Wikileaks takes new approach in latest release of documents

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange describes some of the findings from the just-released U.S. military records of six years of the war, including unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings and covert operations against Taliban figures.
By Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 26, 2010

Wikileaks' decision to transfer tens of thousands of raw classified field reports on the Afghan war to the New York Times and two European news organizations reflects the growing strength and sophistication of the small nonprofit Web site, founded three years ago to fight what it considers excessive secrecy.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called the release of nearly 92,000 individual reports portraying a sputtering Afghan war effort "the nearest analogue to the Pentagon Papers." He was referring to the secret military documents that helped shift public opinion about the Vietnam War after they became public in 1971.

"It provides a whole map, if you like, through time, of what has happened during this war," said Assange, a native of Australia, in a television interview broadcast Sunday on Britain's public-service Channel 4.

(Washington Post profile of WikiLeaks)

He acknowledged that some will judge harshly the Web site's airing of classified documents, but he insisted that Wikileaks was not breaking the law or putting troops at risk. For the first time, Wikileaks decided unilaterally to delay the release of some documents because of the possibility that putting them out immediately could cause harm, he said.

"We believe that the way to justice is transparency, and we are clear that the end goal is to expose injustices in the world and try to rectify them," Assange said.

(Spytalk: Why Julian Assange was in hiding)

The publication of the documents also feeds an appetite for greater disclosure about the war, now in its ninth year.

"People want more details," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation for American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. "They want greater clarity and greater candor than they have gotten up to this point. Wikileaks, in this case, has filled a void left by the Pentagon."

The White House responded critically to the documents' release. "The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security," national security adviser James Jones said in a statement.

Jones called the leaks "irresponsible" and said the White House only learned from news organizations that the documents would be posted online. A senior administration official said officials are reviewing the documents to decide whether to take legal action against the site.

Assange asserted that Wikileaks does not "have a view about whether the war should continue or stop." But he added: "We do have a view that it should be prosecuted as humanely as possible."

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