NYT on WikiLeaks: Move Along, No Atrocity to See Here

One of the main media tropes regarding WikiLeaks' release of State Department cables last year was that there was either nothing new to be learned, or that private conversations they revealed were remarkably consistent with what U.S. officials were saying publicly. That was totally misleading, but for many pundits the story seemed to end there.

Now comes the release of thousands more documents. If you've been reading the New York Times, you know these cables exist. But you don't know much more than that. On August 29, the Times focused on a dispute over whether some names in the cable weren't properly redacted to protect these individuals—”a shift of tactics that has alarmed American officials.” WikiLeaks disagrees.

In today's edition of the Times (9/1/11), reporter Scott Shane gives a few examples of what's actually in the cables: criticism of former Philippines President Corazon Aquino, something about the Australian air safety system, human trafficking in Botswana. The rest of the article discusses the controversies over redactions, and whether or not someone has gained access to the entire trove of cables.

Shane adds: “News organizations in dozens of countries are panning for nuggets in the latest and largest dump of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.”

One “nugget” the Times seems to have trouble finding: A cable that details how U.S. forces executed 11 civilians in a night raid in Iraq in 2006. The victims appear to have been handcuffed. U.S. forces apparently destroyed the evidence—the house—in an airstrike.

McClatchy has a piece by Matthew Schofield (8/31/11) summarizing the matter ( “WikiLeaks: Iraqi Children in U.S. Raid Shot in Head, UN Says”). He reports:

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a five-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.

The unclassified cable, which was posted on WikiLeaks' website last week, contained questions from a United Nations investigator about the incident, which had angered local Iraqi officials, who demanded some kind of action from their government. U.S. officials denied at the time that anything inappropriate had occurred.

But Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a communication to American officials dated 12 days after the March 15, 2006, incident that autopsies performed in the Iraqi city of Tikrit showed that all the dead had been handcuffed and shot in the head. Among the dead were four women and five children. The children were all 5 years old or younger.

Schofield adds:

At the time, American military officials in Iraq said the accounts of townspeople who witnessed the events were highly unlikely to be true, and they later said the incident didn't warrant further investigation. Military officials also refused to reveal which units might have been involved in the incident.

The Daily Mirror (9/1/11) also has a piece today on this incident (“WikiLeaks Reveals Atrocities by U.S. forces”). John Glaser at Antiwar.com wrote a piece on August 29 detailing the contents of the cable—the first account that I can find, so he deserves credit for that.

But at this point, major U.S. papers like the New York Times are still searching for this nugget.