Wikileaks finally came out with the thousands of communiques reports hinted at by military leaker Bradley Manning in his exchanges with odious self-promoting a-hole, Adrian Lamo; it’s not exactly clear where these leaks come from. Manning was charged by the US with leaking the previous video and audio of a US gunship murdering several Iraqis, but he was not charged with leaking this data, even though they seemed to be alluded to in the exchange that Lamo made public.
The wikileaks link just takes you to the Guardian’s coverage; it seems as if Wikileaks won’t make the communiques public, but rather has given them to Der Spiegel, the New York Times and The Guardian. You can see the pure data on the Wikileaks site here. Obama may be able to make some hay out of this, since the communiques cover the period of his predecessor, and not his own. But it’s also instructive to recall that Nixon fought the publication of the Pentagon Papers tooth and nail, even though they really only made Kennedy and Johnson look bad. Many of the incidents of cold-blooded murder of civilians by US and NATO troops also makes the coverage by Rachel Maddow when she traveled to Afghanistan. which I wrote about previously, look especially heinous. Journalists like Pamela Constable, embedded in Afghanistan with Western troops, but primarily concerned only with the acts of the Taliban not those of the nation she lives in, also have a lot of explaining to do. One could make the argument that both—and, of course, many others in our corporate media—have been criminally negligent in their reporting.
The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed “blue on white” in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents. Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests in the past, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers. At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, although this is likely to be an underestimate because many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.
Bloody errors at civilians’ expense, as recorded in the logs, include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.
Questionable shootings of civilians by British troops also figure. The American compilers detail an unusual cluster of four British shootings in the streets of Kabul within the space of barely a single month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the killing of the son of an Afghan general. Of one shooting, they wrote: “Investigation is controlled by the British. We not able [sic] to get the complete story.”
A second cluster of similar shootings, all involving Royal Marine commandos in the ferociously contested Helmand province, took place in a six-month period at the end of 2008. Asked by the Guardian about these allegations, the Ministry of Defence said: “We have been unable to corroborate these claims in the short time available and it would be inappropriate to speculate on specific cases without further verification of the alleged actions.”
Rachel Reid, who investigates civilian casualty incidents in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said: “These files bring to light what’s been a consistent trend by US and NATO forces: the concealment of civilian casualties. Despite numerous tactical directives ordering transparent investigations when civilians are killed, there have been incidents I’ve investigated in recent months where this is still not happening. Accountability is not just something you do when you are caught. It should be part of the way US and NATO do business in Afghanistan every time they kill or harm civilians.”
More on unreported killings of civilians and so called “Escalation of Force” Incidents in the Guardian coverage.But the logs demonstrate how much of the contemporaneous US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false.
Last September there was a major scandal at Kunduz in the north of Afghanistan when a German commander ordered the bombing of a crowd looting two hijacked fuel tankers. The contemporaneous archive circulated to Nato allies records him authorising the airstrike by a US F-15 jet “after ensuring that no civilians were in the vicinity”. The “battle damage assessment” confirmed, it claims, that 56 purely “enemy insurgents” had died.
Media reports followed by official inquiries, however, established something closer to the real death toll. It included 30 to 70 civilians.
In another case the logs show that on the night of 30 August 2008, a US special forces squad called Scorpion 26 blasted Helmand positions with multiple rockets, and called in an airstrike to drop a 500lb bomb. All that was officially logged was that 24 Taliban had been killed.
But writer Patrick Bishop was embedded in the valley nearby with British paratroops at their Sangin bases. He recorded independently: “Overnight, the question of civilian casualties took on an extra urgency. An American team had been inserted on to Black Mountain … From there, they launched a series of offensive operations. On 30 August, wounded civilians, some of them badly injured, turned up at Sangin and FOB Inkerman saying they had been attacked by foreign troops. Such incidents gave a hollow ring to ISAF claims that their presence would bring security to the local population.”
Some of the more notorious civilian calamities did become public at the time. The logs confirm that an entirely truthful official announcement was made regretting the guidance system failure of one “smart bomb”. On 9 September 2008 it unintentionally landed on a village causing 26 civilian casualties.
