Wikileaks unveils US abuses in Iraq War

by Staff

Artwork courtesy of Opinion Editor Tom Hammel

By Chris Pocock, Staff Columnist

At first glance, Julian Assange doesn’t look like your average journalistic freedom fighter. If anything, Assange’s style — his charcoal gray suit, penetrating black eyes and the white-blond hair he keeps gelled behind his ears — portrays him more like a brooding super-villain than the latest antihero of American journalism.

The Pentagon, however, would probably agree more with the “villain” portrait. Assange, through his watchdog organization known as WikiLeaks, is responsible for the release of the largest number of classified U.S. documents in history — 391,831 previously confidential reports of “significant action” that occurred during the Iraq War.

Sent to Assange from several undisclosed military sources, these reports detail significant abuses experienced by detainees at the hands of U.S.-trained Iraqi police and soldiers. Many of these instances include the use of electrocution, electric drills and execution of prisoners. Quite often, these reports were marked with the recurring phrase “no further investigation” — U.S. protocol for dealing with “Iraqi on Iraqi” abuse.

As taxpayers and voters, we are the ones who supply the government the means to engage in these conflicts. We supply the appropriate money and support and in return they supply us with security and peace of mind — provided we don’t ask a lot of questions. But at what cost does our peace of mind exist?

Shamefully, it comes at the price of Iraqi lives. Through the veil of “national security,” injustices reported in the Iraq War logs were allowed to continue because U.S. officials purposely turned a blind eye toward the suspected torture, which went unreported by American media.

But the injustices weren’t limited to detainees alone.  A U.S. helicopter attack in July of 2007 killed 12 people, and was subsequently defended by the U.S. to have been “engaged in combat operations against a hostile force.” Only when the video was released on WikiLeaks was the truth of the situation exposed.

Even the number of civilian deaths during the war has severely been called into question — a report made by a watchdog site known as Iraq Body Count suggests the U.S. has misrepresented the figure by up to 15,000 individuals.

Critics argue WikiLeaks breached national security when it uncovered these documents. But when the Pentagon Papers broke the front page of The New York Times in 1971, it too was considered a threat to national security. Its role in the Vietnam War, however, was invaluable. The papers exposed an extensive web of lies and cover-ups occurring throughout four presidencies, which ultimately led to an irreversible downturn in public opinion toward the conflict.

In other words, breaking “national security” helped end the war sooner and thus spared further American lives from being senselessly wasted.

WikiLeaks endeavors to do the same. Yes, precautions need to be taken to allow for the continuation of national security. There must be a sufficient level of secrecy involved in our military action and defense. But is it worth hiding information from Americans to fuel an increasingly unpopular conflict?

That’s where the media comes in — or rather, should come in. Investigative journalism has entered a sorry state in this country. Present news corporations work hand-in-hand with government officials. What used to be a powerful check to the mightiest government and military in the world has since transformed into an enfeebled industry bent on expanding the partisan gap.

If these events aren’t brought to the surface, who will ensure the U.S. military is following the rules? And how will these injustices otherwise become accounted for?

We the taxpayers, voters and participants of this nation should see the effects of our actions — for the good, bad and especially ugly.

These kinds of investigations can and should happen consistently, even while maintaining national security. If names remain confidential, U.S. soldiers and friendly forces in Iraq will remain safe from data falling into the wrong hands while injustices performed are accordingly dealt with.

WikiLeaks may have created a new advent in investigative journalism, but it’s up to the rest of the media to follow suit. Journalists must investigate instances of wrongdoing by this nation. Otherwise, our beacon of justice will remain nothing but a flickering lightbulb to other countries.

—Chris Pocock is a journalism junior.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.