WikiLeaks set to release more Afghan files
US military, rights groups blast decision
LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said yesterday that his organization is preparing to release the rest of the secret Afghan war documents it has on file. The Pentagon warned that would be more damaging to security and risk more lives than the organization’s initial release of some 76,000 war documents.
That extraordinary disclosure, which laid bare classified military documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010, has angered US officials, energized critics of the NATO-led campaign, and drawn the attention of the Taliban, which has promised to use the material to track down people it considers traitors. The Pentagon, which says it believes it has identified the additional 15,000 classified documents, said yesterday that their exposure would be more damaging to the military than what has already been published.
The Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, called the documents’ prospective publication the “height of irresponsibility.’’
“It would compound a mistake that has already put far too many lives at risk,’’ he Morrell said.
Speaking via videolink to London’s Frontline Club, Assange brushed aside the Pentagon’s demands that he stop publishing their intelligence. He gave no specific time frame for the release of the 15,000 remaining files but said his organization had gone through about half of them.
“We’re about 7,000 reports in,’’ he said, describing the process of combing through the files to ensure that no Afghans would be hurt by their disclosure as “very expensive and very painstaking.’’ Still, he told the audience that he would publish them. He gave no indication whether he would give the documents to The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel, as he has before, or put them on the Wikileaks website.
The leaks exposed unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings by NATO forces and covert operations against Taliban figures. Assange has said that hundreds of those reports should be investigated by the media for evidence of war crimes.
WikiLeaks’ supporters say the blow-by-blow account of the conflict reveals the horror of the campaign’s daily grind. Detractors say the site has recklessly endangered the war effort and Afghan informants working to stop the Taliban.
The Pentagon has a task force of about 100 people reading the leaked documents to assess the damage done and to alert Afghans who might be identified by name and could be in danger.
Taliban spokesmen have said they would use the material to try to hunt down people who have been cooperating with coalition forces, which the Taliban consider a foreign invader. That has aroused the concern of several human rights groups operating in Afghanistan — as well as Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which yesterday accused Wikileaks of recklessness.
Jean-Francois Julliard, the group’s secretary-general, said that WikiLeaks showed “incredible irresponsibility.’’
“WikiLeaks has in the past played a useful role by making information available . . . that exposed serious violations of human rights and civil liberties which the Bush administration committed in the name of its war against terror,’’ Julliard said. “But revealing the identity of hundreds of people who collaborated with the coalition in Afghanistan is highly dangerous.’’