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April 16, 2003

And this is evidence of …?
Posted by Teresa at 07:00 PM *

Those who can bear to read the news will already know that The libraries of Baghdad have been burned. Below is Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, 15 April 2003, testifying to the loss, and to the holiness of the written word:

So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National Library and Archives ad a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents, including the old royal archives of Iraq ad were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment was set ablaze.

I saw the looters. One of them cursed me when I tried to reclaim a book of Islamic law from a boy of no more than 10. Amid the ashes of Iraqi history, I found a file blowing in the wind outside: pages of handwritten letters between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who started the Arab revolt against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia, and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad.

And the Americans did nothing. All over the filthy yard they blew, letters of recommendation to the courts of Arabia, demands for ammunition for troops, reports on the theft of camels and attacks on pilgrims, all in delicate hand-written Arabic script. I was holding in my hands the last Baghdad vestiges of Iraq’s written history. But for Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?

When I caught sight of the Koranic library burning ad flames 100 feet high were bursting from the windows ad I raced to the offices of the occupying power, the US Marines’ Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a colleague that “this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire”. I gave the map location, the precise name ad in Arabic and English. I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn’t an American at the scene and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air.

There was a time when the Arabs said that their books were written in Cairo, printed in Beirut and read in Baghdad. Now they burn libraries in Baghdad. In the National Archives were not just the Ottoman records of the Caliphate, but even the dark years of the country’s modern history, handwritten accounts of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with personal photographs and military diaries,and microfiche copies of Arabic newspapers going back to the early 1900s.

But the older files and archives were on the upper floors of the library where petrol must have been used to set fire so expertly to the building. The heat was such that the marble flooring had buckled upwards and the concrete stairs that I climbed had been cracked.

The papers on the floor were almost too hot to touch, bore no print or writing, and crumbled into ash the moment I picked them up. Again, standing in this shroud of blue smoke and embers, I asked the same question: why?

So, as an all-too-painful reflection on what this means, let me quote from the shreds of paper that I found on the road outside, blowing in the wind, written by long-dead men who wrote to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul or to the Court of Sharif of Mecca with expressions of loyalty and who signed themselves “your slave”. There was a request to protect a camel convoy of tea, rice and sugar, signed by Husni Attiya al-Hijazi (recommending Abdul Ghani-Naim and Ahmed Kindi as honest merchants), a request for perfume and advice from Jaber al-Ayashi of the royal court of Sharif Hussein to Baghdad to warn of robbers in the desert. “This is just to give you our advice for which you will be highly rewarded,” Ayashi says. “If you don’t take our advice, then we have warned you.” A touch of Saddam there, I thought. The date was 1912.

Some of the documents list the cost of bullets, military horses and artillery for Ottoman armies in Baghdad and Arabia, others record the opening of the first telephone exchange in the Hejaz ad soon to be Saudi Arabia ad while one recounts, from the village of Azrak in modern-day Jordan, the theft of clothes from a camel train by Ali bin Kassem, who attacked his interrogators “with a knife and tried to stab them but was restrained and later bought off”. There is a 19th-century letter of recommendation for a merchant, Yahyia Messoudi, “a man of the highest morals, of good conduct and who works with the [Ottoman] government.” This, in other words, was the tapestry of Arab history,ad all that is left of it, which fell into The Independent’s hands as the mass of documents crackled in the immense heat of the ruins.

King Faisal of the Hejaz, the ruler of Mecca, whose staff are the authors of many of the letters I saved, was later deposed by the Saudis. His son Faisel became king of Iraq ad Winston Churchill gave him Baghdad after the French threw him out of Damascus ad and his brother Abdullah became the first king of Jordan, the father of King Hussein and the grandfather of the present-day Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II.

For almost a thousand years, Baghdad was the cultural capital of the Arab world, the most literate population in the Middle East. Genghis Khan’s grandson burnt the city in the 13th century and, so it was said, the Tigris river ran black with the ink of books. Yesterday, the black ashes of thousands of ancient documents filled the skies of Iraq. Why?
Good question. Right now we’ve got a lot of our guys combing the country, still looking for those weapons of mass destruction. They’re not turning up. I figure they’re not going to turn up, because Rumsfeld is now suggesting that the WMDs were all spirited over the border into Syria.

And why shouldn’t he? With so many records destroyed, in the library and elsewhere, we can claim anything about Saddam’s regime; and who can prove us wrong? If we really wanted to know about weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn’t have blown Chemical Ali’s house to smithereenies. That’s where those records were kept. Or if we did happen to blow it to smithereenies, we would have gone in and secured the site and whatever remained. It wouldn’t have been difficult; a reporter for the Daily Telegraph walked into the house while it was still being looted by local peasants and little kids. But we didn’t do that either. Nor did we secure the government offices and the homes of other high officials to see whether their paperwork held any clues. Darned if the looters didn’t destroy all that data too.

And now Rumsfeld is saying the WMDs have gone over the border into Syria. This might have more credibility if he and his cronies hadn’t already let slip that Syria’s next in line for a regime change anyway.

