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Pentagon braces for Iraq Wikileaks

Posted by arnon_k On October - 18 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Whistleblowing website prepares to release some 400,000 classified US military documents on the war in Iraq.

The Pentagon has assembled a 120-member team to prepare for the expected publication of some 400,000 Iraq war documents on the Wikileaks website.

The documents are thought to concern battle activity, Iraqi security forces and civilian casualties.

Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the timing of the leak remained unclear but are preparing for it to be as early as Monday or Tuesday – a possibility raised in previous WikiLeaks statements.

The Pentagon said on Sunday it wants the documents back to avoid “potentially damaging” information being released.

‘Significant file’

Lapan said the files were from an Iraq-based database that contained “significant acts, unit-level reporting, tactical reports, things of that nature”.

If confirmed, the leak would be much larger than the record-breaking release of more than 70,000 Afghan war documents in July, which stoked debate about the nine-year-old conflict but did not contain major revelations.

Spencer Ackerman, a journalist who has covered Wikileaks extensively, told Al Jazeera this particular release of documents would dwarf Wikileaks’ July publication of more than 70,000 Afghan war files.

“The Pentagon recently assessed that the initial impact of the Afghanistan document release was not as great as they had feared. This time, however, Wikileaks is talking about releasing in the neighbourhood of 400,000 documents as opposed to the 92,000 they obtained from Afghanistan – it may in fact be very significant,” he said.

“A history of the Iraq war that no one has ever seen, from 2004 to 2009, will be out in the public domain.”

According to Ackerman, the documents are expected to include “a lot of frontline military reports about how US troops perceived the war”.

“We may learn a fair amount about civilian casualties, the birth of the improvised explosive device – the signature weapon of this war and we may learn a lot about the nature of the insurgency contrary to what some statements from top US officials said back then.”

The document release could renew debate about foreign and domestic actors influencing Iraq, which has been wrestling with a political vacuum since an inconclusive election in March.

Lapan said the Pentagon team believed it knew which documents WikiLeaks may be releasing since it had already reviewed the Iraq war file. That could speed up its assessment about potential fallout.

The largest security breach

At the time of the Afghan war leak, US military officials warned that the whistleblower website might cause the deaths of US soldiers and Afghan civilians because some of the documents contained the names of locals who had helped coalition forces.

It was the largest security breach of its kind in US military history.

There have been fears that such leaks could damage US intelligence sharing with other nations as well as intelligence sharing between US agencies.

The investigation into the Afghan leak has focused on Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst who is in custody and has been charged with leaking a classified video of a US helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007 in which a dozen people were killed.

The Wikileaks website is currently offline “undergoing scheduled maintenance”. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is being investigated in Sweden over an alleged sex crime.

He denies the charge and says the allegations are part of a smear campaign by opponents of his whistle-blowing website.

WikiLeaks says it is a non-profit organisation funded by human rights campaigners, journalists and the general public. But the Pentagon has demanded it return classified information and critics have questioned its perceived anti-war agenda.

Thai court ruling stalls extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer to US

Thailand’s Criminal Court on Monday dropped a prosecutor’s request to withdraw the second round of charges on money laundering against alleged arms smuggler Viktor Bout, saying the defendant opposed the request, delaying the extradition of the wanted former Soviet air force officer to the United states.

An elusive Russian businessman dubbed “The Merchant of Death’, Mr Bout arrived at court Monday morning, wearing a bulletproof vest and under tightened security protection by Thai commandos.

Asked if he expected a fair trial in the US, Mr Bout shouted to reporters from a cell: “No! For sure no! Which fair trial are you talking about?”

The judges explained that since Thai extradition law did not stipulate about dropping legal procedures, therefore the court had to apply the Criminal Procedure Code, Article 35. Under the law, a defendant has the right to object to the charges against him being dropped, which Mr Bout decided to do to thwart any attempt to extradite him to the US.

As the court rejected the prosecutors’ request, the trial on money laundering and wire fraud will proceed. The judges, however, did not immediately set a date for the next hearing.

The Thai Court of Appeals ruled on August 20 to extradite Mr Bout, arrested and detained in Bangkok since March 2008, to the US to face charges of conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to kill officials and employees of the United States government, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

The ruling of the Thai Court of Appeals to extradite Mr Bout overturned a lower court ruling in August 2009 that rejected a US request that Mr Bout face trial there.

