Wikileaks release 90,000 documents relating to war in Afghanistan

US condemns release of tens of thousands of classified Afghan war documents. Duch, Pol Pot’s infamous prison chief, is jailed for 19 years. Tehran reacts angrily to further EU sanctions on Iran. Bangladeshi war crimes court issues first arrest warrants. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Jamie Munn
26 July 2010

Washington is condemning the release of over 90,000 military records as an “irresponsible” action that could threaten the national security of the US. The documents, published by Wikileaks, include the as yet unreported deaths of Afghan civilians, as well as detailed Nato concerns over Iranian and Pakistani involvement with the Taliban. In a press conference held at London’s Frontline Club, Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, stated that the reports often “downplay” civilian deaths.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper, the New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel were given prior access to the documents and have published their analysis today. On their website, Wikileaks has stated that they hope the ‘Afghan War Diary’, which concentrates on combat between 2004 and 2009, will “lead to a comprehensive understanding of the war in Afghanistan and provide the raw ingredients necessary to change its course”. Wikileaks has refused to name its source, but said that they had no reason to doubt the reliability of the documents. The Guardian and the New York Times have both said that they had no direct contact with the source.

The documents claim that Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence met regularly with Taliban officials to order to better organise attacks against US soldiers. They also claim that Pakistani forces were compliant with the Taliban in plans to assassinate Afghan leaders. Pakistan moved quickly to deny any cooperation with the Taliban. Pakistan’s US ambassador, Husain Haqqabi, commented on the claims, saying "We have paid a price in treasure and in blood over the last two years. More Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists, including our military officers and intelligence service officials. We are not going to be distracted by something like this."

Pakistan receives aid from the United States in return for its partnership in Afghanistan, and just this month US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced a $500 million aid package, calling the United States and Pakistan partners joined in common cause.”

A spokesman for the Afghan government, Siamak Heraqi, said that  "The Afghan government is shocked with the report that has opened the reality of the Afghan war."

Downing Street has so far refused to comment on the documents, but said it “lamented” the leaks, and is continuing to verify the events that include British troops detailed in the documents. Security minister Lady Neveille-Jones commented separately that the leaked documents had implications for the security of such information. She went on to say, on BBC Breakfast, that: "This is a very, very big story. But if you stop to think about it for a moment, military systems have to be secure because people's lives are at stake."

The openSecurity verdict: The unprecedented release of over 90,000 classified documents regarding, mainly, the operations of US troops in Afghanistan poses far more questions than they seem to answer. Wikileaks, a website that hosts untraceable information from whistle blowers, published the raw reports while the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian newspaper and Germany’s Der Spiegel added a layer of filters and commentary in an effort to penetrate what might otherwise be intractably large database. It will take a long time to fully comprehend and analyse all of the reports, but already they paint a picture of a war that, in reality, is far different to the one that is portrayed by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). They also describe just how little progress has been made since 2004, when the reports begin, and how civilian lives are being lost unjustifiably and left unreported.

The New York Times is the most concerned by revelations that Pakistan and its intelligence forces may be helping Taliban insurgents to attack ISAF troops and even Afghan government officials. They report on “barely disguised” tensions between US and Pakistani officers on the ground in Afghanistan, and that this reported complicity, despite the huge amount of monetary aid that the US gifts Pakistan, confirms the suspicions of many in the US.

The Guardian concentrates on the increasing loss of civilian life, and the possibilities of human rights violations. The case of Task Force 373, a special forces unit that pursued a list of Taliban leaders for execution or capture, is the focus of particular attention since any cases of extrajudicial killings would be contrary to international law. In contrast to the New York Times, Declan Walsh’s Guardian assessment of claims of Pakistani complicity is tempered with doubts as to their veracity.