I’ll end here with a bit of the log file from a conversation I had in chat with a very knowledgeable friend:
Friend: The following is from Bush’s recent State of the Union speech: “Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He’s not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them. “ TNH: Oh, what [very bad word]!
Friend: Still quoting: “U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them, despite Iraq’s recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.”
Friend: Okay. Now there are no files or paperwork left showing what was or wasn’t around.
Friend: (This is now me talking.)
TNH: I can tell.
Friend: But … 29,984.
Friend: Where are they?
TNH: That’s a big stack, and a precise count.
Friend: Sixteen of ‘em showed up in an old bunker, covered with bird poop, crates unopened since the late ’80s.
TNH: Obvious inventory error.
Friend: That leaves, let’s see, 29,968?
Friend: One turned up this morning, and the preliminary test showed positive for chemicals. The secondary test popped negative.
Friend: That’s 29,967 left. Where are they?
Friend: Those aren’t hidden under the bed in Saddam’s Love Shack. Where are they?
Friend: 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX is a big whacking pile. And you can’t just leave it lying around. The dead birds would give it away.
Friend: So, where is it?
Friend: (As to how we know exactly how much he’s got, that’s easy. We saved the receipts.)
Friend: Rumsfeld, today, is putting out that it’s all been moved to Syria.
Friend: I’m sure you want to know what Iraq was claiming as far as where all this stuff went, back before the war started. You do know, don’t you?
TNH: Yes?
Friend: As you recall, Iraq was required to destroy all the stuff within 15 days at the end of Gulf War I.
Friend: Iraq has been claiming, right along, that they did in fact destroy it, right on time.
TNH: And you know, they might just be telling the truth.
Friend: But that the records of having destroyed it were kept at good ol’ “Chemical Ali’s” headquarters, in Basra, and were burned by mobs during rioting in that city when they broke into government offices and destroyed files.
TNH: [Very bad words.]
I want to put up ads all over America showing Rumsfeld’s and Bush’s grinning faces. Underneath them, it would say:
“Hi! I’m Donald Rumsfeld!” “And I’m George Bush!”
“We hold you in complete contempt! We think you’ll believe anything!
Comments on And this is evidence of ...?:
#1 ::: David Frazer ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 07:40 PM:

Not forgetting all the interrogators and torturers who'll escape justice because all the records relating to their particular line of work have been lost. And the relatives of people who were arrested or disappeared and now have no hope of finding out what happened to them.

But then who cares about the details? The President said that Saddam was Evil and that should be good enough for anyone, don't you agree?

#2 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 08:02 PM:

"that should be good enough for anyone, don't you agree?"

It seems good enough for a lot of people. You know:

"Who cares about [a bunch of rocks | some old books] when we've given an entire their freedom!"

I figure they have a little video loop playing in their heads. Saddam's statue going down, soldier handing gum to smiling kids, Iraqi man presenting flowers to a soldier. Repeat.

I hope that these are the some of the people who can be fooled all of the time.

I hope, come November 2004, that they are as complacent as they are unquestioning, and *stay home.*

#3 ::: S. M. Breen ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 08:54 PM:

I'm not going to tinfoil.

I'm not going to tinfoil.

...The hell with it, I'm going to tinfoil.

Conspiracy Theory: The destruction of the Iraqi archival/cultural apparatus, while predicted beforehand by just about everybody in the United States government, was allowed to happen. Not because of the inability of the Rumsfeld Doctrine to cope with the post-conflict situation (see McNamara, Robert for similar problems) but was a deliberate act intended to wipe clean the records and provide a blank slate for the next Bush/Rumsfeld dog-and-pony show.

Can't find Saddam's WMD? "They're in Syria!"

And the connections between bin Laden and Hussein? "Perfectly evident!"

What about Iraqi records of these nefarious deeds? "Oh sorry, all those smoking guns went into the fire. Gosh darn those looting wogs, eh? Guess you'll just have to trust us."

Of course, this conspiracy theory has a few gaps in the logic (Like, say, wouldn't it be better to take the archives intact for use as props, at least?) but it's not totally inconsistent with how the Bush misadministration works.

Do I believe this? Not really. It wouldn't shock me if it was true, though, which might be one of the sadder aspects of this whole thing.

#4 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:36 PM:

"And this is evidence of..."

looks to me like cultural genocide. Between this and the Swedish account which someone else quoted in the commentary on Loss, I feel ill.

#5 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:42 PM:

These bastards are allowing the destruction of man's earliest cities, earliest writings, earliest knowledge. They are allowing the destruction of those things which made us human, and which made us civilized humans. Because they don't think it's important, and/or because it serves their aims. (FWIW, Jordin doesn't think they're really bright and competent enought to really plan that.)

I would like to grab Donald Rumsfeld, slam him up against a wall and use his hair to pound his head against the wall shrieking, "This is what lack of civilization looks like you moron."

#6 ::: twi ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:24 PM:

I regularly read your journal and must say it really makes my day. Of all the things that make me mad, it at least lessens the blow to read about it from someone I agree with, who can write it better than I could. This entry brought tears to my eyes. All that history, all that writing, all that culture.
There is so much chaos now, so much destruction.
So many lies that I wonder 'how can anyone believe this crap!' But so many people do ._. Oh well, at least we still have people like you in the world. Thank you for your writing.

#8 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 11:21 PM:

To them, we're all just fags.

#9 ::: Juliet ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:08 AM:

My heart is breaking. I don't really have much else to say; it's unbearable. All those voices, silenced.

#10 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 02:29 AM:

I don't see how this will possibly be forgiven by anyone loyal to any part of Islamic or Ottoman history. I'm trying to imagine the effect on me of having the Library of Congress destroyed, or the British Museum and Library.

Personally, I think the Shrub backs the whole thing because he wants to hide some petty dealing during his father's administration, which, however slimy, the country would probably have absorbed as easily as it has Iran/contra or the Chilean coup. And these documents are just documents, they might have been an embarassment.