The extradition of the Merchant of Death however can’t proceed as Mr Bout faces a second case concerning money laundering and wire fraud charges which was accepted by Thailand’s Court of First Instance – at the earlier request of the US government.

The US government later requested the Thai foreign ministry that the charges be withdrawn in order to proceed with extradition. The Office of Attorney-General later agreed to seek court approval to withdraw the second charges as proposed by the US government.

US swoops to grab Bout

Posted by arnon_k On August - 25 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Extradition today, but fresh legal row erupts

The extradition of Viktor Bout has become embroiled in a new and potentially bitter legal controversy just hours before the alleged Russian arms dealer is scheduled to be handed over to US authorities under tight security at the Don Mueang air force base.

His sudden extradition this morning has caught many Thai authorities by surprise as it was expected to be some time before he could be removed to US custody.It is not known who orchestrated the rapid extradition of Mr Bout.

The Office of the Attorney-General, upon hearing of his rapid extradition, yesterday tried to block the handover to the US authorities, who have sent a special jet and security personnel to Thailand to collect the Russian.

In a letter to government agencies, which it refused to name, the OAG says Mr Bout is facing fresh charges which require new extradition proceedings, and legally he cannot leave the country until the charges are heard and completed or are dropped.

Meanwhile, the Corrections Department said it could not hand Mr Bout over to the police until the new charges are dropped, leaving the whole issue in a legal tangle.

Sirisak Tiyaphan, director for international affairs at the OAG, said the office sent a letter to all agencies concerned that the extradition could not go ahead as Mr Bout was required to appear before the Criminal Court on Oct 4 on the first hearing of new money laundering and fraud charges, requested by US authorities.

That meant Mr Bout could not be allowed to leave the country until the new charges were dropped.

Any agency which decided to release him before the court hearing would have to take responsibility for violating the court’s legal procedures, he warned.

Mr Sirisak was speaking as information was released that Mr Bout would be handed over under tight security to US authorities at the air force facility in Don Mueang this morning.

Acting Crime Suppression Division chief Supisarn Bhakdinarinath said the air force had informed the CSD that US authorities would be on hand to collect Mr Bout at the airport and would use their own jet to fly him to the US.

The US jet arrived at the airport at about 3pm yesterday, the CSD acting chief said.

Pol Col Supisarn said Mr Bout would be transported in a high security vehicle from the Bang Kwang maximum security prison accompanied by about 50 armed commandos travelling in a convoy of cars.

Security would be tight along the route, Pol Col Supisarn said. He refused to reveal any details of when Mr Bout would be moved from the prison and which route would be used to get him to the airport.

“I can’t disclose the exact details of the time and the route. It is top secret,” he said.

Pol Col Supisarn said officers from the Metropolitan Police Bureau would be responsible for clearing traffic on the route for the convoy.

Chartchai Sutthiklom, director-general of the Corrections Department, said prison officials had provided maximum security for Mr Bout. Although he was not being held in solitary confinement, he was being kept away from other prisoners.

But Mr Chartchai said prosecutors must withdraw the new money laundering and fraud charges before the extradition could proceed.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry was also surprised at the swift extradition of Mr Bout today as it had not been made aware of it, a source said.

Normally, extradition proceedings needed to go through the ministry first, the source said.

Another OAG official confirmed the extradition of Mr Bout would violate Thai law if the new charges were not withdrawn first.

“It will be a serious violation of Thai law if the new cases are not dropped,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

The US embassy refused to comment on the US plane arriving to pick up Mr Bout, saying only that the case was being handled by the Department of Justice in Washington.

Public prosecutors on Friday submitted a fresh request seeking new extradition proceedings against Mr Bout on charges of money laundering and fraud to the Criminal Court, despite the Appeal Court approving his extradition last week on the other charges.

The US has contacted the government to ask it to withdraw the new charges.

Mr Bout was transferred to Bang Kwang Prison from Bangkok Remand Prison pending his extradition.

Russia has cried foul over the Appeal Court’s verdict on Friday to extradite Mr Bout to the US which overturned a Criminal Court ruling which had rejected the US request to hand him over.