The Oct. 22 WikiLeaks release of 391,832 secret U.S. military field reports from Iraq is said to be the largest leak of government files in our history. The records document in graphic detail many of the ugly realities of the Bush administration's war, a war based on lies. But some vital things are missing.
WikiLeaks made its name in April this year when it released a U.S. military video showing a U.S. helicopter gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two journalists. Then in July, it released to the news media 77,000 secret U.S. military files giving a grim picture of the Afghanistan war. A U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, is in jail accused of having leaked those documents.
The latest mass of documents - unedited combat reports by American troops on the ground or in the air over Iraq - was provided to The New York Times, the UK Guardian, Le Monde in France and Germany's Der Spiegel. We have to rely on analyses by journalists at those publications for information about what the documents contain.
They identify a few key conclusions that emerge from the files:
1. Iraqi civilian deaths were far greater than Bush military officials publicly acknowledged. These include killings by other Iraqis, mostly in vicious sectarian violence, but also many previously unreported killings of civilians by U.S. troops in what is sometimes called "the fog of war." The terse reports by U.S. troops depict unspeakable horrors suffered by the Iraqi people. New York Times reporters note, "Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan."
2. The war involved an unprecedented surge in U.S. reliance on private contractors to carry out the war.
3. U.S. military brass turned a blind eye to horrible torture of prisoners carried out by Iraqi police and army officers - or at least, by individuals wearing those uniforms.
4. Iran was actively involved in training, supplying and otherwise assisting Iraqi Shiite militias carrying out armed attacks. Iraqis have long charged that they were caught in a "proxy war" between the U.S. and Iran, one that continues today, and the documents support this.
The WikiLeaks "Iraq war logs," as they have been dubbed, created a media flurry here for a day or two, but quickly dropped out of our news. Why?
Well, for one thing, they offered no big surprises. For most Americans, the Iraq war has already been largely discredited. President Obama fulfilled his vow to pull out "combat troops" by this past August. From a peak of some 170,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, we are now down to about 50,000, and they are scheduled to come home by the end of next year. Sure, all that is "iffy" - but it seems Americans are satisfied the U.S. military war is winding down. Iraq is "old news."
That's unfortunate, because we need to pay attention so we can make sure this war really ends, and doesn't happen again.
But here's another thing: the WikiLeaks files offer no new explanation of why things were, and are, such a mess in Iraq. Was it incompetence, mistakes, callousness, military contractors, Iraqi innate brutality, nefarious Iranians? We should keep in mind that there are no Iraqi voices, viewpoints or insights in the files.
New York Times reporters note in their analysis that "years of abuse under Saddam Hussein produced an exceptionally violent society." But what was the American responsibility there? Didn't our government support Saddam's brutally repressive regime for decades? The same could be said about U.S. support for the brutal reign of the Shah in Iran. In both cases, our government turned a blind eye to these regimes' use of the most horrendous forms of torture and violence. U.S. support for suppression of trade unions, Communists and other democratic movements in these countries, and in neighboring countries, especially Saudi Arabia, sowed the seeds of Iraq's disastrous situation today.
The 391,832 WikiLeaks files on Iraq will surely be a treasure trove for journalists and historians seeking to get at the truth of what happened. But they only go so far.
Photo: U.S. Army