WIKILEAKS: Relevations & Controversy

November 17, 2010

Three student readings consider Iraq War documents released by WikiLeaks; the U.S. policies those documents call into question; and information on WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange. Discussion questions and a "constructive controversy" exercise follow.

To the Teacher:

The online organization WikiLeaks disclosed huge caches of classified military field reports in July and October 2010, generating an instant controversy. Below are three student readings on the leaked documents. Reading 1 focuses on documents released by WikiLeaks that report on Iraqi treatment of prisoners and a U.S. military policy not to initiate follow-up investigations. Reading 2 provides excerpts from a 2005 Defense Department press conference on this subject. Reading 3 offers further information on WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange.

Discussion questions and directions for a student inquiry into the fundamental questions raised by the WikiLeaks materials follow.
 


Introduction

WikiLeaks, an online organization, released some 77,000 classified US military field reports covering six years of the Afghanistan war in July 2010. It released another, much larger, cache of 391,832 documents on the Iraq war in October. In both cases, the documents were provided ahead of time to the New York Times in the US, as well as newspapers in Britain, France, and Germany, with the understanding that they not report on the material before a prescribed date. On that date, the documents were also published online.

WikiLeaks says nothing about where or how it obtained the documents. But the US has arrested Pfc. Bradley Manning, an army intelligence analyst, and accused him of being the source.

 


Student Reading 1:

WikiLeaks documents on abuse of Iraqi prisoners

WikiLeaks released US military documents on the Iraq war, 2004-2009. These included military reports on how Iraqi police and soldiers treated prisoners — and how the US military reacted to that treatment. Three of these documents are reprinted below. The New York Times removed certain names to avoid "harm to national security interests..." and to avoid printing "anything likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or antiterrorist operations." (10/23/10) Additional quotes from the WikiLeaks documents are from reports in The Guardian, a British newspaper.

1. DETAINEE ABUSE IN BAGHDAD (ZONE 10): 0 CF (Coalition Forces) INJ/DAMAGE (Injured)
173 MOI (Ministry of Interior of Iraq) DETAINES BEING HELD AT AN MOI INTERNMENT FACILITY... MANY OF THEM BEAR MARKS OF ABUSE TO INCLUDE CIGARETTE BURNS, BRUISING CONSISTENT WITH BEATINGS AND OPEN SORES. MANY OF THE DETAINEES ARE COUGHING AND ARE BEING DESCRIBED AS WALKING WOUNDED. APPROX 95... DETAINEES WERE BEING HELD IN 1 ... ROOM AND WERE SITTING CROSS-LEGGED WITH BLIND FOLDS, ALL FACING THE SAME DIRECTION. ACCORDING TO ONE OF THE DETAINEES QUESTIONED ON SITE, 12 ... DETAINEES HAVE DIED OF DISEASE IN RECENT WEEKS.

The New York Times summarizes: "The archive disclosed by WikiLeaks documents hundreds of cases in which Iraqi police officers or soldiers were involved in prisoner abuse. In this case, American soldiers found 173 Iraqis detained by the police, many bearing bruises, sores and burns from cigarettes."
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/iraq-war-logs.html#report/D2682C7C-7521-457A-8A00-EF97FA7D5DCD

2. ALLEGED DETAINEE ABUSE BY IRAQI POLICE IN RAMADI ON 17 AUG 2006
SUSPECTED DETAINEE ABUSE RPTD AT 171100D AUG 06

DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT/SUSPECTED VIOLATION (WHO REPORTED INCIDENT AND WHAT HAPPENED):

SGT ——-, 300TH MILITARY POLICE COMPANY, REPORTED IRAQI POLICE COMMITTING DETAINEE ABUSE AT AN IRAQI POLICE STATION IN RAMADI. SGT ——- WITNESSED 1LT (Lieutenant) —— WHIP A DETAINEE ACROSS HIS BACK WITH A PR-24 STRAIGHT SIDE HANDLED BATON AND 1LT —— KICKING A SECOND DETAINEE. THAT NIGHT SGT ——- HEARD WHIPPING NOISES WALKING THROUGH THE HALLWAY, AND OPENED A DOOR TO FIND 1LT —— WITH A 4 GAUGE ELECTRICAL CABLE, WHIPPING THE BOTTOM OF A DETAINEE*S FEET. LATER THAT NIGHT, SGT ——- CAUGHT 1LT —— WHIPPING A DETAINEE ACROSS HIS BACK WITH AN ELECTRICAL CABLE. SGT ——- DOCUMENTED EACH EVENT ON A SWORN STATEMENT FORM AND REPORTED THE INCIDENTS...

