Wikileaks founder takes US to task over abuses

According to Julian Assange, 42 allegations of serious abuse by US forces in the Iraq war logs include the use of electric shocks, water torture and mock executions Reuters

The Wikileaks founder has urged the United States to examine alleged rights abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq and to stop an "aggressive investigation" into his website.

This content was published on November 4, 2010 - 18:48

Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks which has made public almost 400,000 classified US files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in Geneva on Thursday ahead of the first comprehensive United Nations review of the US human-rights record.

“If the United States is to be seen as a credible country that obeys the rule of law and those it has committed to and promoted, it must conduct investigations into plausible violations of those laws,” the 39-year-old Australian told reporters in Geneva, adding that the US should open up "instead of covering up".

The leaked military war logs published last month, which cover a period from January 2004 to December 2009, carry hundreds of allegations of detainee abuse - from minor assaults during arrests to torture at Iraqi police stations and bases. US forces occasionally intervened, but the US still regularly transferred detainees to Iraqi custody.

Wikileaks says the documents, mainly written by soldiers on the ground, also detailed the deaths of 15,000 more Iraqi civilians than the US military had reported.

The whistleblower website posted 77,000 secret US files on the Afghan conflict in July. Assange, who was flanked by two bodyguards in Geneva, pledged on Thursday to release more documents this year concerning not only the US, but other countries including Russia and Lebanon.

The Wikileaks founder is due to attend a session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Friday as an expert witness during a review of the US record.

The US delegation has said it is open to fair criticism of its human rights record, including racial discrimination and counterterrorism policies at Friday's debate, where Muslim countries are expected to voice concern about detainee abuse.

Violate international law

Assange said there had been no sign of an investigation by the US into the claims made in the war logs, even though other countries such as Britain and Denmark had moved to do so.

On October 24 Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg said allegations of killings, torture and abuse in Iraq contained in the war logs “need to be looked at”.

The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has also urged the US and Iraq to conduct an investigation.

Pillay said the files suggested US forces had continued to hand detainees to Iraqi authorities despite evidence that they had been tortured.

Of the 23,000 prisoners held by US authorities in mid-2007, all but 200 or so have now either been released or handed over to Iraqi security forces, according to a recent Amnesty report.

“There is a case to be made that the Obama administration violated international law by handing over its detainees to groups it knew committed torture,” said Assange.

The US is a party to the UN Convention against Torture, the main international treaty prohibiting torture, which requires all states to prohibit torture and to refrain from transferring detainees to the authorities of another state at whose hands they face torture.

Thor Windham-Wright, press officer with Amnesty International, echoed Assange’s words.

“We consider the handover of detainees by the US to be a breach of the US’s treaty obligations as a party to the UN Convention against Torture,” he told, adding that the war logs gave “important new public information” about the war in Iraq.

Reject allegations

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has rejected the charge that it turned a blind eye in response to the allegations raised in the files.

It maintains that it acted in accordance with international law, that all soldiers were instructed to report any allegations of abuse and reports were passed to superiors and, at the appropriate level, to Iraqis.

US officials have insisted that the documents revealed nothing new and said they did not under-report the number of civilian deaths.

The Pentagon has repeatedly asked Wikileaks to hand back the files, saying disclosure has put the lives of soldiers and civilians at risk.

Assange said the Pentagon had set up a “Wikileaks war room” with 120 military, FBI and intelligence staff to carry out an “aggressive investigation” into his website.

"I find myself, and our organization finds itself, in the rather unusual position of being both expert witnesses to human rights abuses committed by the United States government in various areas and a victim of some those abuses ourselves," he added.

Wikileaks - Iraq war logs

On October 22 the Wikileaks website published almost 400,000 US military logs from Iraq, mainly written by soldiers on the ground which cover a period from January 2004 to December 2009.

They included accounts of alleged atrocities carried out by Iraqi forces on their own people such as summary executions, attacks with acid and electric drills, beatings and mutilations.

The documents reveal that coalition forces handed Iraqi prisoners back to local forces for interrogation even when they showed signs of having been tortured and abused.

The files show the US kept records of civilians deaths. The death toll was put at 109,000, of whom 66,081 were civilians.

The new disclosures appear to closely match the findings of New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq, a report published by Amnesty International in September 2010 detailing the widespread torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by Iraqi forces, committed with impunity.

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A possible new home

Julian Assange is considering basing Wikileaks in Switzerland.

He told French-language television news in Switzerland on November 4 that it was a “serious” possibility, noting that there were only three countries in the world where the website could be “safe”: Switzerland, Iceland and Cuba.

“The goal would be to continue our activities but from Switzerland, to facilitate the daily work we do,” he said.

He may also be considering seeking political asylum in Switzerland, he told the programme.

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