Der Spiegel seems almost embarrassed with the German forces (Bundeswehr), talking of a “great naïveté” with little progress made – and a situation depicted as far worse than Chancellor Merkl describes to parliament. One article closes by saying that the reports show “How little the Germans have achieved.” This comes at the same time as calls are increasing throughout Germany for the Bundeswehr to withdraw from Afghanistan. The German forces, it appears, expected a largely untroubled occupation of the northern territories in which they are based.

These leaks will surely only increase the sense, not only from the general public, but from the armed forces and politicians, that the war in Afghanistan has failed, and that a strong change in tactics needs to be employed if any advances are to be made. The drastic differences between the recorded reality and the reported situation will also be a blow to the ISAF nations’ leaders – especially a White House administration that saw 2010 as a year of great change in the conduct of the war that held out the possibility of an honourable withdrawal in 2011. ISAF will now have to go further to prove that their actions in Afghanistan are justified and effective; but will this result in changing practices to limit the cost to the war stricken population or merely entail a drive to clamp down on indiscretions and ratchet up the PR effort?

Cambodian Pol Pot-era prison chief is jailed by war crimes court

The former Khmer Rouge prison chief, Kaing Eurk Eav – known as Duch – has been found guilty of war crimes by Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes tribunal. The 67-year-old was sentenced to 35 years in prison. He will, however, serve only 19 years as it has been decreased by judges in light of the time he has already been in prison. Prosecutors had asked for a 40-year sentence.

He admitted overseeing the executions of thousands of men, women and children at Tuol Sleng prison. This is the first verdict from specially built court, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, towards a leader of regime that oversaw the genocide of Cambodia’s people. Duch is the only leader to have expressed remorse over his actions.

Despite acknowledging the role he played at Tuol Sleng, codenamed "S-21", he insisted that he had only been following orders from his superiors, and shocked many by asking to be acquitted.

Many relatives of the victims were angry and dismayed by the ruling, which they see as lenient, and many broke down in tears.

An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from execution, starvation, and neglect under the Maoist regime from 1975-79. Their bodies were dumped in shallow mass graves, most of which still dot the countryside. Only fourteen prisoners of the notorious Tuol Sleng are said to have survived the brutal torture practices and executions that were headed by Duch. Up to 17,000 prisoners are thought to have died there.

Khmer Rouge’s leader, Pol Pot, ‘Brother Number One’, died in 1998 and four other top members are awaiting trial. The other Khmer Rouge leaders awaiting trial are ‘Brother Number Two’, Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, former foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, the minister of social affairs.

European Union places further sanctions on Iran

The European Union has declared that it will impose further sanctions on Iran, in an attempt to stem the country’s nuclear programme. The sanctions target vital areas of Iran’s economy – foreign trade, financial services, oil and gas. The EU has said they are "by some way the most far-reaching sanctions adopted by the EU against any country". The move comes one month after the US imposed similar conditions against Tehran. They also go further than the sanctions approved by the United Nations. More than 40 individuals and more than 50 companies will be blacklisted as a result.

Iran reacted by saying that the European Union will “regret” the move. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, said that he will "respond strongly to any threat". He went on to say, to Iran’s English-language Press TV, that "Anyone who adopts a measure against the Iranian nation … should know that Iran will react swiftly. Experience shows such a reaction by the Iranian nation will cause you to regret it." Manouchehl Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, said that the sanctions would have “dire consequences” for EU-Iranian relations.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, has so far received no response to requests that talks between the EU and Iran be resumed. Mottaki has informed the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, that negotiations could be resumed in September after Ramadan.

Bangladeshi war crimes court issues first indictments

Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal, which was set up in March and is investigating the country’s 1971 liberation struggle with Pakistan has issued its first arrest warrants. The four warrants target leaders of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami, who are already in custody.

The tribunal aims to bring to justice those Bangladeshi nationals who collaborated with Pakistani forces, resulting in many civilian deaths. Jamaat-e-Islami say the indictments are simply attempts by the Awami League-led government to curb their activities.

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