Julian Assange, an Australian former hacker and computer programmer, said it was clear that the course of the conflict needed to change, and that the newly-released records, which were also printed in the New York Times and German paper Der Spiegel, would help to shape understanding of the past six years of fighting.

And he claimed that the large number of civilian casualties reported in the files was in fact lower than the true figure because military personnel "downplayed" the number or reported them as insurgent deaths.

Speaking at a press conference at the Frontline Club in central London, Mr Assange brushed off the US administration's criticism of the major leak.

"We are familiar with groups whose abuse we expose attempting to criticise the messenger to distract from the power of the message," he said.

"We don't see any difference in the White House's response to this case to the other groups that we have exposed.

"We have tried hard to make sure that this material does not put innocents at harm.

"All the material is over seven months old so is of no current operational consequence, even though it may be of very significant investigative consequence."

Mr Assange added: "It's clear that it will shape an understanding of what the past six years of war has been like, and that the course of the war needs to change.

"The manner in which it needs to change is not yet clear."

He said the files were not about one single horrific event but the bigger picture of the conflict, now into its ninth year.

"The real story of this material is that it is war, it's one damn thing after another," he said.

"It's the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces, the millions of people."

Mr Assange said WikiLeaks had "no reason" to doubt the reliability of the files, but cautioned that they presented only a partial picture.

He said: "You will find that the US military units when self-reporting of course often speak in self-exculpatory language, redefine civilian casualties as insurgent casualties, downplay the number of casualties.

"And we know this by comparing these reports to the public record for where there has been comprehensive investigation."

He added, in an interview with the Guardian: "If journalism is good it is controversial by its nature.

"It is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abuses, and when powerful abuses are taken on, there is always a back reaction."
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"So we see that controversy and we believe that is a good thing to engage in."


by metro