#11 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 02:33 AM:


I've really wanted to support this war, because I believe there are good reasons to get rid of Saddam, and I feel that way too much of the anti-war sentiment I see around me concentrates on personal dislike of the major players and the assumption that anyone who isn't absolutely outraged by the war isn't paying attention or stands to gain something by it. (An assumption no better or worse than the assumption that anyone who disagrees with the war and is vocal about it is anti-american)
And yet at every turn Bush and Co. give me more reasons to think that they are in this war for all the wrong reasons. Whether it's overruling generals and trying to run a skeleton crew, or handing out contracts to companies affiliated with the administration without accepting competing bids, or bombing first and asking questions later when it comes to supporting the very assertions that you used as a pretext for starting the war, everything seems to scream, not just incompetence, but blatant greed and calculated sacrifice of other people's lives for the benefit of their own pocketbooks and the Republican party, with the American people and the people of the world as far distant third and fourth priorities.
I'd like to think that Bush and co. are just plain incompetent. I'd like to think that Rumsfeld is just spouting off when he talks about Syria. I'd like to think that Cheney let a Haliburton subsidiary win a $7 Billion contract without competing bids because he wanted to work with people he knew and just didn't think of the ramifications. I'd like to think that Ashcroft is just a paranoid old man who doesn't realize how much his Patriot II bill looks like 1984 all over again, and I'd like to think that the Republican party believes in it's own small government platform enough to actually keep the government from being able to interfere in individual's lives. But incompetence tends to be somewhat random, and I keep getting this feeling that with Bush and co. we're beginning to see a pattern. And it's thoughts like that that make me want to go and check how the weather is in Vancouver this time of year.

#12 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 03:27 AM:

clew: oh. god. right. recruiting tool. yes, let's show them how much we value arabic culture. that will shut those al quaeda recruiters right up what with all the happy freedom marches that will spontaneously break out in bagdad instead.

#13 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 03:35 AM:

On-content, but not on-topic: the final Rumsfeld/Bush [blockquote] isn't closed, causing the rest of the page to all be indented and preventing the sidebar from being displayed properly.

#14 ::: marna ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 04:29 AM:

an entire people their freedom!">>

THEY do, goddammit! It was theirs. Their history. Their freedom. That the rest of the world also benefited vastly from it was wonderful, it's entirely true. But it was theirs.

And I'll believe that they've been given their freedom when I see it in their hands, once and for all. When I have SOME evidence that regime change doesn't mean 'new improved happy shiny pro-US evil dictator'. As of this moment, almost everything the Iraqi people have paid/lost for their freedom has been a forced down-payment on the never-never.

I am planning a wake for the museums and libraries, since I am in a Religion and Classics department and therefore know a lot of people who have studied in -- even contributed to --those museusm and libraries, and would probably like a place and time to formally mourn.

If people here are interested, I'll post a description of what we're doing, and other places can do it too.

(I should make it clear that I know the OP was not posting this to agree with it. I needed something to yell at, though.)

#15 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 05:39 AM:

Not forgetting all the interrogators and torturers who'll escape justice because all the records relating to their particular line of work have been lost....

...who can now work safely for the US regime without worrying about anyone bringing up their past work for Saddam Hussein.

#16 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 05:42 AM:

How do I link to a specific section of your blog, Teresa? I can't figure out how to pick up the tag for the latest section.

#17 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:16 AM:

Upon hearing about the looters and the arson, the first time someone tsk'd to me I said "If Kansas City had no police -- none at all -- for 5 days, would *you* want to be here?"

You know what a nice place we seem to be -- but not a single person has thought that being here with no police would be either peaceful or safe. Bingo.


#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:36 AM:

Yonmei, click on the timestamp under the title of the post, just to the left of where it says "comments". That links to the archived version of that post, which has its own URL.

#19 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 08:18 AM:

Teresa: yes, that Fisk piece was wonderful. "There was a time when the Arabs said that their books were written in Cairo, printed in Beirut and read in Baghdad. Now they burn libraries in Baghdad." Your own extended thoughts were equally eloquent.

To the extent they notice historically minded people's pesky despair and outrage, the administration and its supporters offer a response that reeks of their patented moral clarity: "We had to let civilization be destroyed in order to save it."

Let's find new labels for the idealogues who have dreamed this ruination for the last decade. A "conservative" is someone who values and preserves the best of the past. "Neocon" is undeserved flattery. Rumsfeld, Cheyney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Bolton, Woolsey, Kagan, Kristol, et al. are neobarbs.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 08:51 AM:

I am a conservative. I'm a conservative who happens to hold some liberal views, is all. (I also occupy the exact center of the political spectrum, but that's a different issue.) These guys are not conservatives.

I can't say I like, but I do find clarifying, Graydon's characterization of them as the people who are working to bring back the class system.

The Fisk piece is wonderful. I quoted too much of it because, given the subject matter, I couldn't bear to cut any words out of it. Fisk reacted exactly the way I would, reciting everything he could remember about the documents he saw.

#21 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:46 AM:

Good news: Having taken flack here and elsewhere for securing oil supplies while allowing museums and libraries to be looted and burned, the military has found a news strategy to prevent such bad PR in the future:

Looters Halt Flow of Oil From Kirkuk:
Managers Blame U.S. For Not Stopping Kurds

Not the solution I would've gone for, but Rumsfeld is big on "thinking outside the box," so I'm sure promotions will be forthcoming for all those involved.

#22 ::: S. M. Breen ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:06 PM:

Not the solution I would've gone for, but Rumsfeld is big on "thinking outside the box," so I'm sure promotions will be forthcoming for all those involved.

Oh nonono, Chad, you don't see the Big Spin here. You see, those people hitting the Kirkuk fields aren't looters, they're really terrorists! Evil B'aathists and al-Quaeda sympathizers trying to besmirch the name of the innocent Iraqi people and *sniff* Our God-Blessed American Military Forces.

