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WikiLeaks Iraq FAQs What the Logs Really Say

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

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.