Al Jazeera and the Secret Iraqi Files

Al Jazeera and the Secret Iraqi Files

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The leading role played by Al Jazeera in examining 391,000 classified American documents released through Wikileaks has not been widely acknowledged in the U.S. But Al Jazeera’s efforts have resulted in important revelations on a wide range of topics, including Iraqi state torture, the killings of hundreds of civilians at coalition roadblocks, Al Qaeda’s presence in Iraq, and the detaining of three American citizens by Iran near the Iraqi border in 2009.

In coordination with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, Al Jazeera spent 10 weeks examining tens of thousands of secret documents on Iraq dating from January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2009.

The trove of data—which was also released early to the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the UK's Channel 4 TV before being made public last week on the Wikileaks website—was more than four times larger than the cache of files on the Afghanistan War previously released by Wikileaks in July.

Every day, Al Jazeera focuses on a different topic pertaining these files. What has been uncovered often contradicts the official narrative of the conflict.

For example, pertaining to civilian casualties, Al Jazeera Arabic reported that during the six-year period, 108,000 people died, of whom about 63 percent were civilians. Including those injured, Al Jazeera found evidence of 285,000 Iraqi victims of the war. The U.S. had denied keeping records of civilian casualties.

After Al Jazeera published the Secret Iraqi Files, the Iraqi Body Count website  increased its estimate of total civilian deaths during the entire conflict to 150,000, or almost 50 percent over its previous estimate of 108,000 deaths.

The Wikileaks documents show that torture by Iraqi security forces was rampant—and that the U.S. turned a blind eye. According to Al Jazeera English, U.S. troops reported 1,300 cases of torture to their superiors, including sexual abuse and even rape, yet no action was taken against the Iraqi perpetrators.

Only two months after the outbreak of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal involving American personnel, the Pentagon issued military order (FRAGO) 242 that ruled out any U.S. intervention against Iraqis accused of torturing other Iraqis. According to Amnesty International, despite the many well-documents torture cases, not a single Iraqi has been sentenced to jail in those crimes.

Al Jazeera also reported evidence that former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld supported the no-intervention policy in cases of Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture.  It showed a report of Rumsfeld saying, “I do not think they [U.S. forces] have an obligation to physically stop it [inhumane treatment], it is to report it.”

Iraqis felt vindicated by the secret files.

The director of the Democratic Studies and Human Rights Center in Iraq, Qsaem Muhammad Al Jamely, told Al Jazeera: “What these documents now reveal has been reported by Iraqi civic institutions for years.”

“What was revealed in the these documents is much less than the actual arrests killings and torture that took place since 2003,” Iraqi citizen Zahra Mustafa told the network, demanding that the names of the perpetrators be disclosed so they can be held accountable.

Al Jazeera and the other news organizations, however, agreed to refrain from releasing the names of individuals accused of torture and abuse.

Another interesting revelation pertained to the three American citizens who were arrested by Iran near the Iraqi borders in July 2009. The Wikileaks documents published in the New York Times suggested the U.S. hikers may have been taken on the Iraq side of the border.

But in his blog, Al Jazeera English presenter and correspondent Teymoor Nabili focused on another important part of the document. “The really interesting comment comes at the end,” she said., “… under the heading ‘S2 assessment’: ‘The lack of co-ordination on the part of these hikers, particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran.’”

Nabili added, “It seems the military themselves concluded the hikers were there with the express purpose of creating publicity ... not rock climbing or hiking.”

The Wikileaks information could have a major impact on the trial of hikers Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal—which has been set for November 6. The third hiker, Sarah E. Shourd, was released last month.