The website WikiLeaks has redefined "transparency" in wartime to include the disclosure classified reports about the war in Iraq, including a previously unpublished U.S. government report tallying the Iraqi death toll at 185,000.
ABC News reports that the documents include reports of state-sanctioned torture by the Iraqi government and evidence of Iranian involvement in smuggling weapons to Shiite militias.
Arab news channel Al Jazeera was given early access to the documents and WikiLeaks says it plans to hold a press conference Saturday morning from Europe.
According to Al Jazeera, the government's estimated death toll reached 185,000, 63 percent of whom were civilians. Another 180,000 Iraqis were reportedly arrested during the war.
The Pentagon has been anticipating the document dump and has warned that publicizing such classified information may endanger the lives of U.S. troops fighting abroad. "We strongly condemn the unauthorized disclosure of classified information," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said prior to the documents becoming public.
According to Morrell, the classified documents "expose secret information that could make our troops even more vulnerable to attack in the future. Just as with the leaked Afghan documents, we know our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources, and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment. This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed."
The Pentagon says the documents include tactical unit-level reports dating from late 2003 to 2010 and contain descriptions of what some troops witnessed on a daily basis. ABC News reports:
[The documents] include descriptions of attacks on Iraqi Security Forces and US forces, detainee abuse, civilian casualty incidents, IED blasts, discussions with Iraqis, and inquiries into socio-political relations, according to Department of Defense spokesman Col. David Lapan
The release of the documents comes at a critical time as U.S. troops begin a staged withdrawal from Iraq.
The latest release of WikiLeaks documents follows the July disclosure of secret documents from Afghanistan, leaked to the website from one disgruntled soldier, Army Specialist Bradley Manning. Manning was arrested in May and has been held in Kuwait. He has subsequently been charged with releasing classified information.
"We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies," Lapan says. "We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large. By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us."
According to the Wall Street Journal, Pentagon officials have been poring over the documents to look for possible threats to American and Afghan troops on the ground and to minimize collateral damage:
Pentagon officials fear the leaked documents could be used by the Taliban to hunt down those identified as working with the U.S.-led war effort. ...
A defense official said the task force was identifying Iraqis who are named in the documents, and who might need protection or assistance if their names are released.
"The only responsible course of action for WikiLeaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible," Lapan concluded.