A massive leak of classified U.S. documents from the Iraq war Friday details hundreds of incidents in which American troops found evidence that Iraqi security forces were abusing prisoners, including reports that U.S. soldiers did not always take steps to stop the violence.
The accounts of prisoner mistreatment by Iraqi forces are the most explosive element of the nearly 400,000 classified reports made public by WikiLeaks in one of the largest leaks of classified material in American history.
Though abuse of prisoners in Iraqi custody has been documented in the past, the WikiLeaks documents reveal details on cases in which U.S. troops became aware of the incidents.
In one case, the U.S. military interrogated a detainee picked up by the Iraqi army in July 2006 in Tarmiya, north of Baghdad. The detainee, who is referred to as DAT 326, told the U.S. soldiers how he had been abused for hours by his Iraqi captors — a claim backed by a U.S. medical exam.
"DAT 326 states he was told to lay down on his stomach with his hands behind his back, which is when the Iraqi soldiers allegedly stepped, jumped, urinated and spit on him," a report said.
The incident was first reported by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite television channel that was given advance access by WikiLeaks to the documents, along with a few other news organizations.
Al Jazeera said the U.S. military unit decided not to investigate because the incident involved only Iraqi forces. "Due to no allegation or evidence of U.S. involvement, a U.S. investigation is not being initiated," the report said, according to the news channel.
As a whole, the leaked documents, known in the U.S. military as "significant activities" reports, describe in minute detail what U.S. troops in Iraq encountered on a daily basis from 2003 to this year— including casualty notifications, routine descriptions of attacks, sensitive intelligence tips and accounts of meetings.
WikiLeaks, a secretive organization that seeks to provide a venue for whistle-blowers to expose government and corporate wrongdoing, made the documents public despite warnings by the Pentagon that disclosure of the classified materials could put U.S. troops and their coalition partners at risk.
WikiLeaks said in a statement that the documents provide "the first real glimpse into the secret history of the war that the United States government has been privy to throughout."
U.S. officials, who have been bracing for the release of the documents for weeks, denounced WikiLeaks for ignoring appeals in recent days to not make the material public. But they also downplayed the significance of the disclosures, describing the material as raw information that would contribute little to the public's understanding of the war.
"We strongly condemn the unauthorized disclosure of classified information," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement. He described the reports as "snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane," that do "not bring new understanding to Iraq's past."
In addition to prisoner abuse, many files document U.S. concerns that Iran's Revolutionary Guard was providing training and giving weapons to Shiite Muslim militias in a proxy war aimed at killing U.S. troops and Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims. There are also numerous mentions of civilian casualties.
WikiLeaks said its analysis of casualties mentioned in reports determined that 109,032 people have died in Iraq over the last seven years, including 66,081 civilians, 23,984 insurgents, 15,196 Iraqi soldiers and police officers and 3,771 U.S. and allied personnel.
Those numbers could not be verified, but they are comparable to those compiled by other groups, including Iraq Body Count, which keeps a casualty count based on media reports and military statements. The WikiLeaks total is higher than a tally released this month by the Pentagon, which said that 76,939 Iraqi civilian and security force members had died in the conflict.
The leaked documents refer to a U.S. military order, known as FRAG0 242, which said there was no obligation to investigate alleged incidents of prisoner abuse unless they involved U.S. troops. The existence of the order was reported by Al Jazeera and Britain's Guardian newspaper, which also received an advance look at the documents.
The Guardian said the order dated to June 2004, but Al Jazeera notes the first mention of FRAGO a year later. It is not clear whether the order was superseded by later decrees.
Starting in late 2005, U.S. commanders began cracking down on abuses by Iraqi forces, though their reports make clear they did not investigate every case.
In June 2006, according to one report, U.S. troops discovered evidence of "unchecked torture" at a police station in Husaybah in western Iraq.
Blood was found on a cell floor, and wire for electric shock and a rubber hose were kept in the station's area for detainees. The report noted that U.S. soldiers were making surprise visits to the station and demanding to inspect its logbooks.
Based on the WikiLeaks findings, the human rights group Amnesty International is concerned that U.S. soldiers violated international law when they "handed over thousands of detainees to Iraqi security forces who, they knew, were continuing to torture and abuse detainees on a truly shocking scale," said Malcolm Smart, the group's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
WikiLeaks did not reveal who provided it with the documents, but a U.S. Army intelligence analyst who was stationed in Iraq until this year has been charged with improperly downloading vast amounts of classified material, including files that were later made public by WikiLeaks.
A team of more than 100 U.S. government analysts has for weeks been reviewing files they expected WikiLeaks to release, looking for names of Iraqis who assisted the U.S. and other sensitive details. That information has been forwarded to U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in Iraq, in hopes of minimizing the damage.
Even so, the Pentagon's Morrell said, the leak does "expose secret information that could make our troops even more vulnerable to attack in the future. Just as with the leaked Afghan documents, we know our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources, and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment."