions, is also duty-bound to set up an international tribunal now that it has ample evidence of atrocities in the country.

If the UN tries to cover up what has happened in Iraq over the last seven years, it will find it difficult to avoid accusations of duplicity or even collaboration.

Indeed, if it fails to take action under its own charter, the UN will only succeed in sowing the seeds of hatred among those whose trust it is trying to gain and in whose name it says it wants to build a world of peace and justice.

Meanwhile, Iraqis can only hope that German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was right when he said that "truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. (see p.6)

391,832

Number of reports released last Friday by Wikileaks to document the war and occupation in Iraq from 2004 to 2009 as told by soldiers in the US army

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