Posts Tagged Iraq
University of Colorado professor, Bruce P. Montgomery shares with AW a revealing journal publication he has authored. It is an excellent study on the question of territorial provenance, ownership, and custody. In it Montgomery looks in depth at the unique dynamics between the Iraq Memory Foundation (IMF), the US military, and the long-held contentious cultural property of Iraq in the hands of private US institutions. Cultural property in the form of the former Iraqi government’s archives, the Baath Party Archive, normally fall into a category of state records that should be opened to citizens “‘in service of transitional justice, national reconciliation, and democratization'” as seen with the former Stasi regime archive, the Tuol Sleng Archives, inter alia.
Montgomery purports that through the extenuating circumstances of wartime Iraq in 2003 (as the emergence of civilian defense contractors under the US military like the IMF) and through a lack of legal frameworks, the IMF was able to evade direct contraventions to existing international laws and conventions that define cultural property theft or pillaging when the group transferred records out of Iraq. Montgomery reveals that the legal status of contractors can be considered ambiguous at best because they ostensibly operated outside legal mechanisms. He presents arguments that the IMF, in the backdrop of this largely chaotic and tumultuous period for Iraqi citizens and the Hussein government, was able to leverage the situation to their advantage, circumventing legal protocols to transfer the Iraqi documents. Consequently, the archives are not accessible to the citizens who could benefit from its use. Thus, the circumstances surrounding the current fate of the archives has also been a barrier to legitimizing straightforward accusations of wartime pillaging of records.
Montgomery also traces the actions of various cultural and national institutions, non-government groups, and key officials in securing the country’s archives and the laws ensuring its possession. He also outlines relevant international laws and conventions alongside the case – the Hague, Geneva, and UN conventions…
In an article released today in the online journal, Jurist, Douglas Cox of the City University of New York School of Law and of the blog, Documentation Exploitation, laments the still missing historical records of Kuwait. Cox brings attention to the issue as the last of US troops have left Iraq. The Kuwaiti archives disappeared during the time of the 1990 invasion by Iraq and efforts to locate and repatriate the archives began in 2003 with a UN Security Council resolution.
Records relating to the whereabouts and final fate of the Kuwaiti archives are believed to lay in certain caches of Iraqi files and documents in US custody. Last November it was reported that the Iraqi government was prepared to hand over some of the archives that it had looted back to Kuwaiti officials. However, it seems that this does not include those in US custody. Cox has reason to believe that Iraqi documents seized by the US during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom potentially hold clues. In his article, Cox implores the US government and the UN Security Council to assist the Iraqi government in restoring Kuwait with its historical memory…
The Hoover Institution’s collection on the Baath Party, which arrived at Stanford in 2008, includes nearly 11 million digitized pages and 108 video files. Hoover holdings on Iraq comprise 15 collections, of which the Baath Party collection is the largest. Standford University News claims that “it may be the largest publicly accessible archive of documents collected from an authoritarian regime.”
The documents at Standford have given researchers and historians an unprecedented view of the inside workings of an authoritarian regime – and how the Baath Party became a bloated bureaucracy, fed by an unending atmosphere of war. Scholars and journalists alike have used the documents in divergent and ways to shed some insights on the former regime…
Contrast this reading with a 2008 New York Times article that highlights the political importance of controlling former regime archives. In the New York Times piece, some Iraqi officials and members of the Society of American Archivists along with the Association of Canadian Archivists, deplored the ostensible rescue of these millions of Iraqi papers.
In October, AW featured the article “Returning Evidence to the Scene of the Crime: Why the Anfal Files Should be Repatriated to Iraqi Kurdistan” by Bruce Montgomery and published in Archivaria. I had previously remarked that the article was not yet made available for free on the Archivaria site. Last week, Mr. Montgomery kindly provided AW with the link to his article. The link is now available below.
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Only yesterday did I notice the WITNESS Blog post, Archives for Change. Archivists Watch (AW) was conceived just before this particular WITNESS post was placed online at the end of September. And like the post, AW is partly dedicated to defining the work of a breed of archivists Grace Lile terms the “activist archivist” in her article.
I was glad to see an authority like Lile dare to use the term even if only half in jest. I certainly am in no position to chance such liberties, although the thought did cross my mind two months ago at AW’s inception. I should also credit the main proponent of this idea, renowned archivist Verne Harris, who I had the pleasure of seeing once at an informal talk given at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. That being said, I regret not having cross-posted on October’s WITNESS dialogue as Ms. Lile was kind enough to extend an invitation for me to guest blog on the site. I’d like to draw attention to Archives for Change, here and now.
To begin with, in the Iraq WikiLeaks article I posted from The New Yorker earlier in the week, I painted what is probably the popular view of the traditional archivist – a caricature of passivity and at the same time guardedness. A picture of just another civil servant following established protocol without question, an archivist whose loyalty lays first to the state or institution for which s/he works, and second to the citizens. There was a time when that fundamental archival principle of neutrality was supplanted and subsumed by this notion of the passive archivist. Now, many archivists looking to enact change by providing a means of redress by which to confront injustices have taken issue with previous notions of neutrality. This is not a new debate. And any archivist and records manager (professionals of the same pedigree, albeit working from opposite ends of the records continuum/life cycle spectrum) is no stranger to the debate of the evolving role of the archivist. In general terms, this debate lies between the passive or “neutral” Jenkinsonian archivist, and the emerging breed of active, or as Lile puts it, activist archivist.
The concept of the activist archivist thrives in the age of born digital documents where the gap between the creation of a record, its use, its final disposition begin to close, overlap, and blur. The prevalence of information production and use have forced those in the profession to reevaluate standards and practices and this has its obvious implications on social justice and public interest. Lile references Howard Zinn’s 1970 address to the Society of American Archivists in her remarks. I’m glad she does so, because his thoughts on modern archives and the duty of archivists parallel the principles and ideals behind AW.
Generally, under the absence of sinister forces, the secrecy of a state is grounded in a concern for the security of its citizens. Information professionals like traditional government archivists, romanticize themselves as gatekeepers to stores of information, and by nature they feel possessive of the records in their custody. So what are traditional, and modern archivists, for that matter, to make of the radical transparency behind the actions of WikiLeaks? The framework in which this organization operates poses serious ethical questions to the profession and its role in the processes of transitional justice, reconstruction, and stabilization that occur well after the fact.
The profession of journalism similarly comes under assault by WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. The New Yorker provides insight in a critical portrait of the WikiLeaks founder vis-a-vis the journalistic integrity of the most recent leak.