WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Monday it did not under-report the number of civilian deaths in the Iraq war or ignore prisoner abuse by Iraqi forces, rejecting allegations arising from leaked U.S. documents.
The whistle-blower website WikiLeaks on Friday released nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war, the biggest leak of its kind in U.S. military history.
WikiLeaks said the documents detailed the deaths of 15,000 more Iraqi civilians than the U.S. military had reported.
Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, who served as the top U.S. military commander in Iraq from 2004-2007, said U.S. forces actually went into morgues to count bodies.
“I don’t recall downplaying civilian casualties,” Casey told reporters.
President Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq launched by his predecessor President George W. Bush, ended the U.S. combat mission in Iraq in August and is set to withdraw the last 48,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the U.S. military never claimed to have an exact count of the number of civilians killed in Iraq. Lapan noted that estimates made by private organizations of civilian deaths in Iraq also have varied.
“Over the years, it has been impossible for the various organizations, (those) who have tried, to come to agreement on a specific figure,” Lapan said.
Lapan said WikiLeaks and the Pentagon were working from the same database to collect civilian death toll figures, and was skeptical that the group had made any new discovery.
Still, the U.S. military during the war routinely gave lower casualty figures than Iraqi police or hospital officials.
Some of the U.S. documents released on Friday contained accounts of Iraqi forces abusing Iraqi prisoners and the U.S. military not investigating those instances.
But U.S. officials on Monday said the military had not systematically ignored cases of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqi forces.
“That’s just not the case,” Casey told reporters. “Our policy all along was that where American soldiers encountered prisoner abuse (they were) to stop it and then report it immediately up the U.S. chain of command and the Iraqi chain of command.”
Iraqi officials have vowed to probe any allegations of prisoner abuse revealed in the leaked documents, which could embarrass the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as he tries to win support for a second term.
Thousands of officials have been removed from Iraq’s Interior Ministry after revelations that mainly Sunni prisoners were being held in secret prisons near the 2006-2007 height of the sectarian conflict pitting Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Muslims against minority Sunni Muslims.
The U.S. military lost the right to detain Iraqis under a bilateral security pact that went into effect in 2009. The United States drew international condemnation in 2004 over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail outside Baghdad.
The latest document dump by WikiLeaks followed its July release of more than 70,000 secret U.S. files on the war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. investigation into the source of the leaked documents has focused on Bradley Manning, who worked as a U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning is already under arrest and charged with leaking a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
Editing by Will Dunham