Five human rights groups slam WikiLeaks for endangering lives

A number of human rights groups have criticised WikiLeaks over potentially endangering the lives of Afghans who helped the US military.

Amnesty International, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), the Open Society Institute (OSI), the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the Afghan office of the International Crisis Group (ICG) all joined together to send WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a letter voicing their concerns, criticising his approach and pushing for a redaction of documents to omit identifying information that could risk the safety of US sympathisers in Afghanistan.

“We have seen the negative, sometimes deadly ramifications for those Afghans identified as working for or sympathizing with international forces,” they wrote, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites an anonymous source. “We strongly urge your volunteers and staff to analyze all documents to ensure that those containing identifying information are taken down or redacted.”

This adds to a growing list of groups calling for WikiLeaks to be more careful in how it does its business. The Pentagon has already criticised the website for its potential to endanger lives and demanded that the documents, which number into the thousands, be handed over.

Assange was clearly miffed at this latest volley of attacks, responding by asking if the human rights groups, Amnesty International in particular, were prepared to fork over some manpower to get the job done. Effectively he claimed that Amnesty was good at criticising, but not very good at helping with the problems it finds objectionable.

He added: “I’m very busy and have no time to deal with people who prefer to do nothing but cover their asses. If Amnesty does nothing I shall issue a press release highlighting its refusal.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Amnesty International said it has limited resources, but would not rule out the possibility of helping with the redaction. It also called for a conference to discuss the matter.

WikiLeaks has published 76,000 documents already, with a further 15,000 on the cards. The human rights groups said they appreciate what WikiLeaks has done to expose certain aspects of the war in Afghanistan by publishing the documents, but they are fearful that the Taliban will develop a hitlist based on the information contained within them. The Taliban has already stated that it is scouring the documents to find names and addresses so it can hunt informants down.

Assange is clearly feeling the heat as pressure mounts on providing sensitive documents in a responsible manner. A key problem for him now is that WikiLeaks is partially about protecting whistle-blowers, such as those who leaked the documents in the first place, but at the same time publishing them in full may risk the lives of sympathisers and whistle-blowers in Afghanistan, who simply cannot afford to be identified.