This second leaked batch of secret US army field reports – this time nearly 400,000 reports on Iraq following the 90,000 on Afghanistan – is truly horrible in what it reveals. But what will be the result? The details of torture, sadistic abuse, summary executions, and every kind of war crime are utterly shocking in the gratuitous brutalities and killings exposed against not only alleged insurgents, but also non-combatant women and children, almost none of it held to account till now. However, the hard question remains: how can the vileness of this be stopped?
The responses of the military authorities, especially the Pentagon, have been predictably dismissive. First they said that they notified the Iraqi agency or ministry for investigation and follow-up of any alleged Iraqi abuse, even though the leaks show that the US military were clearly complicit by handing over prisoners to the Iraqi Wolf Brigade notorious for their vicious torturing. On violence against Iraqis the leaked reports regularly conclude “no investigation is necessary”, yet all allegations against coalition troops were subjected to formal inquiries.
It’s also now clear that the US forces lied about not keeping records of civilians killed. In fact they kept meticulous records, showing 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of total 109,000 fatalities during 2004-9, but they were determined to ensure that this appalling record was kept secret. When the logs were finally revealed regarding the Afghanistan atrocities, they accused Wikileaks of endangering Afghan lives and national intelligence data. A fortnight later the Pentagon was forced to admit that it had not “revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure”. What was endangered of course was the reputation of the US military.
The response of the UK authorities has been a bit more open, but not much. The Foreign Office made strenuous efforts to prevent the release of US and UK records which Binyam Mohammed and others had called in evidence in support of their claim that they had been tortured at Guantanamo with the connivance of UK security personnel. Now a High Court case in London next month will examine claims from more than 100 Iraqis interrogated by British forces between 2003-7 that they were systematically tortured. Yet all the MOD can be brought to admit is that there is an “arguable case of ill-treatment” and “an arguable case of something systemic”. Mealy-mouthed to the last.
Will these brutal and persistent violations of the Geneva Accords ever be stopped? They can perhaps be minimised if the politicians were really determined to stamp it out by making clear that any allegations of serious abuse, not only involving coalition troops but also the inhabitants of the occupied country, would be fully examined by both military and non-military investigators, and those found guilty would be severely punished by being discharged from the armed forces with dishonour. And if not only the penalties were deterrent, but the likelihood of detection through leaking of electronic data were quite high, the vileness of war might become just a little less.