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10 Most Shocking Secrets From the WikiLeaks Files

The whistleblower has released its much-anticipated Iraq War logs, a massive trove of nearly 400,000 files that constitute the biggest leak of military secrets in U.S. history. From unreported cases of torture to a potential coverup involving the imprisoned American hikers in Iran, see what’s in the controversial files.

10.22.10 9:37 PM ET

1. Misleading Casualties

The leaked documents show that the U.S. was, in fact, keeping track of Iraqi civilian deaths, despite statements to the contrary. The documents show that 109,032 Iraqis died between January 1, 2004, and December 31, 2009, 66,081 of whom were civilians. However, even these numbers may fall short of the truth when depicting civilian deaths at the hands of coalition forces: No civilian deaths are recorded in Fallujah, for example, the site of two major battles in 2004. Iraq Body Count monitors counted over 1,200 civilian deaths during the fighting.

2. Unreported Cases of Torture

The secret files detail numerous cases of abuse and torture by Iraqi police, and the American military’s failure to investigate them. They include reports of detainees being shackled and hung from their wrists or ankles, whipped, burned with acid, electrocuted, and sexually assaulted. According to Al Jazeera, Iraqi police used electric drills to get information from prisoners. The Guardian reports that six prisoners died from torture, including one who died of “ unknown surgery.”

3. “Frago 242”

Because of secret order Frago 242 (short for “fragmentary order”), it was coalition policy not to investigate many reports of torture, The Guardian reports. Issued in June 2004, Frago 242 required that coalition troops not investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict unless it directly involved members of the coalition. The Guardian gives the example of a video the U.S. military received showing Iraqi army members dragging a man into the street, beating and shooting him. Despite the fact that the report even listed the name of one of the perpetrators, the leaked document shows it was marked "no investigation is necessary" and passed back to the unit incriminated in the report.

4. U.S. Helicopter Killed Surrendering Iraqis

The same unit and helicopter, call sign Crazyhorse 18, involved in the so-called Collateral Murder video, in which two Reuters employees are killed and two children wounded, is reported to have killed two Iraqi combatants who were trying to surrender in February 2007. “You cannot surrender to an aircraft," a lawyer back at base reportedly told the U.S. soldiers.

5. Hikers Were on the Iran Border

In July 2009, the U.S. government reported three hikers were kidnapped on the Iraq side of the border between Iraq and Iran. However, one report in the leak reveals that the incident occurred in “Sulaymaniyah / Halabjah” which is on the Iran side. In the assessment, it states that the hikers’ actions “indicate an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran. The leadership in Iran benefits as it focuses the Iranian population on a perceived external threat rather than internal dissension.”

6. Iran Coordinated Attacks in Iraq

The documents also reveal that Iran and Hezbollah actively supported and trained anti-American Shiite militants in Iraq, such as Azhar al-Dulaimi, who abducted and beheaded four American soldiers before he was ultimately detained by U.S. forces. The New York Times describes the conflict as a “shadow war between the United States and Iraqi militias backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.”

7. Democracy Downplayed?

In a telling, if not surprising finding, Der Spiegel reports that, in the 391,832 documents, the word “democracy” appears only eight times—improvised explosive devices are mentioned 146,895 times.

8. Syrian Complicity

Iraqi insurgents crossed into Syria as a safe haven, Al Jazeera reports, at times even with the active support of Syrian border guards. In one particular incident, the documents describe smugglers exchanging gunfire with an Iraqi border patrol, then retreating into Syria, where Syrian forces gave them cover, firing upon the Iraqi patrol with medium and light weapons. Some reports indicate that Syrian intelligence officers helped militants develop new bombmaking techniques.

9. Contractor’s Chaos

Given that the use of security contractors is only expected to grow as American forces leave the region, the documents’ eye-opening revelations of just how widespread the incidents of defense contractors run amok have become in Iraq and Afghanistan are particularly troubling. The archive describes several episodes that were never made public in such detail and displays how contractors have historically done a poor job of keeping both themselves and their intended defense targets safe, thanks to itchy trigger fingers and a lack of communication between themselves, coalition forces, and Iraqi troops. On May 14, 2005, an American unit reportedly “observed a Blackwater PSD shoot up a CIV vehicle,” killing a father and wounding his wife and daughter, according to The New York Times. In another incident, a British contractor working with ArmorGroup shot and killed two of his co-workers in Baghdad during the summer of 2009, before trying to escape through the heavily fortified Green Zone.

10. Kurdish-Arab Tensions

The long history of tensions between Kurds and Arabs in northern Iraq are described in great detail, as well as the fears the U.S. military has about what will happen when American troops exit the country by the end of 2011. “Without strong and fair influence, likely from a third party, these tensions may quickly turn to violence after the U.S. forces withdrawal,” warned a September 28, 2009, field report, according to The New York Times. One strange episode in May 2009 provides a unique glimpse into the tense situation. When the Sunni Arab governor of Nineveh province wanted to attend a hang-gliding festival in the Kurdish town of Bashiqa, Kurdish fighters and Iraqi soldiers, who both supposedly share a common goal of fighting off insurgents and terrorists, almost ended up fighting each other. Kurdish peshmerga fighters were ordered to shoot at the governor, while Iraqi soldiers were initially ordered to provide security, according to the report. Thankfully, organizers canceled the festival.