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WikiLeaks founder speaks out about leaked Afghan war documents

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WikiLeaks head: Reports show war crimes
  • Julian Assange says the leaked reports indicate war crimes may have occurred
  • U.S. leaders call the leak a breach of national security
  • U.S. officials say the leak could jeopardize the safety of Americans
  • Assange says his website has helped bring public change and human rights reform

(CNN) -- As his website sparks debate about classified information and what the public should know, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talked to Larry King Monday night about the more than 75,000 documents his site recently made public reportedly detailing U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan.

Assange said the documents could contain evidence of war crimes by U.S. forces.

"We see events that are very suspicious," Assange said. For example, "We see an incident in August 2006 where U.S. forces, in one report, kill 181 what they say are insurgents. There's one wounded and zero captured. Those sort of reports have sort of this flavor of a lot of people killed, but no people taken prisoner, and no people left wounded give a deeply suspicious feeling of what happened during these events."

In the end, Assange said, "it will take a court to really look at the full range of evidence to decide if a crime has occurred."

The documents -- first released to The New York Times, the British daily The Guardian and German magazine Der Spiegel -- suggest a grimmer portrait of the Afghan war than the official public assessment and include allegations that Pakistan's intelligence services have been helping the Taliban kill U.S. troops. Both ideas have been speculated about in the past.

CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents.

In response to accusations that the disclosure was "irresponsible" and could jeopardize U.S. lives and national security, Assange said WikiLeaks was judicious in the release.

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"We have withheld approximately 15,000 reports for further harm minimization process," he said. "We don't see anything here that is of tactical significance. What we see is a lot of reports of evidentiary significance that describe the cut-and-thrust of the entire war over the last six years."

Assange has not identified the source or sources of the leaked documents.

"We usually always do not know who the sources are," Assange said. "We are specialized in not knowing who our sources are. We are specialized instead of verifying sources, verifying the documents themselves. That is how we are able to protect our sources."

President Barack Obama learned of the pending WikiLeaks posting of classified military documents last week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

Gibbs said the public release of the documents was "a breach of federal law."

"Whenever you have the potential for names and operations and programs to be out there in the public domain, besides being against the law, it has the potential to be very harmful" to military personnel and others, Gibbs said.

Gibbs said Monday the United States' relationship with Pakistan is "not markedly changed" by information in classified military documents posted by WikiLeaks.

The site promotes the benefits of what it calls "principled leaking." It mentions the importance of the Pentagon Papers, which the New York Times reported about in 1971. The papers, leaked by government insider Daniel Ellsberg, revealed the true depth of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia and the ways in which the public had been misled by the government.

Asked by reporters during Monday's White House briefing about the analogy between the recent WikiLeaks release and the Pentagon Papers, the White House press secretary said the two are not comparable.

"The Pentagon Papers are different in the sense that you are talking about policy documents, these are sort of on-the-ground reporting of different events. I don't see in any way how they are really comparable," Gibbs said.

Gibbs also said the classified military documents posted by WikiLeaks contained no major new revelations.

John Young, a WikiLeaks co-founder who left the whistle-blower website in a dispute over credibility, told CNN's Jim Clancy people should be cautious of WikiLeaks document dump.

"They revealed that they were continuing to raise $5 million in the first year, and I had a problem with that scale of money raising," Young said. "So I criticized it ... the only way you could raise that kind of money that fast would be for some corrupt source of money or some government agency. So they booted me off the list."

Sen. Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for the Department of Defense to investigate who leaked the documents.

"These leaks are a serious breach of national security," said Feinstein, D-California. "This was a clear and pronounced effort to secure several years' worth of communications, e-mails and reports, and without any approval put it out to the world. I ask the Secretary of Defense to launch a major investigation and bring the individual or individuals responsible for this to account."

Assange defends the site as an "international public service" that has brought about public change and human rights reform.

"We authenticate everything," Assange said. "To our knowledge, we've never been wrong. There's no allegations by the rest of the press that we've been wrong. We've never lost a source through the process we go through."

CNN's Charles Riley and Nic Robertson contributed to this report.


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