(Intercut with: The flag waving, eagles soaring, cute multicultural kids reciting the Pledge, you know the drill by now.)

Obviously these heinous attacks are all the proof we need that the Hussein regime was a hotbed of terrorist activity, and now we need to drive as fast as we can into Syria in order to catch these horrible horrible people before they can do more damage...

I'm going to stop this before I get even more bitter and cynical. Ten to one that this will start popping up in the parrot cages before the end of the week, if it's not there already.

#23 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:13 PM:


The "soldiers giving gum to children" thing is important for the long term relations with a country.

True story: My mom grew up in Germany during WW2. She was seven at the time. Lost her father, and after the war, they didn't have much food. The US army invited the local German kids to a Christmas dinner, posed them with roast turkey, Santa and presents, then after the pictures were taken, took the turkey and presents in the next room and gave them to the soldiers, then sat the kids down and gave them bread and powdered milk. Which they ate, because they were starving.

However, my mother also told me that there was this one black soldier (they'd never seen a black guy before) who used to go to fence of the army base and slip them gum and chocolate bars. No one was there for photographs.

Moral? The US army and it's PR flacks are evil lying asswipes. Anyone who shows a roast turkey to starving children then runs off with it deserves a certain circle of Hell. On the other hand, individual Americans, soldiers included, can be good and kind.

Winning over the Iraqis is going to be a matter of ordinary, everyday kindness, not staged PR events. The novelty of beating Saddam's head with slippers will wear off very soon. After that you need food, medicine, houses and libraries.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:26 PM:

Amazing. I wonder that the soldiers could bring themselves to eat it. Did none of them have children of their own, or little brothers and sisters?

You're right. Human kindness is an interaction, not a policy.

#25 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 03:19 PM:

Btw, the National Coalition For History's Washington Update is providing a summary of what's currently known about the Iraqi antiquities situation as well as of the actions being taken by the library, museum, and archival communities.

(Click National Coalition of History if the first link is iffy.)

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 04:30 PM:

'The "soldiers giving gum to children" thing is important for the long term relations with a country.'

Oh, I never doubted that. I'm a sucker for stories about that kind of thing . . . but I know there's more going on that that.

My issue is with the PR flacks, and the dittoheads who believe them.

The DOD is *incredibly* media savvy, which isn't surprising given that in most ways it is by far the most competent military organization ever.

Oh . . . my message #2 on this thread was posted before reading Teresa's kick-ass essay below ("Reading comprehension . . .") which says the same thing only more comprehensively and eloquently.

It belongs on an op-ed page. Seriously.

#27 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 05:31 PM:

We have a librarian in the White House, Laura Bush is a librarian. The libraries of Iraq have been torched, and the Museum of Antiquities looted and vandalized. What does the First Librarian have to say about this?

Nothing, apparently.

She's an embarrassment to our profession.

#28 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:45 PM:

For all we know, Laura Bush could be livid about this bit of arson.

But as with her view of abortion (which she shares with her mother-in-law), she's keeping her feelings to herself.

Conservatives HATED Hillary Clinton not just for her specific views, but for the fact that she dared to do more than visit orphanages. I suspect this is rooted in the articles of faith of a certain influential protestant sect:

#29 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 07:43 PM:

The Nando Times wants me to register so that they can advertise to me more effectively. No, thank you.

If Laura Bush is livid over this, but is keeping her mouth shut because that's what's required to be a meek Christian helpmeet and properly respectful to the hubby, and is also unable to make her views felt more discreetly in ways that have any effect on this administration's behavior, that doesn't raise my opinion of her. There was time, after the looting of the museum, to get the message across that, even if the destruction was not intended, it was still a disaster that at least should not be minimized and certainly not sniggered at. There was time to get the message across that the libraries really did need to be protected.

Even the meekest of wives might accidentally express some heartfelt emotion in public over a tragedy so directly relevant to her profession. If never causing the hubby even a single moment of embarrassment or discomfort is more important than the core values of her profession, maybe the core values of that profession aren't all that important to her.

And if meekness is so important for these guys' wives, what about Lynn Cheney?

#30 ::: David Foster ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 08:54 PM:

It's terrible that this happened. Clearly, much better planning should have been done for establishing security after the regime was deposed.

But it makes no sense to claim that this was something Bush or Rumsfield or anyone *wanted* to happen, for some set of dark reasons. Why would secret, compromising documents be stored in a *library*, of all places? (Unless we are talking about a vast conspiracy whose origins went back to the 14th century or earlier..)

It's easy to say that this could have all been prevented if Rumsfield had listened to those who wanted more troops. But the need to transport and deploy additional troops would have taken time..more time for Saddam to improve defenses,and seriously adverse weather conditions. Thousands of additional Americans and Iraqis might well have died, in addition to the daily toll from Saddam's prisons and torture cells.

#31 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 09:03 PM:

Lis Carey wrote:

If never causing the hubby even a single moment of embarrassment or discomfort is more important than the core values of her profession, maybe the core values of that profession aren't all that important to her.

I am no fan of the woman, but could be that avoiding a knockdown, dragout fight with a sociopath guarded by the SS has some effect on her. Hubby ain't known for his tolerance of dissenting views.

#32 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 09:17 PM:


Oh please. For exactly zero extra dollars and no extra lives, Rumsfeld could have chosen to guard the National Museum instead of the Oil Ministry.

If the Oil Ministry had burned instead of the museum or the library, so what? It's not like you need the paperwork to be able to turn on the pumps.

