Wikileaks founder defends Afghan War Diary files at the Frontline
The founder of whistle-blowing website Wikileaks today described the release of more than 90,000 classified US military documents on the war in Afghanistan as the equivalent to the East German Stasi secret police opening up its files after the collapse of communism.
Julian Assange was speaking at the Frontline Club, the club at a press conference in front of many British and international print and broadcast journalists about the documents, which were released to the world last night.
The files detail US military action in Afghanistan – including many unreported civilian casuatles – since between 2004 and 2010. Many documents contradict allied armed forces’ official account of specific incidents.
Asked what was the most damaging part of the disclosures, he said that was not the point.
“I get asked that a lot… But that is not the real story – it’s that war is one damn thing after another. The continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, civilians and armed forces.
“Most of the deaths in this war are as a result of the everyday squalor of war, not the big events.”
The documents were released in partnership with The Guardian, the New York Times and German paper Der Spiegel and chronicle in minute detail US military operations between 2004 and late 2009.
The trio of newspapers assisted in collating and measuring the vast amount of data – though Assange admitted that Wikileaks and its partners had only read as many as 2,000 of the documents and that a further 15,000 files remain unpublished. A redacted version of the unreleased documents will be released soon, Assange said.
Assange rejected the idea that the disclosure may put civilillians or soldiers at risk in Afghanistan. “We have tried hard to make sure that this material does not put innocents at harm… all the material is more than seven months old,” he said.
But his own personal safety and that of Wikileaks’ supporters and collaborators is another matter: “From time to time we have threat warnings form our sources and we take those seriously… In the US we haven’t felt a threat to our personal safety.” Assange alleges that American security agencies asked the Australian state to begin surveillance of him, but the request was turned down.
A new openness
For journalists, the release of this data is seismic in its importance. As Assange puts it, journalists now “have exactly the same information the US military has to prepare its reports.” The only problem is finding the time and resources to read, collate and make sense of the rest of the War Log disclosures.
Assange admitted that while it may be very revealing, the information within the files is not always correct: “Those are legitmate reports but it doesn’t mean the content is true,” he said, pointing out that different kinds of reports tend to emphasise different things. “When units report on other military units, they tend to be more frank…. and when they are reporting on the Taliban then all the evil comes out.”
This is the equivalent of opening the Stasi aarchives. No one particular Stasi file has the ability to change the country, to change Germany. It is a history, an enormous compendium of information… We really have just scratched the surface – we’ve only read about 1,000 to 2,000 files. It will take the world’s press to look at this, as well as the soliders, the refugees, and the Taliban.
The Frontline Club runs a series of panel discussions, training and events for members and non-members. The Frontline is controlled by a charitable trust which aims to support independent journalism.
To see a list of other upcoming Frontline events, go to www.frontlineclub.com.