INVESTIGATING OFFICER. STATUS OF INVESTIGATION: NO INVESTIGATION INITIATED AT THIS POINT. CLOSED: 22 AUG 2006

The New York Times summary: "In this account, an American sergeant documented a case of prisoner abuse in a statement and reported it. It was not clear whether it was followed up. The report follows the standard script in stating that no investigation was started."
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/iraq-war-logs.html#report/E0EC874C-04F8-43CA-BB49-FF7085C523ED

3. OTHEREVENT REP (Reported) BY IP (Iraqi Police) IVO (In Vicinity Of) AL FALLUJA: 0 INJ/DAM (Injury/Damage)

For information, the attachment documents an alleged IP on IZ [International Zone, otherwise known as Green Zone] LOAC violation [detainee abuse]...As Coalition Forces were not involved in the alleged abuse, no further investigation is necessary. A summary of the alleged incidents is as follows:

On 2 Jan 07 after their apprehension, unknown IP took —— —— ——- —— — ——- and ——- —— —— —— — ——- to a gymnasium and then to an abandoned house in Husaybah where the IP beat them. ——- —— —— —— — ——- died as a result of the abuse.

The New York Times summary: "Though the documents show clear evidence of prisoner abuse by Iraqis, they also show that such cases were often uninvestigated. In this case, the report explains that because no coalition forces are involved, "no further investigation is necessary."
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/iraq-war-logs.html#report/2CD62B05-5056-9023-58DADEEB34DEC713

Additional quotes from documents made available by WikiLeaks

The British newspaper The Guardian ran a story based on WikiLeaks documents under the headline: "Secret order that let US ignore abuse: Mistreatment of helpless prisoners by Iraqi security forces included beatings, burning, electrocution and rape."

An excerpt from The Guardian report:

"A prisoner was kneeling on the ground, blindfolded and handcuffed, when an Iraqi soldier walked over to him and kicked him in the neck. A US marine sergeant was watching and reported the incident, which was duly recorded and judged to be valid. The outcome: 'No investigation required'...

"Other logs record not merely assaults but systematic torture. A man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required.

"This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a 'fragmentary order' that 'orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, 'only an initial report will be made ... No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ.'

"Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture..."

The Guardian also reports military efforts since 2006 to stop abuse and torture through US teams embedded with Iraqi police. One example: "Captain Walker and 1st Lieutenant Ziemba ... caught Captain Hassan and Sgt Alaa by surprise ... In the office there was what appeared to be a battery with open ended wires ... Before entering the office, Capt Walker and 1Lt Siemba heard what sounded like an individual being hit and moaning. The detainee was sitting in the center of the room sobbing. They stopped the suspected abuse.

"Even then," The Guardian reported, "unless HQ gives them special permission to investigate - all they can do is remonstrate." (Nick Davies, www.guardian.co.uk, 10/22/10)

 

For discussion

1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered? (Keep copies of questions and other issues raised for possible later inquiry.)

2. What do the documents released by WikiLeaks reveal about Iraqi treatment of prisoners? About US military reaction to observation of that treatment?

3. What is Frago 242? How does The Guardian explain the reason for it? Can you think of any other possibilities for the US order to troops "not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict...unless it directly involves members of the coalition"? What "breach of the laws of armed conflict" is the order referring to? If you don't know, how might you find out?

4. What is your opinion of the Iraqi prisoner treatment? US military response?

5. Why do you suppose that the US would object strongly to the WikiLeaks release of military documents like those in the reading?

6. Should the US Department of Justice act on the information in the documents? Why and how? If not, why not?

 


Student Reading 2:

A Defense Department press conference addresses the issue

In a November 29, 2005, US Department of Defense press conference, General Peter Pace and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addressed the question of how US military personnel should respond to Iraqi torture of prisoners.

Q: And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if — like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?

GEN. PACE (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff): It is absolutely the responsibility of every US service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don't see it happening but you're told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago. There's a report from an Iraqi to a US commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That US commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it. So they did exactly what they should have done.

SEC. RUMSFELD: But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it.

