WikiLeaks defied a series of increasingly stern warnings from the U.S. military and other government officials today by releasing a massive trove of secret documents from the Iraq war.
Portions of the U.S. military reports, totaling nearly 400,000 classified documents, began appearing on the Internet this afternoon, including on the Web sites of some news organizations that had been handed the documents in advance.
The U.K. Guardian reported that the Iraq war logs show an Apache crew killed insurgents who had tried to surrender. Al Jazeera's analysis found a Pentagon directive told troops to ignore allegations of torture conducted by Iraqi soldiers. Germany's Der Spiegel called the information deluge, simply, "the greatest revelation of U.S. military history."
It will likely take weeks, or even months, for researchers and analysts to pore through the vast number of files, which can be browsed at warlogs.wikileaks.org. (The New York Times chose to redact the portions it excerpted, and the main WikiLeaks.org site remains offline.)
A few hours earlier, the Obama administration had asked WikiLeaks not to release the files and had requested that news organizations not cooperate.
"We condemn the fact that WikiLeaks will continue to release this classified information," said assistant secretary of state Philip Crowley. "We do believe it continues to put both our personnel and our interests at risk. We wish heartily that they wouldn't do it, and we wish heartily that news media organizations wouldn't cooperate with them."
The Defense Department had prepared in advance in case the Iraq files were to leak--really, to flood--onto the Internet. A task force has been sorting through the files that were considered most likely to have been leaked and trying to evaluate whether any disclosures would imperil current military operations.
A Pentagon spokesman warned U.S. troops not to read the leaked documents. "The information remains classified even if it is released publicly," Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said today.
France's Le Monde said that the logs show U.S. casualty figures are "partially false."
WikiLeaks' release will escalate, if that's possible, the war of words and rhetoric between its representatives and Washington officialdom.
After the Web operation posted about 100 megabytes of confidential dispatches from U.S. troops in Afghanistan this summer, a mix of condemnation and threats soon followed.
The White House condemned the leak, and conservative commentators argued that WikiLeaks.org should be shut down by any means necessary. A Republican congressman who's a member of the House Intelligence Committee went so far as to say that the Web site's alleged source for the files, Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence specialist who is facing charges, should be executed for treason.
Geoff Morrell, the department's press secretary, said at the time that it would be willing to explore ways to force the issue. If WikiLeaks doesn't comply with government requests, he said: "How do we intend to compel? At this point, we are making a demand of them...If it requires compelling them to do anything, then we will figure out what other alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing."
Free speech concerns aside, the problem with censoring WikiLeaks is the difficulty of convincing an Internet service provider in Sweden--or the Swedish government, for that matter--that material that irks the Pentagon is necessarily also illegal under Swedish law. Even if WikiLeaks.org is taken offline, the group has long planned mirror sites in other nations. And if the real damage was the revelations reported by the news organizations, that has already been done.
Last updated at 3:59 p.m. PDT