Iraq war logs: British legal threat as UN calls on Obama to look at torture claimsSubmitted by DeMolay on Sat, 10/23/2010 - 16:34
• MoD and US condemn action taken by WikiLeaks
• MoD and US condemn action taken by WikiLeaks
• Lawyer warns crimes may have involved UK forces
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defended the decision to release the Iraq logs at a press conference in London today. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters
Britain's role in the alleged torture and unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians may be the subject of legal action following the publication of nearly 400,000 leaked military documents by the website WikiLeaks.
British lawyers said the classified US army field reports embroiled British as well as American forces in an alleged culture of abuse and extrajudicial killings in Iraq. Solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, appearing alongside WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a press conference in London today, said some of the deaths documented in the reports may have involved British forces and could now go through the UK courts.
The Iraq logs, Shiner said, indicated that UK as well as US commanders were likely to have ignored evidence of torture by the Iraqi authorities, contrary to international law. He said: "Some of these deaths will be in circumstances where the UK have a very clear legal responsibility. This may be because the Iraqis died while under the effective control of UK forces – under arrest, in vehicles, helicopters or detention facilities."
A number of the documents detail allegations of abuse by UK soldiers. Two reports dated 23 June 2008 describe claims by two Iraqi men – both Shias – that they were punched and kicked by unidentified British soldiers. Both men, according to the reports on the WikiLeaks website, suffered injuries that would have been consistent with their claims. There is no apparent record of an investigation of the allegations.
The Ministry of Defence condemned the actions of WikiLeaks, adding that it investigated any allegations made against British troops. It said: "There is no place for mistreatment of detainees. Any civilian casualty is a matter of deep regret and we take any incidents extremely seriously."
As Assange defended the decision to disclose the documents – saying it was of "immense importance" to reveal the truth about the conflict – the UN warned that if the logs pointed to clear violations of the UN convention against torture, Barack Obama's administration had a clear obligation to investigate them.
Manfred Novak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said: "President Obama came to power with a moral agenda, saying we don't want to be seen to be a nation responsible for major human rights violations."
A failure to investigate credible claims of complicity in torture, Novak suggested, would be a failure of the Obama government to recognise US obligations under international law.
He said that states were prohibited from transferring detainees to other countries that could pose a risk to their personal safety. Experts who studied the documents said this principle appeared to have been breached.
Novak said it was not enough for Obama's administration to suggest the alleged crimes took place before it came to power. But the Pentagon dismissed Novak's concerns. It said: "We have fulfilled our obligations to report it [torture]."
The US Defence Department condemned the WikiLeaks release, describing the documents as raw observations by tactical units, which were only snapshots of tragic, mundane events. Assange said the snapshots of everyday events offered a glimpse at the "human scale" of the conflict. He told the news conference his motive for the disclosure was "about the truth".
Iraq Body Count, a private British-based group that has tracked the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the war began in 2003, said its analysis of the logs had raised its total of civilian deaths from 107,369 to more than 122,000. IBC, which worked with WikiLeaks, said the war logs showed there were more than 109,000 violent deaths between 2004 and the end of 2009. They included 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as "enemy", 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces, and 3,771 coalition troops.
John Sloboda of IBC said: "They [the documents] show the relentless grind of daily killings in almost every town or village in every province."
While many Iraqi civilians welcome the release of the documents, the country's prime minister accused WikiLeaks of an attempt to sabotage his re-election hopes. Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been fighting for more than seven months to keep his job after national elections in March failed to produce a clear winner.
The release was also roundly condemned by the American authorities. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, attacked the disclosure of any classified information that threatened national security, or put at risk the lives of coalition forces or civilians. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell called the release "shameful" and said it "could potentially undermine our nation's security".
However, Assange said the Pentagon allegations were "simply not true" and that he was confident Iraqis were not named in the documents. He said the documents, published in a heavily censored form, contained "no information that could be harmful to any individual".
Undeterred by the Pentagon's reaction, WikiLeaks promised today to publish 15,000 more documents about the war in Afghanistan.
Daniel Ellsberg, the former US military analyst who leaked documents in 1971 revealing how the American public was misled about the Vietnam war, made a surprise appearance at today's news conference and accused President Obama of attempting to stem the flow of military information.
Ellsberg, 79, also criticised Obama for playing a legal "experiment" with the arrest of US army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who is suspected of leaking a previous cache of war documents to WikiLeaks. Manning is in US military custody and faces a court martial next year.