WASHINGTON: The United States late Saturday rejected talks with WikiLeaks over its planned release of confidential US documents, saying the whistle-blower website was holding them in violation of US law.
The US State Department also said the planned leak would endanger the lives of "countless innocent individuals", in a letter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney that was released to the media.
"We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained US government classified materials," State Department legal adviser Harold Koh wrote.
"As you know, if any of the materials you intend to publish were provided by any government officials, or any intermediary without proper authorization, they were provided in violation of US law and without regard for the grave consequences of this action," he added.
"As long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing."
US officials said Assange had sent a letter to the Department of State on Friday, in which he tried to address US concerns that WikiLeaks’ planned release of classified documents placed individual persons at risk.
In his letter, Assange said he wanted information regarding individuals who might be "at significant risk of harm" because of WikiLeaks’s actions, the officials said.
It was not immediately clear what other offers, if any, Assange’s letter contained.
But Koh’s response strongly condemned the anticipated release.
"Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals," the US legal adviser wrote.
"You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger."
Koh said the document release would have "grave consequences" and place at risk the lives of "countless innocent individuals", from journalists to human rights activists to bloggers and soldiers.
It would place at risk on-going military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, and cooperation between countries, he added.
An independent French website reported that the leaks would be published simultaneously at 2130 GMT Sunday by several Western newspapers.
The website, owni.fr, had previously launched an interface allowing the public to search the Iraq war logs published by WikiLeaks in October.
It said the New York Times, Britain’s The Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, Spain’s El Pais and France’s Le Monde would release their first analysis of the documents late Sunday, with leaks expected to trickle out before then.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has promised to help Copenhagen see US documents that could shed light on allegations Danish troops handed Iraqi insurgents over for torture, the Politiken daily reported Sunday.
"Two weeks ago, WikiLeaks reached a deal with the Danish defence ministry to give it free access to US documents WikiLeaks has acquired," the newspaper reported, quoting the website’s founder Julian Assange, who gave a video-linked press conference Sunday to a group of journalists gathered in Amman, Jordan.
WikiLeaks, which appeared set to release possibly millions of confidential US diplomatic cables late Sunday, made public 400,000 classified US documents on the Iraq war that included allegation Danish troops handed over 62 prisoners to Iraqi police despite knowing they risked mistreatment and torture.
Denmark, which had around 500 troops stationed in the southern Iraqi city of Basra under British command from 2003 until their withdrawal in 2007, has since then been investigating the charges.
According to Politiken, Copenhagen has asked the United States to provide further documents shedding light on the Danish soldiers’ actions and whether they could be held partly responsible for the torture of prisoners, but the request has been turned down.
Citing Assange, the paper said the Danish defence ministry had therefore decided to turn to WikiLeaks in order to see the classified papers needed for its probe.
"He was clearly happy to be able to help Denmark gain access to the sensitive documents," Politiken wrote of the WikiLeaks founder.
Shortly after the Iraq files were released, a former soldier told television channel DR that Danish soldiers had delivered prisoners to Iraqi police in Basra, and they learned they had subsequently been tortured and in some cases killed.
Another former soldier said he had seen the body of a former Danish prisoner with his fingers cut off two days after he was handed over.
"Everybody knew perfectly well that prisoners handed over to Iraqi authorities were being tortured," the soldier told tabloid Ekstra Bladet.
Politiken’s report came just hours before WikiLeaks reportedly will carry out perhaps its largest-ever drop of classified documents, with the United States and a number of other governments fearing damaging revelations.
The website has said it will release "seven times" more files than in October, or nearly three million documents, and media leaks Sunday hinted the release would include 251,287 diplomatic cables, including 16,652 marked "secret".