Wikileaks's leaks mostly confirm earlier Iraq reporting

Tuesday, October 26, 2010; A18

WIKILEAKS FOUNDER Julian Assange claimed at a news conference over the weekend that the release by his organization of 391,000 classified documents on the war in Iraq was intended to "correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war and which has continued after the war." In fact the mass leak, like a dump of documents on Afghanistan in the summer, mainly demonstrates that the truth about Iraq already has been told.

The news organizations granted privileged access to the documents, including the New York Times and Britain's Guardian, have focused on reports that Iraqi security forces abused and tortured prisoners; that private security contractors often acted recklessly and violated rules of engagement; and that U.S. soldiers sometimes killed Iraqi civilians at checkpoints. All these stories are troubling. But the incidents were extensively reported by Western journalists and by the U.S. military when they occurred.

One of the most interesting of the leaks appears to show that despite the Bush administration's statements to the contrary, U.S. officials did keep a count of the number of Iraqis killed in the war. But the figure for deaths between 2003 and 2009, 109,032, is in the ballpark of counts compiled by independent organizations such as Iraq Body Count -- which raised its estimate from 107,000 to 122,000 after seeing the leaked American data. The report confirms that the vast majority of Iraqi civilian deaths were caused by other Iraqis, not by coalition forces; claims such as those published by the British journal The Lancet that American forces slaughtered hundreds of thousands are the real "attack on truth."

War opponents dismissed as propaganda the Bush administration's assertions that Iran was behind much of the violence. But as the Times reported, "the field reports disclosed by Wikileaks, which were never intended to be made public, underscore the seriousness with which Iran's role has been seen by the American military." There is evidence that Iran supplied Iraqi militias with rockets, car bombs, surface to air missiles, and roadside explosives that killed or wounded hundreds of Americans.

Mr. Assange believes his leaks, like the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers, will radically change perceptions of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which he says he is trying to end. Instead he has offered abundant evidence that there is no secret history of Iraq or Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Wikileaks appears to have put the lives of courageous Afghans at risk, by identifying them as American sources. In Iraq, it has at least temporarily complicated negotiations to form a new government.

We are all for the disclosure of important government information; but Mr. Assange's reckless and politically motivated approach, while causing tangible harm, has shed relatively little light.

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