Almost 400,000 formerly classified documents have been released by Wikileaks this week. The US Army field reports show numerous incidents of torture or execution that have been ignored. It also lists civilian casualties. This is notable because we have been repeatedly told that the US doesn’t keep records of civilian deaths – it’s why estimating the human toll of the Iraq war has fallen to organisations like Iraq Body Count (IBC), the UN or the medical journal the Lancet. As it turns out, records are kept, and there is a total: 66,081 civilians.
The IBC tracks mortality through hospital, press and NGO reports, and puts the figure higher. It was aware of most of the incidents, but going through the leaked documents has revealed an extra 15,000 civilian deaths that were previously unknown, which shows the importance of the leak.
We might never know the true price of the Iraq war, but without leaks like this, we’d be reduced entirely to guesswork. The more we know about the damage the war has done, the more cause we have to think long and hard about wars in the future. It’s also a matter of justice to Iraq. The idea that we could invade a country, supposedly to liberate its people, and not keep any track of how many them died in the process is ridiculous and insulting. It holds Iraqi lives cheaper than US or British lives, and that is never acceptable.
Of course, the leaks are hugely damaging to the US Army, but they probably aren’t dangerous. Hilary Clinton yesterday said that the US condemns “in the most clear terms the disclosure of any information by individuals and or organisations which puts the lives of United States and its partners’ service members and civilians at risk”
That’s the same claim that was made in July about documents relating to Afghanistan, that the leak “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk”. The Pentagon admitted a fortnight ago that it had reviewed the leaked documents, and concluded that none of its personnel were put at risk.