Why have WikiLeaks' Iraq war logs failed to cause a stir?
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Over the weekend, whistleblower website WikiLeaks released some 400,000 classified documents relating to the Iraq war. But this trove, drawn from US soldiers on the ground, seems to have failed to create serious controversy. FRANCE 24 finds out why.
A huge new set of classified military documents was posted on the website of whistleblower organisation Wikileaks on October 22, followed up by a press conference in London the next day by the group’s founder Julian Assange.
The 391,832 documents are edited “SIGACT” or “significant action” field reports written by US soldiers between 2004 and 2009 and include evidence of detainee abuse by Iraqi forces, civilian deaths and the involvement of Iran in operations in Iraq.
But according to experts, while the sheer number of documents released is too large for journalists and analysts to dig through in a short amount of time, much of what has been revealed so far is already public knowledge, and is far from controversial.
Dr. David Betz, senior lecturer at the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London, tells France24.com why internal chaos at Wikileaks itself, and a possibly partisan agenda from Julian Assange means that the organisation and its revelations no longer retain an untarnished glow.
FRANCE 24: What is in this new trove? Are there any major revelations in these documents?
Dr. David Betz: The bottom line is there are 400,000 documents here, which were released on Friday, and no-one has analysed them yet.
[But] I don’t think there are going to be revelations in here that were not understood to have happened already. It’s not that much of a surprise that Iraqi authorities have mistreated their detainees. It’s public knowledge that Iraqi authorities were deeply wound up in the sectarian conflict. The bottom line is that, with this particular release, it may well contain some kind of bombshell, but with the volume of documents involved, it may be some time before we hear anything we don’t already know.
F24: So is that why there has not been so much of a controversy about this event as compared to the earlier release of documents?
Dr. Betz: As to why there’s not that much controversy, that’s a complex answer. There are a number of factors. First, WikiLeaks and in particular Assange is not really seen in a heroic profile anymore. This is an organisation that is ideologically committed – certainly heavily opposed to the war, and coloured by anti-Americanism. I suspect people regard WikiLeaks with a good deal more suspicion now than in the past. With good reason, WikiLeaks is editorialising.
Also, the US has midterm elections are coming up. The president declared an end to front line combat in Iraq some three months ago. As far as the American administration is concerned, it’s over… which is strange considering there are still some 50,000 American troops there. But it’s moved off the public agenda to a large degree.
But again, it will take a long time just going through the volume of documents, so there well may be something in there…
F24: What about the revelations regarding Iran’s involvement in the Iraq war? Would that perhaps make this release work to US advantage?
Dr. Betz: I would put Iranian involvement as one of those things that’s been really well understood by people who’ve been following the conflict. It’s not common knowledge but it doesn’t need WikiLeaks to be known… Iran and particularly the Revolutionary Guards are deeply involved and have been from really early on. So yes, there’s a possibility that it could work to America’s advantage.
The problem with WikiLeaks is the claim about redacting names in the files. If I was an Iraqi and my name was in those files, I would not feel happy having my fate in the hands of Julian Assange and his pals.
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