Saddam Hussein’s Papers at Stanford : Watergate on Steroids? June 24, 2008 – Tags: Books and the Government, Libraries
An archive of close to 7 million documents taken from Saddam Hussein’s Baath party headquarters will be temporarily housed at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
The Iraq Memory Foundation (IMF), a Washington, D.C. based group, has been in possession of the archive since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq five years ago. After spending time in the basement of the foundation director’s parents home in Baghdad and at a U.S. military facility in West Virginia where they were digitized the archive has now been moved to Stanford.
According to Richard Sousa, senior associate director at Hoover, the institution’s agreement with the IMF was “approved by Iraq’s deputy prime minister, the Ministry of Culture and the Cabinet of the Prime Minister’s office.” and is endorsed by the highest levels of the Iraqi government. He then went on to say that he is not sure who “technically owns the documents.”
Saad Eskander, director of the Iraq National Library and Archives has called for the immediate return of the archive to Iraq. The Society of American Archivists and the Association of Canadian Archivists have also come out in support of the return of the archive to Iraq.
Here is the letter Eskander wrote to the Hoover Institution regarding this fiasco:
Open letter from Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, June 21, 2008
An Open Letter to the Director of Hoover Institute
I have read Mr. Sousa’s letter to Mr. Mark Greene, President of the Society of American Archivists (dated 06-06-08), Mr. Al-Jaberi’s statement (dated 27-04-08) and the article published by Stanford University’s official site regarding the illegally seized documents of the former Iraqi state and the archive of the Ba’ath Party (dated 18-06-08). As the national archivist of Iraq, I would like to clarify several points regarding the issue of the illegally seized documents of the former Iraqi state and the archive of the Ba’ath Party.
1. Mr. al-Jaberi does not represent the Ministry of Culture, let alone the current Iraqi government, insofar as the issue of the seized documents is concerned. The statement is written by Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who is the director of IMF and Mr. Makkiya’s right-hand man. Al-Kadhemi exploited the good intention of al-Jaberi and persuaded him to sign a statement about a sensitive issue he knows literally nothing about and has no authority to talk about or to deal with.
2. Regarding the retrieval of the seized documents, I have been coordinating my efforts with the Acting Minister of Culture, his deputy Mr. Taher al-Hmud, advisors of the Vice-President, and other important figures inside the Iraqi government as well as a number of Parliamentarians.
3. The Iraqis inside and outside the country have supported my position and disapproved of Makkiya, al-Kadhemi and the IMF’s [Iraq Memory Foundation’s] activities, which are considered to be morally wrong and manifest violations of Iraq’s sovereignty.
4. Some parts of al-Jaberi’s statement contradict the IMF’s claims, not mine, regarding the fact that the National Board of Accountability and Justice (NBAJ) will establish an archive for the records of the Ba’ath Party. I informed al-Kadhemi about this in order to tell him that IMF has no right whatsoever to keep these records abroad. Moreover, the INLA is in constant contact with Dr. Ahmed al-Chalabi, who presides over NBAJ, which replaced the former De-Ba’athification National Board. Dr. Chalabi has expressed his support for INLA’s campaign to retrieve all the seized documents, including the Ba’ath Party ones. The two sides (INLA and (NBAJ) hope to work together to return all the seized records.
5. I tried through direct negotiations with IMF’s representatives including Mr. Makkiya to reach a satisfactory settlement regarding the issue of the seized documents. Unfortunately the IMF’s representatives were not interested in making any compromise that would have put an end to the dispute. For instance, I asked IMF to enlarge its agreement with Hoover so that INLA would be included as the representative of the Iraqi state and people.
6. I would like to draw your attention to Iraqi legislation no. 111 for the year 1969. This legislation imposes severe punishment on those who destroys, hides, steal, forge, publish or remove official Iraqi documents. The legislation also imposes severe punishment (10 year-imprisonment) on those individuals who collaborate with and provide foreign states with Iraqi documents. Therefore, the IMF’s confiscation, purchases, scanning, declassification and publication of the Ba’ath documents are incontrovertibly illegal. It also means that the IMF has violated the same Iraqi legislation when it decided to provide the American government with copies of its illegally seized records. In light of that one can say that the letters of clearance IMF received from one or two Iraqi high-ranking officials carry no weight because they went against the above mentioned Iraqi legislation.
7. The IMF has not been authorized by the Iraqi government to ask the Pentagon and the CIA to transfer tens of millions of Iraqi documents they both seized to it. The IMF’s action goes clearly against current Iraqi legislations. We all know that IMF has no storage rooms inside or outside Iraq. This means that the IMF will keep tens of millions of Iraqi documents in America by making deals similar to the one it made with Hoover. Thus, the Iraqis, including the scholars and the victims of the former regime will be given no access to their own documents, while the Americans (the occupiers) will continue to enjoy such a privilege. .
8. Makiya’s claim that his deal with Hoover is legal because he got the approval of the Iraqi government contradicts his refusal to return the documents to Iraq because he says that he does not trust the intention of my ‘bosses’ as he puts it. Are not my bosses the same people from whom Makiya has claimed to have obtained approval for the shipment of the records to the US and for the deal he made with Hoover? This is pure hypocrisy.
9. The INLA has never claimed that it should alone decide the fate of the seized documents. On the contrary, its director has demanded from the very beginning the establishment of National Archival Committee to include members from the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judiciary). The Committee will be entrusted with the task of making new legislation for all the records of the former regime including the Ba’ath party.
10. The INLA and other governmental agencies have been gathering information on the activities of the IMF since April 2003. Rest assured that this Foundation has violated Iraqi laws and regulations all the way. It violated the principle of the rule of law and the priority of state-based institutions.
11. I would also like to remind you that the IMF came into being within the framework of the American occupation of Iraq, and thus was an integral part of a grand imperial vision for the New Iraq. This explains why IMF has not been accountable politically, administratively, legally, financially or morally to any Iraqi authority since its formation.
12. The IMF’s purchases of illegally seized documents from individuals and private organizations has considerably encouraged the black-market phenomenon, and discouraged local Iraqis from handing over seized documents to the proper authorities.
13. The Ba’ath documents are the property of the Iraqis and the institutions that represent them, and so it is arrogant and unethical for one person (an émigré) to decide the destiny of millions of sensitive official documents that have had and will continue to have considerable impact on the private lives of millions of Iraqi citizens. It is not in the interests of Iraqi victims and academic investigation for the IMF to have been using the documents for propaganda, self-aggrandizement and obtaining funding. The Iraqis desperately want to know and confront the realities of their recent past. They need to recognize the suffering of the victims and to identify those who committed crimes, before bringing them to justice. The Iraqis are well aware that any national reconciliation project cannot be successfully implemented without making the seized documents available for both scholars and the public mediated by a responsible agency representative of them..
Last but not least, it should be noted that the Iraqi public, Iraqi intellectuals, and Iraqi media all support the INLA’s cause. We also rely on the support of our colleagues abroad, especially in Northern America.
Dr. Saad Eskander,
Iraq National Library & Archives
Though it might be unclear who “technically owns the documents” I am pretty sure it’s not us and I am also uncertain how we can bring freedom and democracy to a place by robbing it of its history.
Thanks to Library Juice for Eskander’s open letter