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US Denies Downplaying Iraq Civilian Deaths, Condoning Prisoner Abuse


US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey (file photo)

US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey (file photo)

The U.S. Army general who commanded coalition forces in Iraq for 2 1/2 years denied allegations on Monday based on the WikiLeaks documents published last week that his forces undercounted Iraqi civilian casualties and condoned the abuse of prisoners by Iraqi forces.

General George Casey, who is now Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, says troops under his command in Iraq did not intentionally underreport the number of civilians who were killed during his tenure, from mid-2004 until early 2007. "I don't recall downplaying civilian casualties. In fact, we actively went out and tried to count civilian casualties, to the extent we actually sent leaders, soldiers, down to the morgues in Baghdad to count civilian casualties," he said.

Casey was responding to a reporter's questions about information in the nearly 400,000 secret U.S. military documents published on Friday by the Internet website WikiLeaks.

News organizations that were able to study the material for weeks before it was published say the documents contain reports of thousands more civilian casualties - mostly from insurgent attacks - than the U.S. military has acknowledged.

General Casey says it was important for him to know the extent and cause of the deaths. "We actively went out and tried to understand the impact of both our actions and the militia group actions on civilians. You've heard about 'protecting the population.' That wasn't a new idea. We had to understand the impact of, again, our operations and the insurgent operations on civilians," he said.

During the time General Casey was in command in Iraq, the insurgency grew and the security situation deteriorated. Analysts have criticized him for having the wrong strategy and for giving the new Iraqi forces too much responsibility before they were ready to handle it.

The WikiLeaks documents indicate that resulted in routine abuse of insurgents captured by Iraqi forces, or who were turned over to them by coalition troops.

News reports on the documents say the U.S. troops reported the abuses only to Iraqi officers, and imply that was not a sufficiently strong response.

General Casey disagrees, saying that his troops did not turn "a blind eye" on Iraqi abuses. "That's just not the case. Our policy all along was when American soldiers encountered prisoner abuse, it was to stop it and then report it immediately up the U.S. chain of command and up the Iraqi chain of command. And we were very strong with that," he said.

Prisoner abuse is a war crime, and the implication in recent news reports is that U.S. troops were complicit in such activity by not doing enough to stop it.

The WikiLeaks documents provide evidence through real time battlefield reporting that tends to support several key U.S. government claims, including that Iranian agents provided high-technology weapons and training to Iraqi insurgents and that most Iraqi civilian casualties were caused by insurgent attacks.

On the issue of prisoner abuse, they revive old questions about whether U.S. troops gave unprepared Iraqi forces too much authority and autonomy, creating a situation in which prisoners were abused.

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