GEN. PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

Asked how widespread the abuse in Iraq was, Secretary Rumsfeld replied: "I am not going to be judging it from 4,000 miles away."

UN Convention Against Torture

The United Nations Convention Against Torture (1984) was ratified by the United States and most of other nations of the world.

Article I defines torture as, "Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

The New York Times, following up on the WikiLeaks releases, reported: "A Pentagon spokesman said American policy on detainee abuse 'is and has always been consistent with law and customary international practice.' Current rules, he said, require forces to immediately report abuse; if it was perpetrated by Iraqis, then Iraqi authorities are responsible for investigating." (Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Lehren, "Detainees Fared Worse in Iraqi Hands, Logs Say,"
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/23/world/middleeast/23detainees.html, 10/22/10)

Scott Horton writes in Harpers magazine: "It will take some time to fully digest this [Wikileaks] material, but the disclosure of a Fragmentary Order ('Frago') authorizing soldiers not to investigate cases of torture that do not involve coalition forces is extremely important. It counts as evidence of high-level policy to countenance war crimes and violations of the prohibition on torture, which requires not only investigation but also intervention." (Harpers, 10/29/10)

 

For discussion

1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. What does General Pace regard as "absolutely the responsibility of every US service member"? How does Secretary Rumsfeld disagree? Which of the two would agree with Frago 242? How do you explain this difference of opinion on a matter of such importance?

3. What is your reaction to Rumsfeld's comment, "I am not going to be judging it from 4,000 miles away"?

4. Which of the two officials, General Pace or Secretary Rumsfeld, is correct, according to the UN Convention Against Torture? Is Frago 242 in compliance with the Convention? Is the Pentagon spokesman, as reported in the Times report? Why or why not?

5. Do you agree with Horton? Why or why not?
 


Student Reading 3:

The WikiLeaks controversy

 

WikiLeaks, an online organization, drew widespread public attention when it released some 77,000 classified US military field reports covering six years of the Afghanistan war in July 2010. It released another, much larger, cache of 391,832 such documents on the Iraq war in October. In both cases, the documents were given ahead of time to The New York Times in the US and certain other newspapers in Britain, France, and Germany with the understanding that they not report on the material before a prescribed date. Then they were also published online.

"Wiki" is a Hawaiian word for "fast." The popular information website Wikipedia (which is not associated with WikiLeaks) defines a wiki as allowing "the easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language..."

On its website, WikiLeaks.org explains its actions this way: "We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information."

Commenting on the Afghanistan documents, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the WikiLeak release "a mountain of raw data and individual impressions, most several years old" that offered little insight into events or policies. But, he said, the disclosures - which include some identifying information about Afghans who have helped the United States - have "potentially dramatic and grievously harmful consequences." In addition, Gates said that "Intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques and procedures, will become known to our adversaries." (7/29/10)

A similar response came from the Pentagon after WikiLeaks' release of the Iraq log. Geoff Morrell, the Defense Department press secretary, said, "We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the laws, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies."

Daniel Ellsberg is a former US military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam war, in 1971. His comment on the government reaction to the WikiLeaks releases: "I certainly don't give the judgment, or declarations, of Gates...or, for that matter, Obama much weight, despite, or really because of, their roles. Their commitment to secrecy and manipulation -along with their reckless and irresponsible policymaking - has already cost untold lives in the Middle East, and is continuing to do so." (interview, www.economist.com, 7/10/10)

Julian Assange, an Australian who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, is on the run. He lives nowhere in particular and leads an organization whose handful of regular employees are "known only by initials - M, for instance - and several hundred volunteers. "The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public, will have serious adversaries." (Raffi Khatchadourian, "No Secrets," www.newyorker.com, 6/7/10)

Steve Coll, also writing for The New Yorker, sees value in the disclosure of "important new facts about civilian casualties, the torture of detainees by our allies," and other matters. But he criticizes WikiLeaks for sometimes disclosing the names of informants, "even though doing to might endanger them and possibly cause their death." Coll adds, "Assange is animated by the idea of radical transparency, but WikiLeaks as yet lacks a fixed address. Nor does it offer its audience any mechanism for its own accountability." ("Leaks," www.newyorker.com, 11/8/10)

WikiLeaks first drew significant attention with a video it posted on July 7, 2007. The video showed a US Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad "opening fire on a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men," reported Dan Froomkin on Huffington Post. "None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon's initial cover story...

"Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured. In the video, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.

"'Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards," says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street. A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: 'Come on, let us shoot!' Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses." (Dan Froomkin, "WikiLeaks Video Exposes 2007 'Collateral Murder' in Iraq, Huffington Post, 4/5/10, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/05/wikileaks-exposes-video-o_n_525569.html)

WikiLeaks' postings have generated strong government opposition and a storm of media controversy, even though most of the published documents have generally not revealed much new information. But the releases on the Apache helicopter attack, Afghanistan, and Iraq have provided a depth of information on major controversial issues.

The New York Times reported that the Afghanistan materials support the view that "Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders." (Mark Mazzetti and others, "Pakistan Spy Unit Aiding Insurgents, Reports Suggest," www.nytimes.com, 7/26/10)

Besides its documentation of Iraqi abuse of prisoners and the American military's Frago 242 order, WikiLeaks' Iraq War Log also offers a "startlingly graphic portrait of one of the most contentious issues in the Iraq war - how many Iraqi civilians have been killed and by whom...The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians...Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in Iraq, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan." (Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew Lehren, "Buffeted by Fury and Chaos, Civilians Paid Heaviest Toll," www.nytimes.com, 10/23/10)

 

For discussion

1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. Consider the WikiLeaks statement on its website about its purposes and emphasis on transparency in government. What do you understand that to mean? What do you know about secrecy in government and why governments keep secrets? If you need to know more, how might you find out? Do you think that what you have read demonstrates that WikiLeaks is fulfilling its stated purpose? Why or why not?

3. Why do you suppose that Julian Assange is on the run?

4. Consider the WikiLeaks release of the Apache helicopter episode. Does that release fulfill WikiLeaks' stated purpose? Why or why not?

5. Do the release of the Afghanistan and Iraqi materials fulfill that purpose? Why or why not?

6. What criticisms do Gates, Morrell, and Coll have about the WikiLeaks releases? Why does Ellsberg disagree with them? Do you have enough information for an opinion of your own? If so, what is it? If not, how might you learn more?

 


Constructive Controversy

Was it right for WikiLeaks and newspapers in the US Britain, France, and Germany to publish classified US military documents?

This is a fundamental question students can address through a process developed by David and Roger Johnson called "Constructive Controversy"

The activities of WikiLeaks raise a number of other important questions that may come to the fore as students consider such matters as:

  • Does the government need to maintain secrecy on matters of national security?
  • Does the government in a democratic country needs to be transparent, especially about important issues?
  • Did the source of the WikiLeaks documents act selectively in deciding which documents to give WikiLeaks?
  • Did WikiLeaks' select which documents to make public?
  • Did the newspapers handle the documents properly?

Basic steps to involve students in the Johnson and Johnson process:

1. Divide students into groups of four with two pairs. Each pair is to gather facts and arguments to support either the pro or con response to the question. The teacher might prepare materials for student examination, suggest print and internet sources that will lead students to those materials, and/or have students locate such sources themselves. Establish a due date.

2. Each pair presents its case while the other pair listens, then asks any clarifying questions.

3. Each side challenges the other side's arguments and presents the strongest case it can for its side of the argument.

4. Pairs then switch, preparing a new set of argument. Each pair presents the strongest case it can for the opposite side of the argument.

5. The group decides which arguments are most valid from both sides and seeks a statement, a resolution, a consensus that incorporates the best thinking of the group as a whole.

6. The group prepares a written or oral report for presentation to class. If the group finds agreement impossible, it may prepare two reports.

For WikiLeak document release on Iraq: http://www.wikileaks.org

For WikiLeak document release on Afghanistan:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/datablog/2010/jul/25/wikileaks-afghanistan-data

For a New York Times discussion of its publication process on Afghanistan materials, see "Piecing Together the Reports, And Deciding What to Publish," 7/26/10 (www.nytimes.com)

On Iraq documents see New York Times discussion (at www.nytimes.com):

"The Iraq Archive: The Strands of War" and "Scrutinizing the Iraq Reports To Glean Insights About a War," 10/23/10
"The Iraq Archive: A Saga of Costly Entanglements," 10/24/10,
"Sharing Secrets at Arm's Length," op-ed by Arthur Brisbane, 10/31/10
For The Guardian materials, see www.guardian.co.uk.

 

 

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org.