Rumsfeld set his priorities. The Museum and the Library were listed as "Expendable." The Oil Ministry was on the list titled "Prize Booty We Want" or something similar.

Trying to hide that fact under hypothetical dead soldiers and civilians is flim-flam and you know it.

#33 ::: David Foster ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 09:32 PM: you really think Rumsfeld personally sits down and sets the priority of sites to guard? There are thousands of demands on his time every day, most of them involving matters of life and death. The same is true of all the senior officers involved in the operation. War is chaos.
Bad things happen. Do you also think the "friendly fire" incidents where American and British troops were killed were due to Rumsfeld wanting them to happen?

You are probably right that it wouldn't have mattered at all if the Oil Ministry had burned down. So why do you think Rumsfeld wickedly chose to guard it in place of something more important? Wouldn't Occam's Razor suggest that this was all a matter of fog of war, rather than malice?

#34 ::: Demosthenes ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:01 PM:

Actually, David, considering how carefully Rumsfeld has involved himself in the planning of the war, you cannot assume that he didn't know anything about priority-setting when it came to the antiquities... and he had to have known, because he had people telling him. Even if he didn't actively choose this, he has demonstrated both the desire to get involved in minutae and the impetus to do so. The only excuse he has left is that he didn't have the resources, but since resource allocation was his decision too, this remains his fault.

#35 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:30 PM:


Are you honestly suggesting of the ten odd ministries, the museum, the library and the umpteen palaces, it was a crap-shoot which building of the many that were worth guarding the soldiers and tanks ended up in?

Everyone knew going in that Rummy wanted the oil, and having access to those records makes it easier to doctor them, and to find out embarrassing things to annoy the French with. If you say it's a crap-shoot, I'll charge that Rummy was using loaded dice.

It is what it looks like--a matter of priorities. Books and antiquities were not high on the priorities list. Higher than Saddam's gaudy furniture, since they didn't bomb either location, but not as high as the big fat gushy plum, Iraq's oil. Which unlike the antiquities, we can ship out of the country by the boatload.

The only possible profit for the US in the antiquities is getting some share of the tourism down the road...or having channels set up to smuggle things and sell them ourselves.

Impossible? Yes, international antiquities theft and resale is illegal, but so is drug trafficking. And remember the Iran-Contra affair?

#36 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:36 PM:

But the older files and archives were on the upper floors of the library where petrol must have been used to set fire so expertly to the building.

Petrol? No. Come on. Old paper, low humidity, you have a fire. At big one. One where even fire-resistant things explode into flame, in a startlingly short time.

By the time flames are going a hundred feet in the air and the column of smoke can be seen three miles away, it's over. There isn't any way to save the contents of that building.

I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn92t an American at the scene and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air.

What would the Marines do on that scene, even if they were next door? Nothing. There was nothing they were equipped to do, nothing they were trained to do.

War is terrible in many ways. For this reason war is the last resort, only to be engaged for the very best of reasons.

#37 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:45 PM:

Interesting reading:

Bush Advisor Resigns

Not sure if there will be any more dissent in the ranks over this one, though I don't think that this guy can necessarily be viewed in the same light as a Powell or a Rumsfeld.

I firmly believe that some non-trivial percentage of the antiquities "looting" was actually an inside job and should be more properly termed "grand larceny", and that if US soldiers did stop the crowds at the museums, that there is some percentage of the people whose complaints would be that we were protecting museums instead of doing something else.

I'd like to believe that these events were just a case of not being able to do everything, and that things like the Baghdad Zoo are more in line with the way things really are, but Rumsfeld and Bush just aren't inspiring in me the confidence that this is the case.

And now, PATRIOT Act tomfoolery, headed up by Orrin Hatch.

"I've resigned myself to seeing everything I consider meritorious slowly
destroyed by the forces of corruption, greed and stupidity, but it's really
adding insult to injury that they can't even maintain a facade of competence."

#38 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:49 PM:

This came by way of a private mailing list, from, apparently, a poetry list sponsored by Rice University:

'Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine'

Learn by heart this poem of mine;
books only last a little time
and this one will be borrowed, scarred,
burned by Hungarian border guards,
lost by the library, broken-backed,
its paper dried up, crisped and cracked,
worm-eaten, crumbling into dust,
or slowly brown and self-combust
when climbing Fahrenheit has got
to 451, for that's how hot
your town will be when it burns down.
Learn by heart this poem of mine.

Learn by heart this poem of mine.
Soon books will vanish and you'll find
there won't be any poets or verse
or gas for car or bus - or hearse -
no beer to cheer you till you're crocked,
the liquor stores torn down or locked,
cash only fit to throw away,
as you come closer to that day
when TV steadily transmits
death-rays instead of movie hits
and not a soul to lend a hand
and everything is at an end
but what you hold within your mind,
so find a space there for these lines
and learn by heart this poem of mine.

Learn by heart this poem of mine;
recite it when the putrid tides
that stink of lye break from their beds,
when industry's rank vomit spreads
and covers every patch of ground,
when they've killed every lake and pond,
Destruction humped upon its crutch,
black rotting leaves on every branch;
when gargling plague chokes Springtime's throat
and twilight's breeze is poison, put
your rubber gasmask on and line
by line declaim this poem of mine.

Learn by heart this poem of mine
so, dead, I still will share the time
when you cannot endure a house
deprived of water, light, or gas,
and, stumbling out to find a cave,
roots, berries, nuts to stay alive,
get you a cudgel, find a well,
a bit of land, and, if it's held,
kill the owner, eat the corpse.
I'll trudge beside your faltering steps
between the ruins' broken stones,
whispering "You are dead; you're done!
Where would you go? That soul you own
froze solid when you left your town."
Learn by heart this poem of mine.

