Replacing One Set of Thugs With Another
A stunningly cogent editorial from the Guardian on Wikileaks' Iraq War Logs, the brutality they exposed and the legal and moral obligation to investigate U.S. forces' complicity in it. How appalling that no U.S. official - or mainstream paper - has yet to make such a demand.
Every time WikiLeaks puts facts into the public domain, first about the war in Afghanistan and now about Iraq, it is accused of partisanship and irresponsibility. The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, said on 29 July that the release of 90,000 classified documents about the war in Afghanistan endangered Afghan lives. Little more than two weeks later, Gates admitted in a letter to Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, that the disclosures did not reveal any significant national intelligence secrets. The Pentagon's review had not to date "revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure". This does not stop the same charge being made now about the release of almost 400,000 US documents on Iraq.
Many attempts were made to justify the invasion of Iraq, but one of the most frequently and cynically used was that, irrespective of the absence of weapons of mass destruction, putting an end to the barbarities of Saddam Hussein's regime was a moral imperative. Well, now there is chapter and verse, from ringside seats, on the systematic use of torture by the Iraqi government that the US installed in Saddam's place. The worst practices of Saddam's regime did not apparently die with him, and whereas numerous logs show members of the coalition making genuine attempts to stop torture in Iraqi custody, it is clear their efforts were both patchy and half-hearted. In the worst incidents, one can only reasonably conclude that one set of torturers and thugs has been replaced by another.
Only this lot had, and still has, political cover: the cover of Frago 242, a "fragmentary order" which ordered coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as abuse of detainees, unless it directly involved members of the coalition; the cover of all those reports that end with the conclusion "No further investigation"; the cover of the pretence that the US does not keep records of civilians killed. This last claim is flatly contradicted by the war logs, which show there were more than 109,000 violent deaths between 2004 and the end of 2009, a tally which, according to Iraq Body Count, includes 15,000 previously unreported civilian deaths.
Iraq is not Barack Obama's war. He is not George Bush, but there are circumstances, like these, in which his administration is behaving as if he were. Continuing reports of detainee abuse in post-conflict Iraq are plainly not in the interests of a country that will continue to station tens of thousands of troops in Iraq as mentors and advisers. The response to the publication of the war logs by the Iraqi government has been twofold - rage from Nouri al-Maliki's office, which accused WikiLeaks of trying to sabotage the incumbent prime minister's bid to form a new government, and the standard assurance that the interior ministry would follow up all reports of human rights violations. Of the two, the first is more credible. Why should Iraqi authorities be so much more eager to preserve evidence of the crimes committed by their troops than the US is to prosecute its own alleged criminals? Prosecutions of those involved in the unprovoked shooting spree by Blackwater Worldwide in a Baghdad square in which 17 Iraqis were killed, are collapsing. The battlefield may not be a place that lends itself to the preservation of evidence, but sheer lack of official interest is infectious.
There is no ongoing congressional inquiry into US abuses in the Iraq war, and that left the United Nations chief investigator on torture, Manfred Nowak, to call on Mr Obama to order a full investigation. This will be ignored, as it usually is, but Nowak is right when he says the administration has a legal and moral obligation to investigate credible claims of US forces' complicity in torture. It is not irresponsible or partisan to publish possible evidence of complicity in torture. It is a duty to do so.