Pentagon Vows to Compel Wikileaks to Destroy Documents

Pentagon increases pressure on WikiLeaks to return military files. US defence department warns it will find ways to compel whistleblowers’ site to ‘do the right thing’ over Afghan war logs

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates (C) shakes hands with a reporter while walking with Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell (R) as they visit Camp Victory in the green zone of Baghdad, Iraq on September 16, 2008. Secretary Gates is in southwest Asia to meet with Iraqi and Afgan leaders and to preside over the changing of the Commanding General of Multi-National Force Iraq ceremony. (UPI Photo/Jerry Morrison)

By David Batty|Guardian.co.uk

The Pentagon has demanded that WikiLeaks immediately erase the huge cache of secret US military files about the Afghan war it has posted online and hand over another 15,000 classified records in its possession.

Condemning the whistleblowers’ website for inciting the leaking of military secrets, the Department of Defence warned it would examine ways to compel WikiLeaks to “do the right thing” if it did not do so voluntarily.

“The only acceptable course is for WikiLeaks to take steps to immediately return all versions of all of those documents to the US government and permanently delete them from its website, computers and records,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said yesterday.

“If doing the right thing is not good enough for them then we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing.”

Although the defence department has no independent power to enforce its demands, its increasingly threatening language is seen as a bid to deter WikiLeaks from releasing the 15,000 Afghan war records it has not published as well as an encrypted file recently added to the site entitled “insurance”.

WikiLeaks posted more than 76,900 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the Afghan war on its website last month, providing a devastating portrait of the failing war. They reveal how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, how Taliban attacks have soared and how Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The publication of the files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, was one of the biggest leaks in US military history.

Morrell said public disclosure of the secret documents had already threatened the safety of coalition troops and Afghan informants, a charge which WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange, denies. Morrell said disclosure of any further material would “only make the damage worse”.

He said a task force of about 80 government intelligence experts was examining the files already published on WikiLeaks and were doing “proactive” work to assess the risk posed by the other 15,000 records, which Assange has said the site held back to protect innocent people from harm.

Army private Bradley Manning, who has already been arrested and charged over leaking classified material to WikiLeaks in a previous case, was also described by Morrell as a “person of interest” in the current investigation over the latest huge leak.