Files 'suggest thousands of war crimes,' says Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
Leaked US military files about the conflict in Afghanistan could contain details of "thousands" of war crimes, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said.
Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of secret records giving a day-by-day account of Nato forces' operations from January 2004 to December 2009.
The military logs revealed new details about the extent of Afghan civilian casualties, a covert special forces unit targeting insurgent leaders, and concerns that Pakistani intelligence could be supporting the Taliban.
Mr Assange said he hoped the information in the files would be investigated and exposed as a deterrent to future human rights abuses. He told a press conference in London: "It is up to a court to decide clearly whether something is in the end a crime. That said, on the face of it, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material."
The UK, the US and Pakistan condemned the leak of 91,000 of the records, and experts warned their release could endanger the 10,000 British forces serving in Afghanistan. But Mr Assange insisted he had ruled out the risk of troops being harmed by the information in the files. He said: "The revelation of abuse by the US and coalition forces may cause Afghans to be upset, and rightly so. If governments don't like populations being upset, they should treat them better, not conceal abuses that have been undertaken."
Over 75,000 of the files were published online at http://wardiary.wikileaks.org. WikiLeaks said it was delaying the release of the remaining 15,000 reports as part of a "harm minimisation process" but intended to put them out in full eventually when Afghanistan's security situation permitted. The Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel were given access to the material several weeks in advance.
The files include reports of operations carried out by a secret US special forces unit called Task Force 373 whose role was to kill or capture senior Taliban and al Qaida commanders. The records also log a total of 144 incidents involving Afghan civilian casualties, in which 195 non-combatants died and 174 were injured, The Guardian reported. These include at least 21 occasions in which British troops allegedly shot or bombed Afghan civilians, leading to the deaths of at least 26 people, among them 16 children, according to the newspaper.
The Ministry of Defence said it was looking into the veracity of the information in the files. Other entries in the logs record unconfirmed intelligence that members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency secretly supported the Taliban. Mr Assange said the files were not about one single horrific event but the bigger picture of the conflict, now into its ninth year. "The real story of this material is that it is war, it's one damn thing after another," he said. "It's the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces."
The White House criticised the "irresponsible" leak of the files, although it stressed that they dated from when George Bush was president. General Jim Jones, president Barack Obama's national security adviser, said: "The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."
A Downing Street spokeswoman added: "We would lament all unauthorised releases of classified material. The White House has made a statement. We will not comment on leaked documents."