On Friday, 22 October 2010, The Guardian, the New York Times, Der Speigel, Al Jazeera, and Le Monde published extensive articles based on an archive of 400,000 U.S. Army significant activities reports from Iraq obtained by WikiLeaks, cataloguing events from 2004 to 2009. WikiLeaks also collaborated with The Independent, BBC Radio, Channel 4, SVT, and the Associated Press in this release.
In addition, WikiLeaks worked with organizations such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Public Interest Lawyers, and Iraq Body Count. Speaking at the WikiLeaks press conference in London on Saturday morning following the Iraq War Logs release, John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count, Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, and the former Rand Corporation analyst and Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg all spoke about the ethical and legal implications of the release.
Since March 2003, Iraq Body Count has worked to compile a public database of civilian deaths in Iraq based on news reports and other sources. The Iraq Body Count data on Iraqi deaths has been used by the World Health Organization, the New England Journal of Medicine, openDemocracy, the Brookings Institution, the European Union Joint Research Centre, and the International Criminal Court. Iraq Body Count’s cooperation with WikiLeaks has revealed approximately 15,000 previously unreported civilian deaths to their database of 107,000 deaths.
The new deaths are concentrated in small incidents killing one or two people at a time, scattered all over Iraq and occurring almost every day for the whole period. Targeted assassinations, drive-by shootings, executions, checkpoint killings : these are the small but relentless tragedies of this war that these logs reveal in unprecedented detail. (…) Almost every log tells a story, and far too often this is a previously unknown story of human suffering and death. – John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count
Public Interest Lawyers, which has been representing Iraqi families in cases of torture, abuse, and unlawful killings for several years, will be pursuing legal action in the United Kingdom based on information obtained from the Iraq War Logs. The War Logs have added significant evidence to the public domain on unjustified use of lethal force on civilians, on US/UK orders to take no actions toward abuse of detainees by the Iraqi National Guard and Iraqi Police, and on abuse, torture, and killings of detainees while in the custody of UK forces.
In response to the Iraq War Logs release, Amnesty International issued a statement on Saturday the 23rd of October “[calling] on the United States to investigate how much U.S. officials knew about the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held by Iraqi security forces after new evidence emerged in files released by the Wikileaks organization on Friday.” The statement went on :
The United States is a party to the U.N. Convention against Torture, the main international treaty prohibiting torture, which requires all states to prohibit torture and to refrain from transferring detainees to the authorities of another state at whose hands they face torture. (…) “The United States failed to respect this obligation in Iraq, despite the great volume of evidence, available from many different quarters, showing that the Iraqi security forces use torture widely and are allowed to do so with impunity,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.
In reaction to the Iraq War Logs release, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak spoke out on The United States’ obligations under Article 3 of the U.N. Convention against Torture :
[There] is never any right to subject a prisoner to torture, it’s absolutely prohibited and constitutes a war crime under the statutes of the International Criminal Court. However, [neither the U.S. nor Iraq] has yet ratified this statute, so no U.S. soldier or citizen can be brought to the ICC. (…) [However,] if it is established that an individual is responsible for torture, directly or by complicity, then this person should be brought to justice under the domestic courts. (…) I would have expected [Obama to order an inquiry] much earlier. (…) Obama has an obligation to deal with past cases, there is an obligation to investigate whenever there are credible allegations of torture, and then it is up to the courts, but first there must be an independent and objective investigation.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay also issued a statement calling on US and Iraqi authorities to investigate “serious breaches of international human rights law” :
The US and Iraqi authorities should take necessary measures to investigate all allegations made in these reports and to bring to justice those responsible for unlawful killings, summary executions, torture and other serious human rights abuses, in line with obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which both the US and Iraq are parties.
The High Commissioner calls upon Iraq to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol, which gives the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment the right to visit all places of detention and examine the treatment of persons detained.
Human Rights Watch also issued a statement on 24 October in response to details revealed by the Iraq War Logs release by WikiLeaks and its partners :
Iraq should prosecute those responsible for torture and other crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The US government should also investigate whether its forces breached international law by transferring thousands of Iraqi detainees from US to Iraqi custody despite the clear risk of torture. (…) “These new disclosures show torture at the hands of Iraqi security forces is rampant and goes completely unpunished,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s clear that US authorities knew of systematic abuse by Iraqi troops, but they handed thousands of detainees over anyway.” (…) International law prohibits the transfer of detained individuals to the authorities of another state where they face a serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.
Reporters Without Borders issued a call for transparency on the part of US and Iraqi authorities following the Iraq War Logs release :
This is not the moment for threats or verbal attacks, (…) The information has been released and more releases are expected to follow. The documents provided by Wikileaks confirm what US and international public opinion already knows for the most part. The politicians and military personnel responsible will one day have to account for their actions. In the name of human rights and respect for the right to information, the US and Iraqi governments ought to abide by the principle of transparency.
In anticipation of the Iraq War Logs release, Josh Stieber of Iraq Veterans Against the War, an anti-war organization comprised of over 2,000 veterans and active duty U.S. troops, wrote an open letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on intelligence encouraging members to view the release as an opportunity to focus on accountability :
I write on behalf of those around the world who are ashamed to have to listen to the President, along with military and political officials, express their great angst over leaks while seeming to ignore the realities of what those leaks reveal about the very nature of these wars. When you fail to take account for what has been done in our names, funded by our taxes, and fought by those who believe that the U.S. should represent something noble, we will search for and tell the truth; if you are ashamed by citizens practicing the accountability that our country was designed to demand, then that says more about you than about us.
Please do something different; take accountability for these wars and the full truth about them. More specifically, please take account for what is detailed in both the Iraq and Afghanistan leaks by running the needed investigations, addressing the policies and practices that have gone unchecked, and beginning a much needed reconciliation process. – Josh Stieber, SPC, 2-16 Infantry Battalion, Combat Veteran
Following the release, Iraq Veterans Against the War issued another statement on the release :
These recent revelations, along with the Afghan War Diaries and Collateral Murder footage, weave a picture of wars in which the rules of engagement allow for excessive violence, woven into the fabric of daily life with the U.S. military presence acting as a destabilizing and brutalizing force. The Iraq War Logs, while crucial, are reports produced in real time and themselves may be slanted to minimize the culpability of U.S. forces. Still, they represent an important part of evidence in assessing the reality of the Iraq war, evidence that can only be improved by the further release of documents and information and corroboration by individuals involved. To this end, our members are reviewing both Wikileaks’ Afghanistan War Diaries and the Iraq War Logs to identify incidents we were part of and to shed more light on what really happened.
(…) Authorities have kept this information secret in the name of ‘national security,’ but what they really are afraid of is public opinion, which they know will turn against them if the truth about these wars gets out in the mainstream. An accurate count of Iraqi dead, acknowledgment of torture, and full disclosure of the role of private contractors are facts that should be made public in a democracy. We believe that real national security is created where government transparency and accountability, free press, and an end to spending on illegal wars and occupations are the norm. Continued silence and secrecy is a grave threat to the security of the Iraqi and Afghan people, and we demand openness, accountability, and real discussion of these revelations. – Iraq Veterans Against the War
In an interview with Reuters, UN Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez urged a US inquiry into torture practices in Iraq revealed by the Iraq War Logs release. “The United States has a duty to investigate every act of torture,” he said.