Iraq: Leaking the inconvenient truth

This past Monday, Nov. 1 marked the largest classified military leak in history when Julian Assange, director of Wikileaks, released nearly 400,000 secret documents detailing gruesome American and British involvement in the Iraq war onto the Internet.

These documents chronicle 109,000 deaths in Iraq, with 66,000 of those being civilian deaths. What proves most disturbing about this leak is that nearly 15,000 of these fatalities were previously unknown to the public. Moreover, numerous incidences of alleged torture have been indicated in the government documents. These numbers contradict American and British militaries’ previous statements of not recording body counts.

Wikileaks published similar reports detailing American involvement in the Afghan war earlier this year. However, they were not nearly as extensive or revealing as this leak on the Iraq war.

Laurier political science professor Alistair Edgar, who specializes in international relations and Canadian and American foreign policy and defence policy, stated that although this type of brutality underpins the nature of war, as the vast majority of deaths in war are civilian, this leak remains shocking. Edgar explained, “[These civilian deaths] are usually the case in civil wars.the public will be surprised to learn that 85 per cent of casualties in Iraq were civilians.”

Edgar explained that despite the existence of other non-governmental organization (NGO) projects with similar aims, such as the Iraq Body Count, this leak is unique in regards to the amount of public attention and press coverage it has received.

This attention is crucial in increasing awareness of policies undertaken by governments, as Edgar argued, “Public awareness creates activism and public activism creates change.” He cited the international ban on landmine treaty as a good example of public awareness leading to change on a global scale.

While Wikileaks prides itself on ensuring the source’s anonymity, the organization is not concerned with who releases such information. The site states, “Other journalists try to verify sources. We don’t do that, we verify documents. We don’t care where it came from — but we can guess that it probably came from somewhere in the U.S. military or the U.S. government, from someone who is disaffected.”

The U.S. is working on tracking down the individual or individuals who leaked the top-secret information, with the American government condemning the release of the documents, citing reasons of national security and illegal obtainment of classified information.

Edgar believes that although the timing of the leak may not be desirable, as it can compromise military strategies, this type of information must be made public.

“Raising awareness may make [the American and British government’s] lives more difficult, but that is the nature of conducting responsible war,” Edgar said.