WikiLeaks Iraq FAQs: What the Logs Really Say

AFP

WHAT DO THE LOGS SHOW AND WHAT WAS BLACKED OUT?

Most of the logs were written by soldiers in the field, usually shortly after missions took place. They aim to record events on the battlefield and around the country in a way that can be understood and assessed within the military. Even small events are logged in order to convey a full picture of events up the chain of command.

The logs have a standardized format for recording the date, time, location coordinates, number of dead and wounded, type of event and description of the event. For security reasons, SPIEGEL and SPIEGEL ONLINE have decided only to publish the event descriptions from certain selected logs and to black out the names of people who could be placed in danger as a result of publication. In most cases the event description has not been published and only basic standard information on date, time and type of event has been published.

HOW DOES ONE READ THE LOGS?

All the logs follow the same template. They are full of military jargon and abbreviations that are almost impossible to decipher for most people.

SPIEGEL ONLINE is presenting an interactive graphic of the logs. Events are categorized in terms of the number of dead recorded in each log and in terms of the type of event as the US military defined it:

Event Types
Click on the headings for more details.
Explosive Hazard
Includes, especially, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and attacks with explosive devices of all types, but also the discovery of unexploded missiles, mines or similar explosives.
Enemy Action
Includes, among other things, the exchange of fire, missile attacks and assassinations -- incidents caused by enemies of coalition forces and Iraqi security forces.
Friendly Action
All incidents in which coalition or Iraqi forces were deployed together, from street controls and raids to reconnaissance missions and larger offensives
Friendly Fire
All incidents in which coalition or Iraqi security forces came under fire from among their own ranks
Criminal Event
Including abductions, murders, arrests and gunfights -- incidents not directly considered acts of war
Suspicious Incident
All incidents in which coalition forces observed suspicious behavior, from shots fired to street-side surveillance
Non-Combat Event
Including accidents, demonstrations and technological malfunctions -- any relevant incidents not involving combat
Threat Report
All reported threats and threatening developments, including military intelligence
None Selected or Other
The soldier did not indicate a category or the incident did not match any of the categories
HOW RELIABLE ARE THE LOGS?

  • The fact that the logs are written immediately after the events by the soldiers who took part raises the possibility that they contain errors -- its is inevitable that perceptions suffer in the stress of a combat mission.
  • Unlike scientists and journalists, soldiers are not primarily focused on recording events. It is a task they have to perform in addition to their other duties, and one that they must often regard as onerous after a disturbing and exhausting mission.
  • In many cases the logs are likely to have been written in miserable conditions and are probably hard to read as a result.
  • It is possible that reports give a one-sided version of events, partly intentionally and partly subconsciously -- so that wrongdoings, accidents and crimes by the opposing side are portrayed more clearly than one's own.
  • It is also feasible that one's own crimes are subsequently assigned a higher classification level and thereby removed from the material that was then passed on to WikiLeaks. This material only contains logs marked "Secret," not "Top Secret." The massacre of Haditha in which US soldiers murdered 24 Iraqi civilians on Nov. 19, 2005, isn't included in the logs -- even though they record even minor events.
  • The logs contain contradictions. SPIEGEL found several even in the fewer than 100 logs it picked at random. For example one log mentioned two deaths in the event description but had a zero in the template box for the number of people killed. Given such inconsistencies one has to assume that the figures given are not accurate. Technical transmission errors are also possible. David Leigh of the Guardian regards the figures given for the numbers killed as "extremely unreliable." And if such a central fact is sometimes wrong, other facts are even more likely to be erroneous.

HOW COMPLETE AND HOW VALUABLE ARE THE LOGS?

The logs are marked "secret" rather than "top secret." That may be why the logs make no mention of spectacular events such as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the massacre of Haditha. In addition, WikiLeaks removed thousands of documents from the material in order to protect its sources, which has led to a certain distortion.

Despite these shortcomings, the material is a treasure trove because it contains countless details that would otherwise never have come to light. Also, the sheer volume of logs is valuable in itself because it allow us to track events over a prolonged period of time. The shortcomings mentioned above do not lessen this over-arching significance of the logs.

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US Reaction to Iraq War Logs
Click on the headlines to read the responses to SPIEGEL provided by Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell ...
On the Planned WikiLeaks Publication
"We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies. We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us and this Iraq leak is more than four times as large. By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us. The only responsible course of action for WikiLeaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible."
On the Episodes Detailed in the Documents
"We strongly condemn the unauthorized disclosure of classified information and will not comment on these leaked documents other than to note that 'significant activities' reports are initial, raw observations by tactical units. They are essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story. That said, the period covered by these reports has been well-chronicled in news stories, books and films and the release of these field reports does not bring new understanding to Iraq's past."

"However, it does expose secret information that could make our troops even more vulnerable to attack in the future. Just as with the leaked Afghan documents, we know our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources, and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment. This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed."
Iraq War Chronicle

Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery: Death and Destruction in Baghdad on Nov. 23, 2006
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