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For nik: OSI Rights Group funded by Soros Join Criticism of WikiLeaks
08-12-2010, 12:02 PM
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Thumbs Down For nik: OSI Rights Group funded by Soros Join Criticism of WikiLeaks
For nik: OSI Rights Group funded by Soros Join Criticism of WikiLeaks

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424...22558.html

Rights Groups Join Criticism of WikiLeaks

By JEANNE WHALEN

A group of human-rights organizations is pressing WikiLeaks to do a better job of redacting names from thousands of war documents it is publishing, joining the list of critics that claim the Web site's actions could jeopardize the safety of Afghans who aided the U.S. military.

The letter from five human-rights groups sparked a tense exchange in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange issued a tart challenge for the organizations to help with the massive task of removing names from thousands of documents, according to several of the organizations that signed the letter. The exchange shows how WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange risk being isolated from some of their most natural allies in the wake of the documents' publication.

The human-rights groups involved are Amnesty International; Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or CIVIC; Open Society Institute, or OSI, the charitable organization funded by George Soros; Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; and the Kabul office of International Crisis Group, or ICG.

The groups emailed WikiLeaks to say they were concerned for the safety of Afghans identified as helping the U.S. military in documents obtained by WikiLeaks, according to several of the groups. WikiLeaks has already published 76,000 of the documents and plans to publish up to 15,000 more.

Some of the already published documents included names that critics including the Pentagon claim could lead to harm for Afghans seen as helping the U.S. war effort. The Pentagon last week demanded that WikiLeaks hand over all the classified Afghan war documents it has.

"We have seen the negative, sometimes deadly ramifications for those Afghans identified as working for or sympathizing with international forces," the human-rights groups wrote in their letter, according to a person familiar with it. "We strongly urge your volunteers and staff to analyze all documents to ensure that those containing identifying information are taken down or redacted."

In his response to the letter signed by the human-rights organizations, Mr. Assange asked what the groups were doing to analyze the documents already published, and asked whether Amnesty in particular would provide staff to help redact the names of Afghan civilians, according to people familiar with the letter.

An Amnesty official replied to say that while the group has limited resources, it wouldn't rule out the idea of helping, according to people familiar with the reply. The official suggested that Mr. Assange and the human-rights groups hold a conference call to discuss the matter.

Mr. Assange then replied: "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," according to people familiar with the exchange.

Later, WikiLeaks posted on its Twitter account: "Pentagon wants to bankrupt us by refusing to assist review. Media won't take responsibility. Amnesty won't. What to do?"

In an email Monday, WikiLeaks declined to comment on the exchange with the human rights groups.

Taliban representatives have said publicly that they are searching the documents and plan to punish people who have helped U.S. forces.

Human-rights groups say they are increasingly worried about the execution of Afghan civilians by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, or AIHRC, published figures this week showing that such executions have soared in the first seven months of this year, to 197, from a total of 225 in all of 2009.

In a phone interview, Nader Nadery, senior commissioner of the AIHRC, said the civilians executed are often people who support the Afghan government, or their family members. Some of these people "may have come into contact with the U.S. or other international forces," he said.

He said the AIHRC signed the letter to WikiLeaks. He said he and his colleagues "appreciate the efforts by WikiLeaks" to highlight some previously unreported aspects of the war, but worry that "having the names of the individuals with the location of their village and specific info about them...will enable the Taliban to develop another hit list."

CIVIC, OSI and ICG also confirmed that they signed the letter. Erica Gaston, program officer for OSI's Afghanistan-Pakistan regional policy initiative, said: "Our concern was that the Taliban had announced it was going through the data looking for names and that it would begin targeting that. It's a very real threat that they're making. They have demonstrated over and over that if they have the name of someone that has in any way been affiliated with the international community, they will find them, they will kill them in most cases."

Write to Jeanne Whalen at jeanne.whalen@wsj.com
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