Maybe above you, on the earth,
there's nothing left and you, beneath,
deep in your bunker, ask how soon
before the poisoned air leaks down
through layers of lead and concrete. Can
there have been any point to Man
if this is how the thing must end?
What words of comfort can I send?
Shall I admit you've filled my mind
for countless years, through the blind
oppressive dark, the bitter light,
and, though long dead and gone, my hurt
and ancient eyes observe you still?
What else is there for me to tell
to you, who, facing time's design,
will find no use for life or time?
You must forget this poem of mine.

-- George Faludy

Note: from 'Poems of George Faludy', edited and translated by Robin Skelton

#39 ::: Cjhrl ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 11:35 PM:

Y cn't blm Bsh fr ll f ths bcs Dmcrtc Prt sn't syng wrd r dng nthng?

Th crkts r sngng n cngrss. Nthng frm Dschl, nthng frm Hllr, lthgh hr hsbnd spk th thr dy bt Bll Clntn tld NBC tht Bsh ddn't nd N pprvl t g t wr wth rq jst dys fr Bsh ttckd th rq.

ll f cngrss s s crrpt tht th dn't cr bt mrcn ctzns n mr nd crtnl dn't cr bt rqs, th nl cr thmslvs.

#40 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 07:09 AM:

According to the NY Times, the U.S. Army in World War II had a specific unit devoted to preserving art, antiquities, and archives in Europe. So the mechanisms to take care of Iraqi artifacts could be easily researched.
If the administration had come out and admitted that they'd blundered, I might possibly think that this wasn't a deliberate act of...well, call it terrorism for lack of a better word.
A nice piece of writing, Teresa.

#41 ::: Jay C. Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 10:00 AM:

I like your idea of a poster, but if we are being honest, won't the poster have to say "We hold you in contempt. We think you will believe anything, AND, based on current events, WE ARE RIGHT!"

#42 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 10:07 AM:

"Y cn't blm Bsh fr ll f ths bcs Dmcrtc Prt sn't syng wrd r dng nthng?"

I don't know why this was disemvolwed, but it's the truth. The Democrats in congress -- the supposed opposition, have been basically silent. Many of them voted to approve this military action, to approve Bush's tax cuts, and have done so again.

This guy's correct: The opposition party is silent. Silence is consent. And one of those consenters is the leading Dem candidate for 2004.

Suddenly, I grok the Green voters.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 12:01 PM:

Oh, come on, Erik. I can't blame Bush because the Democrats in Congress aren't doing enough to stop him?

Not that I don't blame them for that. I do. But it doesn't diminish Bush & Rumsfeld's responsibility, or culpability, by 0.01% of a micro-iota

#44 ::: felix ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 12:13 PM:

I agree that the wholesale destruction of anyone's patrimony is evil. But blaming this on the Americans is a bit much.

How about asking some tough questions first. Like:
- how do we know that the most valuable stuff was not spirited away prior to the fall of Baghdad?
- Didn't I read somewhere that the museum and library custodians had been stashing the important staff away in 'safe places' (whatever that means) in anticipation of the bombing of Iraq a couple of months ago?
- I was under the impression that burning Korans in a muslim country was punishable by death? - Fisk saw this, but no imam or other holy joe noticed? It simply doesn't ring true.

Watch this stuff turn up in Paris and London in a year or two.

I was 100% against the war and still am. But this looting of artworks sounds really fishy.

#45 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 01:05 PM:

Felix, what makes you think no imam noticed? According to today's news, "Tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against the US occupation of Iraq in central Baghdad today after religious leaders spoke out against America." Sounds to me like the religious leaders in Baghdad have suddenly got strong convictions against the US occupation of Baghdad: and that could well have something to do with the US army allowing the national libraries to burn. It's also been reported that religious leaders have spoken out very strongly against the looting and the looters, and as a result, some of what's stolen has been returned.

You also asked: how do we know that the most valuable stuff was not spirited away prior to the fall of Baghdad? Maybe it was. We'll never know, because the US army wasn't able (thanks to Donald Rumsfeld) to spare troops to protect the museum and prevent theft after the fall of Baghdad. In any case, value in a museum is not simply a matter of gold and jewels: to my mind, the most valuable trove in the museum of Baghdad was the 80 000 cuneiform tablets stored there. They're just baked clay: worth nothing in terms of their material. To anyone interested in our past, they were invaluable, especially in a museum with proper records of their provenance. I am hoping that perhaps the destruction was not complete, that some have survived the looting and destruction. But it seems clear that many have been destroyed.
Didn't I read somewhere that the museum and library custodians had been stashing the important stuff away in 'safe places' (whatever that means) in anticipation of the bombing of Iraq a couple of months ago?

The vaults were broken into and looted, too. Frankly, in a country that the US intended to bomb, and assuming (wrongly, as we now know) that the US would take seriously its legal and moral obligations of protection, the safest place for the most important stuff would have been in the museum vaults.

#46 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 01:12 PM:

Exactly how do you expect the local imam, witnessing, not the burning of one Koran, but the torching of two libraries, to single-handedly stop the rampaging vandals? The US government is responsible because that's who had the responsibility for maintaining civil order in Baghdad after it defeated Saddam's regime and took possession of the city. Not the imams--although, in fact, the imams have started the process of recreating civil order, chastising the looters and vandals, demanding the return of looted treasures, and enforcing all this not just by moral authority but by recruiting armed young men. But is that what we wanted--take out the brutal, but mostly secular, government of Iraq, and replace it with rule by imams who have fresh cause to hate us?

