Charles Dharapak  /  AP
The Pentagon told NBC News it properly forwarded all allegations of abuse by Iraqi forces to Iraqi leaders. "Whatever they did with that information was up to the Iraqi government," a Pentagon official said.
By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 10/22/2010 6:58:47 PM ET 2010-10-22T22:58:47

WikiLeaks.org tried to coordinate coverage of its highly anticipated release of secret U.S. documents from the war in Iraq by sharing the material with a select group of news organizations weeks in advance, but it couldn't coordinate what they actually said.

In the end, the shadowy, decentralized organization couldn't even coordinate the release of its own documents. Al-Jazeera, one of the news organizations that it had given the documents weeks ago, broke WikiLeaks' embargo by publishing a six-minute video on its website late Friday afternoon. The New York Times, The Guardian of Britain and Le Monde, which also received the material under the embargo, followed swiftly with their extensive prepared reports.

Der Spiegel of Germany and Channel 4 of Britain, which also participated, said they would weigh in Monday. CNN said it had been invited to participate but declined because of "conditions" attached to the material, which it didn't specify.

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    7. News organizations look at leak with different eyes

(Msnbc.com has an editorial partnership with The New York Times and is publishing its account of the story .)

The Defense Department told NBC News that it didn't dispute the accuracy of the material released by WikiLeaks, which documented U.S. military officials' allegations of rape, torture and abuse by Iraqi soldiers and police, which U.S. commanders didn't investigate.

Because of the sheer mass of data dumped on the world — nearly 400,000 secret U.S. military field reports — and perhaps reflecting their differing stances toward the U.S. military operation, the privileged news organizations that published Friday approached the material from markedly different perspectives.

All of them reported the key points in the documents: that the United States has kept a running total of civilian deaths in Iraq, contrary to its frequent denials, and that the United States took little or no action to address abuse of detainees by Iraqi police and military forces.

The Guardian, Le Monde and Al-Jazeera splashed the more sensational revelations on their home pages under similar headlines skewering Washington for its inaction on Iraq's torture of more than 1,000 people.

  • "Secret files reveal how US turned blind eye to Iraq torture," said The Guardian.
  • "US turned blind eye to torture," Al-Jazeera said.
  • "Iraq: The horror revealed by WikiLeaks," Le Monde said.

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The Times' three equally played headlines, by contrast, revealed that "Reports Detail Iran Aid to Iraq Militias," "Civilians Paid War's Heaviest Toll" and "Detainees Suffered in Iraqi Hands." It characterized the U.S. response to allegations of Iraq torture as "brutality from which the Americans at times averted their eyes."

That's more in line with the official Defense Department position. A Pentagon official denied that Washington "ignored" the reports, telling NBC News that it passed along all claims to Iraq authorities and that "whatever they did with that information was up to the Iraqi government."

The Guardian and Le Monde have historically been regarded as liberal newspapers, while Al-Jazeera, a television network based in Qatar, was widely denounced for what critics saw as an anti-U.S. bias after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a characterization it disputes.

The Times, on the other hand, while aggressively reporting on alleged abuses by U.S. and Iraq forces, was accused of funneling CIA talking points bolstering U.S. charges that Iraq was seeking to build weapons of mass destruction in the years after the 2001 attacks.

In general, the three other organizations used much stronger language than The Times did throughout their reports:

  • "The story these documents tell is ugly and often shocking," The Guardian said.
  • The materials "record horrifying tales" and "throw light on the day-to-day horrors of the war,” Al-Jazeera said.
  • "The 'incident reports' show that torture and mistreatment are commonplace in Iraqi detention centers," Le Monde reported.

The Times, by contrast, said the documents "provide no earthshaking revelations," similar to the official position of the Pentagon, which tried to minimize their impact by asserting that they revealed little new.

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Julian Assange, who is often called the founder of WikiLeaks, said in an interview on Al-Jazeera that the Pentagon rejected its offer to help review the documents.

"The Pentagon rebuffed us in relation to scrutinizing the documents. Their claims were they were not interested in any discussion of minimization ... or redaction," Assange said.

"Their demand was these documents be destroyed or returned to the Pentagon and that we destroy all future publications and all past publications."

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Video: Leaks reveal stunning details about civilian toll in Iraq

  1. Transcript of: Leaks reveal stunning details about civilian toll in Iraq

    WILLIAMS: And good evening from Chicago .

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Chicago): It has happened again. The Web site WikiLeaks has released another batch of thousands of documents from inside the Department of Defense . This is what they had threatened to do again. The New York Times got an early look at some of the documents and now so have we, and a lot of them have to do with civilian deaths in Iraq , numbers that soar above previous US estimates. We just had our first look again at the first of these documents. We want to go to our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski , who's on duty tonight. Jim , good evening.

    JIM MIKLASZEWSKI reporting: Good evening, Brian . This is a massive leak of America 's military secrets, nearly 400,000 documents in all. That's as thick as a stack of 800 telephone books. And while this is all breaking as we speak, at first blush it appears to be breaking bad for the US military and the Pentagon . The documents we've seen and have been reported so far reveal that the US military knew that Iraqi security forces beat, tortured and murdered detainees, but those US military forces were actually under orders not to intervene, so instead they looked the other way. In one instance, an American helicopter gunship shot and killed a group of Iraqis who were attempting to surrender. Other documents also reveal that hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed at US military checkpoints, a number far higher than previously reported, and that in a five-year period, some 66,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, even though all along the US military and Pentagon had claimed they never kept such statistics. Now, the Pentagon fears that there may be the names of more than 300 Iraqi informants who were working hand in glove with the American military , so tonight the US military in Iraq is working with the Iraqis to track down and warn each and every one of them that their lives may now be at risk. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: All right, Jim Miklaszewski . And so far any reaction from the building you're in, from the Department of Defense , Jim ?

    MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, officials here, of course, condemn the WikiLeaks leak of all these documents. They say it reveals American military tactics and techniques that puts Americans at risk and may even risk national security . But at the same time, they understand that they are responsible for the leak of this information, and those documents should never have gotten out into the public in the first place .

    WILLIAMS: All right. With this still breaking story tonight, our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski . We want

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