Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth
LONDON -- U.S. forces often failed to follow up on credible evidence that Iraqi forces mistreated, tortured and killed their captives as they battled a violent insurgency, according to accounts contained in what was purportedly the largest leak of secret information in U.S. history.
The documents are among nearly 400,000 released Friday by the WikiLeaks website in defiance of Pentagon insistence that the action puts the lives of U.S. troops and their coalition partners at risk.
Although the documents appear to be authentic, their origin could not be independently confirmed, and WikiLeaks declined to offer any details about them. The Pentagon has previously declined to confirm the authenticity of WikiLeaks-released records, but it has employed more than 100 U.S. analysts to review what was previously released and has never indicated that any past WikiLeaks releases were inaccurate.
The 391,831 documents date from the start of 2004 to Jan. 1, 2010, mostly by low-ranking officers in the field. In terse, dry language, they catalog thousands of battles with insurgents and roadside bomb attacks, along with equipment failures and shootings by civilian contractors.
The United States went to war in part to end the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime, but the WikiLeaks material depicts American officers caught in a complicated and chaotic conflict in which they frequently could do little but report to their superiors when they found evidence that their Iraqi allies were committing their own abuses.
WikiLeaks offered The Associated Press and other news organizations access to a searchable database of redacted versions of the reports three hours prior to its general release Friday. A few news organizations, including the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, were given access to the material far earlier.
WikiLeaks describes itself as a public service organization whose mission is to "protect whistle-blowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public." In July, despite objections by the U.S. government, it posted almost 77,000 documents from the Afghan conflict on its website.
Following that release, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange drew controversy for comments that he wished to expose war crimes. He also became the target of allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden that he has denied.
The military has a continuing investigation into how the documents were leaked. An Army intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq, Spc. Bradley Manning, has been arrested in connection with the earlier release.