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WikiLeaks redacted more information in latest documents release

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
WikiLeaks has shown a much heavier hand redacting compared to its previous publication of documents.
WikiLeaks has shown a much heavier hand redacting compared to its previous publication of documents.
  • WikiLeaks did more redaction on this release of documents
  • Pentagon says group does not have skills to selectively edit
  • It also argues the release of documents is harmful in many respects

Washington (CNN) -- With the posting of 400,000 classified documents from the Iraq war, WikiLeaks has shown a much heavier hand redacting compared to its previous publication of documents.

After the leak in July of more than 70,000 Afghanistan War documents, the website was heavily criticized by the U.S. government, the military and human rights groups for failing to redact names of civilians in the documents, putting them at risk of retaliation by the Taliban.

Pentagon officials had warned that it had similar concerns of exposure of Iraqi names. After the publication Friday, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told CNN's "John King, USA" the military was in the process of notifying some 300 Iraqis whose names were in the documents.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told CNN's Atika Shubert the site was more "vigorous" this time compared to the Afghanistan process. But concerns of exposing civilians to harm did not seem to be the motivation.

"In this case we have taken an even more vigorous approach than we took in relation of the Afghan material, not because we believe that approach was particularly lacking [but] rather just to prevent those sort of distractions from the serious content by people who would like to try and distract from the message," Assange said.

Video: Protecting US contacts
Video: WikiLeaks founder walks out of interview
Video: More Iraq war documents posted
Video: Assange on Iraq documents

An initial comparison of a few documents redacted by WikiLeaks to the same documents released by the Department of Defense shows that WikiLeaks removed more information from the documents than the Pentagon.

CNN accessed the Department of Defense versions from the official U.S. Central Command website, where it posts items that have been released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The first incident examined by CNN was the case of a car that drove toward a group of soldiers moving on foot through Tall Afar on January 18, 2005. The version of the "significant action" (SIGACTS) report released by the Pentagon said the unit involved was the A/1-5 and it was a patrol (abbreviated PTL). When the car failed to stop after a single warning shot, the patrol "engaged the car" and killed two civilians.

The same document released Friday by WikiLeaks does not include the unit, the A/1-5, or that its members were on a patrol. In a summary of the incident, WikiLeaks redacted the number of killed civilians, but the accompanying narrative included the number.

The second incident examined by CNN involved a car that approached a vehicle checkpoint near a bridge ten miles north of Al Qaim on May 9, 2005.

The Pentagon version of the report says in part that the incident happened "10KM NE of Al Qaim. The sedan ran over berms built on the road (with heavy equipment) to warn and slow oncoming traffic. Warning shots to deck at 125m; to engine block at 100m."


But WikiLeaks removed any mention of Al Qaim, a town in western Iraq near Syria. It also removed the word "berms" and at what distance the car deck and then engine block were targeted before the people in the car were shot. It also removed details on the death of one civilian and the wounding of another, which the Defense Department did release.

Even with redaction, the Pentagon is critical of the documents' release, saying the site had no right to publish and is not equipped to understand what information is harmful.

"The problem we have with WikiLeaks, it goes beyond just taking out names of people," Col. David Lapan, a top Pentagon spokesman said Friday before WikiLeaks released the documents. "There are lots of other types of information that we've described that could be damaging that go beyond names and they wouldn't have the expertise to know what those are."

Morrell reiterated that point later in the day.

"They are not experts about how to redact in a way that protects American forces," Morrell said on "John King, USA." "Classified documents should not be in the public domain. At least not willy-nilly like this."

The big concern, Morrell said, is that the documents provide insights into "patterns of behavior, our tactics, our techniques and our procedures."