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WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Documents on Iraq War

October 25, 2010 at 5:56 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: Tens of thousands of documents describing what happened behind the scenes during the Iraq war are now part of the public record.

The release is the work of the WikiLeaks Web site, which has done this before and promises to do it again. Margaret Warner has the details.

MARGARET WARNER: The release of nearly 400,000 classified U.S. documents on the Iraq war reverberated again today. Much of the focus was on reports of Iraqi police and soldiers torturing and abusing detainees, sometimes while American troops turned a blind eye. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was pressed today to respond.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs: We have not turned a blind eye. You know, our troops will report — were obligated to report abuses, you know, to appropriate authorities and to follow up. And they did so in Iraq.

One of the things that we have done in Iraq, you know, during our time there has been to partner with Iraqi forces, conduct human rights training.

MARGARET WARNER: The leaked documents, which span the years 2004 through 2009, added fine-grain detail to what has already been reported.

Among the disclosures: More Iraqi civilians died than previously acknowledged, killed mostly by other Iraqis. The logs document 66,000, and outside estimates say the new data pushes their count to more than 120,000. Iranian involvement in fomenting violence in Iraq was more extensive than widely recognized before.

The architect of the document dump was Julian Assange, who runs the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. He spoke Saturday in London.

JULIAN ASSANGE, founder, WikiLeaks: The first casualty of war is the truth. But the attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts, and continues long after a war ends.

MARGARET WARNER: In July, Assange released 77,000 reports from the Afghan war. Then and now, the Pentagon decried the release of so much classified information. Spokesman Geoff Morrell warned that America’s enemies, especially in Afghanistan, could learn much from the documents.

GEOFF MORRELL, spokesperson, Pentagon: The fact that our enemies will be now able to mine perhaps up to a half-a-million classified documents which could reveal how our forces operate in the field, how they respond in certain combat situations, the capabilities of our equipment and so forth.

MARGARET WARNER: Publication brought immediate fallout inside Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki charged it was meant to undermine his efforts to form a government, and his spokesman denied the reports of abuse by Iraqi forces.

ALI AL-MOUSSAWI, media adviser, Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office (through translator): All arrests are done lawfully and there is no proof of what some media are trying to do for political purposes, especially now, as Iraq is in the midst of forming a new government.

MARGARET WARNER: That question of abuse of Iraqis by Iraqis and what the U.S. should do about it as it hands off security responsibility to local forces has surfaced before in Washington. It came up in November 2005 with Marine General Peter Pace, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and his boss at the time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

GEN. PETER PACE, former chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff: It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it.

DONALD RUMSFELD, former U.S. secretary of defense: I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it. It’s to report it.

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

MARGARET WARNER: The WikiLeaks documents show that Americans did attempt to stop abuse at times and did report it on many occasions. But investigation and prosecution was left to the Iraqis.