The US also realised very quickly that a Polish squad had committed what appeared to have been a possible war crime. On 16 August 2007 the Poles mortared a wedding party in the village of Nangar Khel in an apparent revenge attack shortly after experiencing an IED explosion.
It is recorded under the heading: “Any incident that may cause negative media”. The report disclosed that three women victims had “numerous shrapnel wounds … One was pregnant and an emergency C-section was performed but the baby died”. In all, six were killed. The Polish troops were shipped home and some eventually put on trial for the atrocity. After protests in their support from a Polish general, the trial has apparently so far failed to reach a conclusion.
But most of the assaults on civilians recorded here, do not appear to have been investigated. French troops “opened fire on a bus that came too close to convoy” near the village of Tangi Kalay outside Kabul on 2 October 2008, according to the logs. They wounded eight children who were in the bus.
Two months later, US troops gunned down a group of bus passengers even more peremptorily, as the logs record.
Patrolling on foot, a Kentucky-based squad from 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, known as “Red Currahee”, decided to flag down the approaching bus, so their patrol could cross the road. Before sunrise, a soldier stepped out on to Afghanistan’s main highway and raised both hands in the air.
When the bus failed to slow – travellers are often wary of being flagged down in Afghanistan’s bandit lands – a trooper raked it with machine-gun fire. They killed four passengers and wounded 11 others.
Some of the civilian deaths in the list stem from violent actions by US special forces attempting to hunt down Taliban leaders or al-Qaida incomers. In a typical case, last November, the army files record a demonstration by 80 angry villagers who broke an armoured car window in the village of Lewani. A woman from the village had been killed in an assault by the shadowy Task Force 373.
The influence of the then new commander, General Stanley McChrystal, can be seen, however. Brought in last year with a mission to try to cut the number of civilian casualties, he clearly demanded more detailed reporting of such incidents.
The Lewani file is marked with a new “information requirement” to record each “credible allegation of Isaf [the occupying forces] … causing non-combatant injury/death”.
McChrystal was replaced last month, however, by General David Petraeus, amid reports that restraints aimed at cutting civilian deaths would be loosened once again.
The bulk of the “blue-white” file consists of a relentless catalogue of civilian shootings on nearly 100 occasions by jumpy troops at checkpoints, near bases or on convoys. Unco-operative drivers and motorcyclists are frequent targets.
Each incident almost without exception is described as a meticulous “escalation of force” conducted strictly by the book, against a threatening vehicle.
US and UK rules require shouts, waves, flares, warning shots and shots into the engine block, before using lethal force. Each time it is claimed that this procedure is followed. Yet “warning shots” often seem to cause death or injury, generally ascribed to ricochets.
Sometimes, it seems as though civilian drivers merely failed to get off the road fast enough. On 9 July 2006 mechanic Mohamad Baluch was test-driving a car in Ghazni, when the Americans rolled into town on an anti-IED “route clearance patrol”.
The log records: “LN [local national] vehicle did not yield to US convoy … Gunner on lead truck shot into the vehicle and convoy kept going out of the area.” The townspeople threw rocks at the eight departing armoured Humvees. Baluch ended up in hospital with machine-gun bullets in his shoulder.
Jay Rosen calls Wikileaks the first stateless news organization. He makes several great observations about the revolutionary role that Wikileaks now plays in relationship to traditional corporate owned, land-locked media, but these really jumped out at me:
…NThe information is released in two forms: vetted and narrated to gain old media cred, and released online in full text, Internet-style, which corrects for any timidity or blind spot the editors at Der Spiegel, The Times or the Guardian may show.
…If you’re a whistle blower with explosive documents, who would you rather give them to: a newspaper with a terrestrial address organized under the laws of a nation that could try to force the reporter you contacted to reveal your name, and may or may not run the documents you’ve delivered to them online…. or Wikileaks, which has no address, answers no subpoenas and promises to run the full cache if they can be verified as real?
I referred to these as “diplomatic communiques” and connected to Bradley Manning. Given comments attributed to Manning, and other comments by Assange, I assumed that these were “diplomatic communiques” and that Manning had released them to Wikileaks. But I actually don’t know whether either is true, and what exactly would constitute a “diplomatic communique”. In other words, just like everybody else, I have no idea where these reports came from or how. The Guardian is calling them “military reports”, which is good enough for me.