The Pentagon said on Thursday it would be the “height of irresponsibility” if WikiLeaks went through with a new threat to publish outstanding documents it has on the Afghan war.
Amid news reports that WikiLeaks plans to soon release about 15,000 documents it held back last month, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell repeated a US demand for the whistle-blower site to expunge all classified material from the Internet and return the material it had to the US government.
“It is hard to believe anything WikiLeaks says, but our position on this matter should be well-known by now to everyone,” said Morrell, who was traveling with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on a trip to California.
WikiLeaks caused an uproar when it published more than 70,000 documents last month, at a time when US public and congressional support for the nine-year war in Afghanistan is flagging.
The defense department said the leak — one of the largest in US military history — put US troops and Afghan informers at risk.
“If they were to publish any additional documents after hearing our concerns about the harm it will cause our forces, our allies and innocent Afghan civilians it would be the height of irresponsibility. It would compound a mistake that has already put far too many lives at risk,” Morrell said.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Swedish TV channel SVT on Thursday that WikiLeaks had a responsibility to publish the documents.
“We have a duty to all the people who can benefit from the release of that information,” he told SVT’s Aktuellt news program.
“This information reveals the deaths of 20,000 people. Last week, over 100 people died as the result of this war. This information contains crucial ingredients about the management of war and the management of civilians and how they died,” he said.
He said there were no easy choices for the organization, but delaying publication could delay, or deny, justice being done.
Earlier, Gates was asked about the impact of the leak by a sailor aboard the USS Higgins which is docked in San Diego.
“There are very serious operational consequences. There are the names of a lot of Afghans who have worked with us and helped us in those documents,” Gates said.
He said the documents released last month conveyed a huge amount of information and US tactics, techniques and procedures, including where the US was vulnerable.
“We know from intelligence that both the Taliban and al-Qaeda have given directions to comb those documents for information and so I think the consequences are potentially very severe,” Gates said.
“We don’t have specific information of an Afghan being killed yet because of them [the documents] — but put the emphasis on the word ‘yet,’” he told the sailors.
Assange told Aktuellt that the documents could provide vital information about a war that he said was killing hundreds of people each week.
“So far, as far as the Pentagon states, no one has been adversely affected by the release of this information, but just in the past two weeks we have seen hundreds of people killed,” he said.