George W Bush once described the invasion of Iraq as a “noble mission” targeting terrorists who had an “utter contempt for innocent life”. Thousands of US military documents leaked to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, however, reveal where the real “utter contempt for innocent life” lies.
Human rights lawyers are still pouring over the 391,832 documents written over a six year period by US soldiers in the field. Already revealed is a gruesome tale of state sanctioned torture, murder and the tragic cost of the war on Iraqi civilians.
As Solidarity went to press, Wikileaks was beginning to release more classified US documents—this time memos sent from US embassies around the world. They detail US spying operations across the world, covert US bombings in Yemen and the Saudi Arabian government’s call for the US to bomb Iran.
“Saddam Hussein slaughtered his own people” is one of the key arguments used to justify the invasion, but the Wikileaks documents show the new regime installed by the US is no better. Over 1000 cases of Iraqi security forces torturing, abusing and raping detainees are reported in the documents. All sorts of barbaric methods were used—electric drills, acid attacks, lashings, mutilations and more.
Even worse, the US had a formal policy of ignoring this abuse. Order Frago 242, issued in June 2004, forbade coalition troops from investigating any violations committed by Iraqi troops against other Iraqis. Many of the documents describe the torture and then conclude with “no further investigation.” Even when US authorities had video evidence showing Iraqi soldiers “moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him”, no action followed.
Also revealed is the close working relationship US forces had with the notorious Iraqi police unit, the Wolf Brigade, which Sunni community leaders allege was an instrument of sectarian violence.
“All 5 detainees were turned over to Ministry of Interior [Wolf Brigade] for further questioning”, says one report. “The detainee was then turned over to the 2nd Ministry of Interior Commando Battalion for further questioning” says a report the following day. The US officer “threatened the subject detainee that he would never see his family again and would be sent to the Wolf Battalion,” says another.
Under Geneva conventions killing a surrendering soldier is a war crime, but that is what US apache helicopter squadron Crazy Horse 18 was authorised to do in February 2007. “They came out wanting to surrender,” signalled the helicopter. After six minutes the message comes back; “Crazy Horse 18 cleared to engage…Lawyer states they cannot surrender to aircraft”.
In spite of the US military insisting they did not “do body counts”, more than 109,032 deaths are detailed throughout the documents. Over 60 percent of them are civilians—equal to 31 a day for six years.
Many of the civilian deaths were a result of the sectarian war unleashed by the occupation, but many died at the hands of US forces.
Six hundred and eighty one were killed approaching US checkpoints or convoys. The stories are horrific. A marine convoy near Saqlawiyah fired on a car travelling too close. The car swerved and plunged into a canal. Two women, three children and a baby, were later dragged from the car, all drowned. An elderly man driving a Ute was shot after failing to slow down when approaching a US convoy near Ninewah. Later the document reveals he “had cataracts and was unable to see properly” and “the brakes on the old vehicle were not functional.”
Five times more civilians lost their lives approaching checkpoints and convoys than did resistance fighters. Many more civilians were killed in house raids and aerial attacks.
Iraqi Body Count, the website that meticulously records “violent civilian deaths” estimates a further “15,000 hitherto unrecorded civilian deaths will be added to the public record.” That brings their total to more than 122,000.
Right-wing journalists such as Andrew Bolt have attempted to use these figures to discredit the 2006 Lancet study that estimated 655,000 Iraqis lost their lives because of the occupation. “Wikileaks nails the wild Lancet scare,” writes Bolt.
But, not for the first time, Bolt has got it wrong. Iraqi Body Count only document violent deaths, whereas the Lancet study estimated total deaths attributed to the occupation, including those from non-violent means such as cholera. The Lancet study remains a credible document and Iraq remains a bloodbath. What Wikileaks “nails” is the lie that occupation has anything to do with human rights.
By Mark Gillespie
Classified files on Austraila from the US embassy documents were expected to be released as Solidarity went to press. Visit www.wikileaks.com