from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 85
October 25, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


Thousands of previously unrecognized civilian casualties of the war in Iraq were documented in a collection of classified U.S. military records that were published online October 22 by the Wikileaks organization.

The unauthorized release of the records was presented with Wikileaks' usual understatement and precision. The newly disclosed records are said to be "the first real glimpse into the secret history of the [Iraq] war," as if there had been no declassification, no previous unauthorized disclosures of classified information, and no prior reporting on the subject in the last seven years.

But setting aside the hyperbole, it seems clear that the documents significantly enrich the public record on the Iraq war, as reported over the weekend by the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Al Jazeera, and others.

Among other things, they cast new light on the scale of civilian casualties in the Iraq war, and they document the horrific details of many particular lethal incidents. This kind of material properly belongs in the public domain, as a last sign of respect to the victims and as a rebuke to the perpetrators and their sponsors.

"The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq," according to Wikileaks' summary, "comprised of 66,081 'civilians'; 23,984 'enemy' (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 'host nation' (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 'friendly' (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths."

The records "contain 15,000 civilian deaths that have not been previously reported," said the non-governmental organization Iraq Body Count, which is one of several organizations that attempt to tally or estimate civilian casualties in Iraq.

But the counting of casualties is an imprecise business, permitting a surprisingly broad range of credible estimates. Prior to the Wikileaks release, with its description of 66,081 civilian casualties, the Iraq Body Count organization had estimated between 98,585 and 107,594 civilian deaths. The Brookings Institution put the number considerably higher, at 112,625. Other estimates, both higher and lower, are also available from the Associated Press, the World Health Organization, and others.

A compilation and comparison of such estimates has been prepared by the Congressional Research Service in "Iraq Casualties: U.S. Military Forces and Iraqi Civilians, Police, and Security Forces," updated October 7, 2010.

This report does not directly reflect the new Wikileaks disclosures or a Defense Department tally made public last summer, though it presents official estimates based on some of the same underlying data. But it is more recent than a 2008 version of the same congressional report that was cited in the New York Times on October 22.

A companion report from the CRS considers "U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom," updated September 28, 2010:

This report "presents difficult-to-find statistics regarding U.S military casualties... including those concerning post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, amputations, evacuations, and the demographics of casualties." While some of these statistics are publicly available through the Department of Defense website, others were obtained by CRS research.

Another CRS report addresses "Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians," updated September 14, 2010:


The Washington Post is publishing a rather spectacular series of stories this week tracing the flow of guns through American society and their use in criminal activity. The Post series directly challenges -- and partially overcomes -- the barriers to public disclosure of gun sales that were put in place by Congress under pressure from the National Rifle Association and gun dealers in 2003.

"At the urging of the gun lobby seven years ago," the Post explained, "Congress removed from public view a federal database that traced guns back to stores. The blackout helped cut off a growing number of lawsuits against and newspaper investigations of gun stores. To break this secrecy in Maryland, Virginia and the District [of Columbia], The Post relied on its own analysis of state and local records."

See "Industry pressure hides gun traces, protects dealers from public scrutiny" by James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz, October 24:

The barriers to public disclosure of gun sale data that were enacted by Congress in 2003 were analyzed by the Congressional Research Service in "Gun Control: Statutory Disclosure Limitations on ATF Firearms Trace Data and Multiple Handgun Sales Reports," May 27, 2009:


The Israeli policy of "nuclear opacity" -- by which that country's presumptive nuclear weapons program is not formally acknowledged -- is examined in the new book "The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb" by Avner Cohen (Columbia University Press, October 2010).

For a variety of reasons, the author concludes that Israel's "nuclear opacity" is obsolete and will have to be replaced, sooner or later, with a forthright acknowledgment of what everyone already believes to be the case anyway.

Cohen, an Israeli scholar who was trained as a philosopher, provides a lucid account of how nuclear opacity has "worked," i.e. served Israeli interests, by providing the benefits of deterrence without the negative political and strategic consequences that could ensue from overt disclosure. But its time has passed, he says.

"I argue that the old Israeli bargain with the bomb has outlived its usefulness, that it has become increasingly incompatible with contemporary democratic values at home and with the growth of international norms of transparency, and that it is time for Israel and others to consider a new bargain." Among other things, he says, the continuing development of nuclear weapons-related technology in Iran is likely the force the issue to a new degree of clarity.

For the time being, however, there is no sign of any change in Israel's position on the matter. "Israel has a clear and responsible nuclear policy, and it has frequently reiterated that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East," David Danieli of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission told Haaretz last month. "Israel neither adds to nor subtracts from this statement."

Avner Cohen's "The Worst-Kept Secret" was reviewed recently in the New York Times and the Forward.


Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following.

"Hezbollah: Background and Issues for Congress," October 8, 2010:

"Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues," October 7, 2010:

"Burma's 2010 Election Campaign: Issues for Congress," October 6, 2010:

"Drug Courts: Background, Effectiveness, and Policy Issues for Congress," October 12, 2010:

"Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency," October 8, 2010:

"Defense Surplus Equipment Disposal: Background Information," October 6, 2010:

"The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment," September 23, 2010:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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