(And your attempt to imply that Fisk is the only one claiming the burning of the libraries happened is interesting, but not terribly persuasive, given that the event is pretty widely reported:
(You'll have to cut and paste.)

As for what "safe places" means--what this sinister phrase refers to is the museum vaults. It took the looters two days to get into the vaults; any attempt at all at maintaining order and protecting the priceless heritage, not of the Iraqi people alone, but of human civilization, could have prevented most of the looting.

#47 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 01:27 PM:

In that same article listed above, I noticed this:

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that some patients at a Baghdad psychiatric hospital had been raped as looters ransacked the building during a three-day spree.

Looting of antiquities, burning of libraries, and three-days of rape.

This is a new and expanded definition of "untidy" compared to what I'm used to.

#48 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 02:12 PM:

As I said in an earlier post, it's axiomatic that if there's serious looting going on, there's also rape. I very much doubt those were the only instances of it.

#49 ::: barrisj ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 05:13 PM:

You know, it wasn't that long ago that right-wing bloggers were all over Robert Fisk, denouncing his reporting and even creating the nonsensical "to fisk" business. Well, the sheer brilliance and bearing-witness aspect of his despatches from Baghdad have rendered his critics mute (probably with admiration, were they to admit it). Fisk - and the Independent - are among my few must-read on-line newspaper sites. I also appreciate Teresa's commentaries passim Fisk, and thank her for recognizing the journalistic virtues that he represents.

#50 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 09:08 PM:

[Stepping away from my studio work to post something I regards as v. important.]

Clew, Ulrika, just so. The destruction of the Islamic libraries, especially, validates Usama bin Laden's political account of US behavior, though not his theology; unless the US does something dramatic by way of apology and amends I expect the Islamic intellectual center to shift in that direction.

Does anyone know if those libraries were also important to Shiite muslims?

Teresa, I want to write my congresspeople and ask that they investigate the looting of the museum and the burning of the libraries. One of my senators, I believe, is LDS. Are there any libraries central to the Church of Latter-Day Saints?

<tinfoil>And I occurs to me that what happenned here has some similarity to lynchings--the police used to just step back and let them happen (and sometimes encouraged the mobs.) And, I wonder... Did they plan it? It's very likely that John Ashcroft, at least, regards Islam as Satanic. And he has a history of courting segregationists, so he'd know how it was done. Are Rumsfeld's religious beliefs known? I wonder about the rest of the administration. Brrr. Brrrr.</tinfoil>

#51 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 09:37 PM:

If the Junta really thought Americans would believe anything they wouldn't need the USA Partriot Act or USA Patriot II. They evidently think some people won't believe and will have to be silenced... or perhaps they don't really plan to use the draconian powers that have been ceeded them by our "representatives."

In a tinfoil hat wearing mode, I wonder whose interests it serves to destroy the cultural and religious archives of the Caliphate?

I happened across Bruce Sterling's "We See Things Differently" the other night and, apart from some anachronistic bits about the soviets and the cultural significance of cell phones, the story seemed like a reasonable near future extrapolation.

I can imagine spooks thinking that burning a koranic library and trashing the national library and archives of the old capital of the Caliphate would strike a blow against the Islamist menace. I am pretty sure that the destruction of these libraries (even more than the looting of the museum) will convince many that Bin Laden's 3 point argument is valid, truthful and compelling. It's almost as if Al Qaeda had a powerful mole in CENTCOM.

When I was a child, I fell in love with ancient Greek myths, history, art, architecture, arms and armor. I was deeply shocked when I learned that the Parthenon had survived right into the beginning of the modern period only to be accidently destroyed in a war between the Venetians and Ottomans... such a sensless, criminal waste seemed evidence of too much darkness in our species. Later, I had the same sense of an incomprehensibly vast and stupid crime when I learned of the burning of the library of Alexandria in the early Christian period.

Now it seems America has tried to match both feats of savagery in the space of a week. Whether it was deliberate policy or just negligence, the US is equally culpable. I don't know if these acts fit the legal definition of "crimes against humanity" -- but I know that that is what they are.

#52 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 09:49 PM:

Oops, if I'd realized you were posting near identical thoughts, Randolph, I would have trimmed mine to a "what he said" --

This is the price I pay for taking so long to compose a post.

I am the father of 15 month old twins. Everything takes ten times as long as I think it should...

#53 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 12:36 AM:

Randolph, there's the big genealogical library, now called the Family History Library, in Salt Lake City. Considering that genealogy is almost literally a sacrament in their church (so they can retcon^H^H^H^H^H baptize dead people -- living people are baptized literally in the names of dead people, usually their ancestors, to offer their souls the opportunity to convert to the LDS faith even in the afterlife, so the whole family can be together for eternity [Teresa, or someone, please correct me if I've misunderstood this!]), the FHL may be almost as sacred as their Temple, which is next door and where the retcon baptisms, among other rituals, take place.

If you're not sure about the religious affiliation of one of your Senators, see the directory page
to find his/her web page, which usually says; the Congressional Directory, which has info for the current Congress; or the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress which has bios of every member of Congress from 1775 (Continental Congress onwards). I'm not sure if the latter two are updated for the 108th Congress yet (the one now running, 2003-2004), so if your guy is new to the Hill, he might not be there yet.

#54 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 02:11 AM:

RE the notion that the looting and burning were encouraged as part of some agenda:

"Never ascribe to malice what can better be explained through stupidity."

Or in this case, bureaucracy, arrogance, and overconfidence.


There's been a lot of triumphant smuggery about the war plan working, nyah-nyah, we bad, take that you librals, & etc.

Not quite.

