Americans turned a blind eye to hundreds of reports of abuse, torture and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, according to reports in nearly 392,000 documents related to the Iraq war and released Friday by WikiLeaks.
The documents say the detainees were whipped, punched, kicked or subjected to electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent death.
In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi army officers of cutting off a detainee's fingers and burning him with acid, the New York Times reported. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.
Several media organizations, including the Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and The Guardian, were granted early access to the files.
The Times said the reports indicate that while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most were ignored. The reports released by WikiLeaks and dubbed "The Iraq War Logs," cover the period from Jan. 1, 2004, to Dec. 31, 2009. WikiLeaks said the files detail more than 109,000 deaths in Iraq, including 66,081 civilians. The reports also document the deaths of almost 24,000 people labelled as insurgents, more than 15,000 Iraqi government troops and almost 3,800 coalition forces.
U.S. Secretary of States Hillary Clinton slammed the release of the files.
"We should condemn in the most clear terms the disclosure of any classified information by individuals and organizations which puts the lives of United States and partner service members and civilians at risk," she said in Washington, D.C.
Threats allegedly used
The documents, according to the Times, also claim that Americans sometimes used the threat of abuse by Iraqi authorities to get information out of prisoners. For example, one report said an American threatened to send a detainee to the notorious Wolf Brigade if he did not supply information.
But the report also said Americans often intervened when Iraqis were being tortured.
The U.S. Defence Department had been bracing for the release of the documents, fearing they could compromise the safety of some Iraqis and allies.
The documents also say that although most civilians were killed by other Iraqis, there are incidents of American soldiers being responsible for killings.
For example, there are reports of four cases of lethal shootings from U.S. helicopters, the Times says. In one instance on July 16, 2007, as many as 26 Iraqis were killed, about half of them civilians. It's possible, however, that the deaths were counted twice.
The documents also detail the deaths of two Iraqis who were believed to be firing mortars, even though they apparently made motions to surrender.
As well, one report says that in 2006, an Iraqi was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter.
Also contained in the files was a report from the U.S. military on three American hikers detained by Iran in July 2009. The report claimed the three were on the Iraqi side of the Iran-Iraq border when they were taken.
The report said the three hikers ignored unspecified warnings about their travels. The three hikers were later accused by Iran of spying. One of them, Sarah Shourd, was recently released. Iran plans to put Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal on trial on Nov. 6, Bauer's mother said this month.
Earlier Friday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said any release of intelligence reports would create "a very unfortunate situation."
"I can't comment on the details of the exact impact on security, but in general I can tell you that such leaks … may have a very negative security impact for people involved," he told reporters Friday in Berlin.
Hundreds of U.S. military analysts had been going through Iraqi documents they thought might be released. They used word searches to scour names and other issues that might be sensitive.
Once officials see what is publicly released, the command "can quickly push the information down" to forces in Iraq, U.S. Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Defence Department spokesman in Washington, told The Associated Press.
"Centcom [U.S. Central Command] can jump into action and take whatever mitigating steps" might be needed, Lapan said Friday.
U.S. and Canadian officials slammed the release in July of tens of thousands of documents about U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.