In broad daylight, a US soldier shot dead an eight-year-old Iraqi girl who was playing in the street. That is just one story picked from 400,000 US military field reports from the period between 2004 and 2009 that were released by WikiLeaks on Friday. The question is whether this flood of data helps to find justice for that innocent girl and so many others.
The findings drawn from the WikiLeaks data - the crimes against civilians, Iran's alleged complicity in training insurgents, and abuses in Iraqi prisons, among others - were generally known already. The devil may be in the details. As one example, the Iraq Body Count project says the data reveal at least 15,000 deaths that were previously unaccounted for.
That number contradicts official US records. After a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this year, the Pentagon confirmed a death toll of 77,000 casualties. The new tally is 109,000, a number that almost matches estimates made by the British adviser Alistair Campbell, one of the architects of the war, and one that many believe is still far short of reality.
The US military has legitimate interests in controlling the flow of information during wartime, but the discrepancies raise serious questions about its compliance with US laws on public disclosure. The "fog of war" excuse only extends so far.
The leak adds to the well-known litany of US blunders following the invasion in 2003. According to the logs, the US military knew of widespread abuses, but reports sent up the chain of command were marked for "no further investigation". Most troubling of all is the civilian death toll and reports of trigger-happy US soldiers gunning down innocents.
WikiLeaks is a poor substitute for a full and credible investigation into those incidents, although admittedly war crimes have been brought to book far too infrequently. There is another side to the leak, which could compromise US and Iraqi intelligence sources. In these pages, The National documented how a similar disclosure by WikiLeaks about the Afghan war caused some civilians who worked with the United States to fear for their lives.
During the war, the US and its allies never saw fit to accurately count the casualties. It is that mistaken policy that gives WikiLeaks the oxygen for dissent. It remains to be seen if this death toll is accurate – or if anyone will be held to account. Iraqis do not believe so. Kamil al Amin, the spokesman for the human rights ministry, said yesterday: "There were many deaths and many people were buried without any documents. The ministry has proof of many deliberate killings."
Iraqi lives are not mere data. Ministry of planning statistics find that there are 4.5 million Iraqi orphans. Where are these children's parents? One day, they will grow up and demand answers.