US army’s fault if Afghans are at risk, says Assange
Wikileaks founder defends posting of military secrets as authorities pile on the pressure
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, variously accused of having "blood on his hands" and displaying "sanctimonious piety", has defended his decision to post online more than 90,000 secret US military files, in the face of increasing criticism that the lives of Afghan informants have been put at risk as a result.
The names and details of dozens on informants who have helped coalition forces root out Taliban fighters have been published unedited. In some cases, even the GPS co-ordinates of their homes have been revealed.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said: "Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his organisation are doing. They might already have on their hands the blood of a young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who says Assange has "blood on his hands", told ABC News: "There's a moral culpability. And that's where I think the verdict is 'guilty' on WikiLeaks. They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences."
Assange's position in the eyes of Gates, Mullen and senior Nato officials in London and Kabul is not helped by his admission that he has read only 4,000 of the 90,000-plus files posted - nor by the chilling warning from Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
"We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the US," Mujahi told Channel 4 News. "If they are US spies, then we know how to punish them."
Over the weekend, Assange continued to argue that his main motivation for publishing the leaked files was to draw attention to the abuse of Afghan citizens by coalition troops.
He also claimed that if Afghan informants' lives have been put at risk, it is the US military's fault, not his. "We are appalled that the US military was so lackadaisical with its Afghan sources," he told the Observer. "Just appalled...
"This material was available to every soldier and contractor in Afghanistan. It's the US military that deserves the blame for not giving due diligence to its informers."
Assange claimed in his Observer interview that "nothing has happened" yet as far as reprisals by the Taliban are concerned. And he criticised the Times for juxtaposing two items last week to suggest that the Taliban had already killed a man as a result of the Wikileaks revelations.
"Have you see this?" he asked his interviewer, Carole Cadwalladr, waving a copy of the Times in which there was a photo of Assange below a headline reading 'Taliban hitlist row: Wikileaks founder says he did right thing' and, next to the photo, a second headline reading 'Named man is already dead'.
It was clearly imputed that the man had died as a result of Assange's actions. Only when one read the story did it become apparent that the man referred to in the headline had actually died two years ago. "It's not until the sixth paragraph you learn that," Assange said.
Meanwhile, US army investigators have been questioning people with links to Wikileaks in an apparent effort to discover whether army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning - now moved from Kuwait to an army base in Virginia - acted alone in passing the material to Wikileaks.
Several computer experts have told the US media that they have been interviewed. They include Jacob Appelbaum, a specialist in internet privacy protection, who was detained at Newark airport on his return from Amsterdam and had his laptop and three mobile phones seized by military officials.
He says he was questioned for three hours about his connections with Wikileaks and the whereabouts of Assange. Appelbaum declined to answer questions without a lawyer present.
As the Guardian reports today, the aggressive style of the inquiry is probably designed partly to discourage other would-be leakers. ·
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