Wikileaks files 'may reveal thousands of war crimes'

The Afghanistan files released by WikiLeaks could contain details of "thousands" of potential war crimes, the founder of the whistleblowers' website said today.

Julian Assange told reporters at a press conference at the Frontline Club in central London: "It is up to a court to decide clearly whether something is in the end a crime.



"That said, on the face of it, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material."



According to Mr Assange, the documents provided the "raw ingredients" that lead to statistics about matters such as civilian deaths in war.



He said he hoped information in the files would be investigated and exposed as a deterrent to future "human rights abuses" and to create an "incentive" for policy change.



"We would like to see the revelations that this material gives to be taken seriously, investigated by governments and new policies put in place as a result, if not prosecutions of those people who have committed abuses," Mr Assange said.



"It's important to understand this material does not just reveal abuses.



"This material describes the past six years of the war."



He described the role of WikiLeaks as directly accountable to the "court of public opinion" with no commercial interests and revealed one million dollars had been donated by the public.



"We have a promise to whistleblowers that come to us, that's our role as an international public service, that provided they meet some very simple criteria, like a lawyer we will represent them fairly to the court, in our case the court of public opinion," Mr Assange said.



"This submission met that criteria and therefore we were tasked to keep our promise of getting maximum impact for it."



Mr Assange defended his decision to publish the secret US military files.



He said it was clear that the course of the conflict needed to change, and that the newly released records would help to shape understanding of the past six years of fighting.



He also claimed that the high level of civilian casualties reported in the files was in fact lower than the true figure because military personnel "downplayed" the number or reported them as insurgent deaths.



Mr Assange brushed off the US administration's criticism of the major leak.



"We are familiar with groups whose abuse we expose attempting to criticise the messenger to distract from the power of the message," he said.



"We don't see any difference in the White House's response to this case to the other groups that we have exposed.



"We have tried hard to make sure that this material does not put innocents at harm.



"All the material is over seven months old so is of no current operational consequence, even though it may be of very significant investigative consequence."



Mr Assange added: "It's clear that it will shape an understanding of what the past six years of war has been like, and that the course of the war needs to change.



"The manner in which it needs to change is not yet clear."



He said the files were not about one single horrific event but the bigger picture of the conflict, now into its ninth year.



"The real story of this material is that it is war, it's one damn thing after another," he said.



"It's the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces, the millions of people."



Mr Assange said WikiLeaks had "no reason" to doubt the reliability of the files, but cautioned that they presented only a partial picture.



He said: "You will find that the US military units when self-reporting of course often speak in self-exculpatory language, redefine civilian casualties as insurgent casualties, downplay the number of casualties.



"And we know this by comparing these reports to the public record for where there has been comprehensive investigation."









Mr Assange revealed he had spent time in London collaborating with the Guardian as well as a German and US newspaper to examine the documents in the lead-up to publication.

In choosing to speak publicly in Britain, he said he did not believe the Government would take any action against him, adding: "On the one hand, as we all know, the UK is a surveillance state.



"On the other hand we do have extensive political journalistic and community support in this country."



He also told the media during the two-hour press conference that a "backlog" of whistleblowing material had built up during a "publishing hiatus" which has been in place at WikiLeaks since December to allow the team behind the site to carry out work to enable it to cope with the level of submissions it receives.



He said he hoped and expected more information would emerge as a result of the publicity.



"Courage is contagious," he said.











Mr Assange repeated that he had considered and ruled out the risk of harm to troops as a result of the information in the files and argued that the exposure of abuses, and any reaction by Afghans, should serve as a deterrent for the military.



He said: "The revelation of abuse by the US and coalition forces may cause Afghans to be upset, and rightly so.



"If governments don't like populations being upset, they should treat them better, not conceal abuses that have been undertaken."









Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you familiar with the sayin...

Recruitment Genius: Hospitality Assistant

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£6 - £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most