Home Examining Today’s Coverage of Wikileaks Iraq Documents

Examining Today’s Coverage of Wikileaks Iraq Documents

Wikileaks’ leak of its approximately 400,000 Iraq military field reports to major media outlets has turned into a torrent today. Like the whistle-blower outfit’s release of its 91,000 Afghanistan war documents, it gave the MSM a chance to look, and interpret, before releasing any information to the public.

Reports on, and interpretations of, the documents were published in The New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Al Jazeera and Le Monde.

Mirror, mirror

The organizations seemed to focus on those elements in the vast ocean of data that mesh with our expectations of them. Match the following quotes to A) The Guardian, B) Al Jazeera and C) The New York Times.

  1. “Detainees Suffered Most In Iraqi Custody, U.S. Logs Say”
  2. “The story: How US ignored torture”
  3. “Iran’s ‘involvement'”

If you matched 1 to C, 2 to A and 3 to B, you’re right.

What picture does the data really show? Cynically, you could say that above a certain amount, information acts as a mirror to the user. We could be Pollyannas, instead, and say that we’ll know when the database is made public. Mostly likely, the sheer amount of information may mean that only after repeated winnowing by a larger number of reviewers will any meaningful patterns emerge.

The Big Stories

Still, drawing from the three sources above, here is a list of prominent conclusions their reporters have come to.

  • The abuse of detainees was much more widespread than thought
  • 15,000 civilian deaths resulted from previously-unreported incidents
  • Iran gave significant aid to the insurgent’s Shi’ite factions
  • Iraqi army and police routinely used torture
  • The helicopter squad that killed two Reuters journalists may have killed other civilians

Web-wide release?

Earlier reports, based on investigation by Wired’s Threat Level blog, indicated Wikileaks planned to release these documents on the web, like they did the Afghani documents. Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, denied that the reports were accurate.

Other reports indicated that a number of important Wikileaks associates had quit, their decision based in part on Assange’s alleged unwillingness to redact the documents sufficiently. Concerns have surfaced from a number of quarters that the Afghan documents put native Afghanis who had worked with U.S. forces in danger; and that the new release would do the same to Iraqis. Indeed, in the Iraq documents turned over to the media, none of the Iraqi intelligence sources’ names were redacted.

Meanwhile, the Wikileaks site has been down since early this month. A message on the site’s homepage says, “WikiLeaks is currently underoing (sic) scheduled maintenance. We will be back online as soon as possible.”

Assange has claimed that problems he has had, ranging from Swedish rape charges to Wikileak’s online donation processing company’s dropping the group, have been orchestrated by the U.S.

Iraq trucks photo by The National Guard | flag map from Wikimedia Commons | helicopter photo by The U.S. Army

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