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Iraqileaks: How Relevant Are They?

Considering that my last three posts have been on the Iraqi governing situation, the Wikileaks document dump is a welcome break from that news (which has remained somewhat calm this week). By now, most Americans have heard of the Wikileaks scandal, and the resulting information gained from founder Julian Assange’s decision to leak thousands of documents. The good news is that most of this information deals with past events, and does not hurt interfere with the U.S.’s mission to bring peace and stability to the country. (That being said, I fully support the charges against Spc. Bradley Manning. Frankly, he should be tried for treason. It is equally unfortunate that Assange is outside American jurisdiction, as he clearly lacks any concern for those in uniform.)

The unfortunate news is the bureaucratic failure on America’s part to prevent the Iraqi special forces from torturing detainees all too easily reminds even the casual viewer of Abu Ghraib. While those same documents reveal an American force that was actively trying to stop the brutal treatment of suspects, bureaucracies are not geared towards comprehensively solving these problems. As a result, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is forced to painfully calls the documents “lies” and denounce their release. This would make reconciliation harder to achieve except that Mr. Maliki will have to make deals with both Sunnis and Sadrists, who comprised the bulk of the mistreated detainees. In other words, this requires sacrifices already on tap for Mr. Maliki and it would be hard to see him change course.

In more intriguing news, the documents ironically discredit much of Assange’s deeply held beliefs. For starters, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction was active for many years after the supposed failure to find them in Iraq. This hunt actually netted a slew of chemical weapons. While there was no evidence of nuclear weapons, the finds confirm that neither former President Bush nor Secretary Powell were dishonest in their assessment of Iraqi capabilities.

Moreover, the documents shed light on the much-debated statistic of civilian deaths in Iraq. Specifically, the wild exageration that 600,000 civilians died during the war. While any death is regrettable, to say the least, Pentagon papers show (in great detail) how died and why. A count of those deaths comes out to 122,000, well short of the claims of some authors. (Note: the linked article also quotes Assange’s fascination and desire to “crush bastards.” If only universal jurisdiction had broader applicability…) But the finds modify the historical account of the Iraq War in important ways: not only is the death count substantially lowered, but the documents show the Pentagon was neither blind nor callous in considerinf civilan deaths.

All in all, a historian could but only wonder and research the massive information contained in these documents. That does not, however, change the moral or political equation. Assange and Manning’s stunt was purposeful intrusion of the U.S’s mission to liberate Iraq. Luckily, American troops were able to win the war before Wikileaks had any effect.


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