What happened was that the military performed brilliantly after the warhawks' fantasy (shock and awe bombing convinces the Iraqi military and government to toss out Saddam's inner circle, turning over government intact to blushing liberators) collapsed.

They quickly achieved the _military_ objective. I'd be surprised if they didn't.

But just as the enemy they fought wasn't the one they "wargamed," the _peace_ they got wasn't the one they were provisioned for or that Rumsfeld, et al., were expecting. The pieces of the Iraqi government they're expected to help reassemble to aid with reconstruction are a lot smaller and more broken than there counting on.

This is an explanation, not an excuse, although I think it mostly lets the guys on the ground off the hook. As Teresa eloquently noted in her essay, the blame lies far up the chain of command.

#55 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 09:54 AM:

Stefan, I don't think there's much thought that the blame lies anywhere but high up--but Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz etc. are surely culpable. The warning about the threat to the world's cultural heritage was on the front page of the NY Times and similar low-key, easy to miss spots... The planners at CENTCOM are also guilty.

Your observation that the warhawk's plans failed completely is bang on, but it doesn't excuse the commanders failure to plan for securing the peace when they picked up the pieces and set about achieving their objectives with what they had at hand.

The idea that military objectives can be separated from political goals is an insane fantasy. This line of thought reminds me of the absurd idea that the Tet offensive was an American military victory but political defeat... Yes, the VC were mostly anihilated in the south. Yes, the US beat back every attack, at relatively low cost in US casualties. Yes, the war was lost in that battle. If the generals at the Pentagon and CENTCOM haven't figured that out, I expect not only to see a new pan-Arabian Caliphate, but to see it victorious over the great satan.

#56 ::: Rich Schultz ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 12:51 PM:

According to the Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2003 most of the good stuff in the museum was looted long ago by Saddam and his thugs. Guess you will have to find another way to blame America first.

#57 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 03:46 PM:

Well, goodness, if the WSJ printed it, it _must_ be true.

It's ashame they didn't break this story months ago; the Administration could have used it to get the archeological community on board.

Nosireee, nothing left in that museum but costume jewelry and faux cunieform tablets carved from Velveeta (tm) and painted with fleckstone.

I've heard that the hospitals that were supposedly looted were empty, too. And the National Library . . . ironically, it was full of back issues of The Wall Street Journal, which the Baathists read to track their overseas investments.

#58 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 03:57 PM:

Stefan, preacher Franklin Graham, a man who has publicly called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion," led Good Friday services at the Pentagon yesterday. He was invited by State Department employees.

The sack of Baghdad may not--quite--have been planned, but there sure wasn't much effort to avoid it.

Rich, I'd be very careful in taking WSJ's word on anything in this conflict--they're notorious for political sophistry, especially in their editorial pages. It remains true that much valuable material was stolen during the latest round of theiving and looting.

However, I think the consequences of the destruction of the Islamic libraries will be a more immediate problem for the USA. Yesterday Shiite and Sunni Moslems--ancient enemies--demonstrated together against the infidels in Baghdad. If we want to show the world we meant "Iraqi Freedom", establishment of a democracy and a quick exit without strings attached might be a good way to proceed.

"Iraq cannot be unified until it is governed by its people. To this end, we will sacrifice ourselves."--Sayed Abbas

#59 ::: John Isbell ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 05:14 PM:

Aie. Fisk is a superb writer and a great on the ground reporter, and it is curious that the Right have stopped attacking him.
My poster for 2004 has Bush and Cheney's arrest mugshots, front and profile. Caption: "Bush/Cheney: the five-arrest ticket."
I think that kills them in American politics.

#60 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 06:00 PM:

Nosireee, nothing left in that museum but costume jewelry and faux cunieform tablets carved from Velveeta (tm) and painted with fleckstone.

Wow, I knew you could make fudge out of Velveeta, but the Epic of Gilgamesh? Another amazing use for America's wonderfood.

(Coming up next, the Law Code of SPAMurabi and the Twinkies of Ishtar.)

#61 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 11:44 PM:

Oh dear. We knock down a dictator, get another Islamic republic.

Chances are that those demonstrations are due to the influence of Iran . . . but the war planners should have thought of that in advance, too.

This isn't good. I don't want it to happen. But listening to the translation of the speech given to the protesters in Baghdad, I couldn't help but mentally insert a Nelson Munz style "HAH-hah!"

#62 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 02:14 AM:

A new paranoid thought: the destruction of the museum and libraries is a marvelous distraction, isn't it? All those other, potentially embarrassing documents don't seem very important, just at the moment. Is the administration so ruthless that they would destroy so much history and beauty in order to hide a little, more targeted destruction in the chaos? Regrettably, I think they might be.

#63 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 03:13 PM:

I don't like the current administration much at all; I really don't like the clique of hawkish neocons.

But I can't buy the "it's a coverup" conspiracy argument. Like the "Baathists looted the museum already and left behind fakes," it's too . . . convenient?

Another nail in the Baathists-organized-looting theory:

U.S. troops recently discovered, behind false walls in several suburban-Baghdad homes, literally hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, American. If the former regime had the ability to arrange _anything_ remotely organized as things collapsed around them, I suspect they'd have tried to get that cash out of the country, rather than risk emptying a museum of artifacts that would be harder to liquidate and transport.

#64 ::: yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 08:02 PM:

A glimmer of good news:

I haven't read all the comments yet, but I read the first 10 and I have to point out that I see no comments holding any Iraqis responsible for the looting that they did. The US armed forces did not loot. Perhaps we didn't have enough troops assigned or available to prevent it, and that's not good, and the looting and destruction of the libraries and museum is awful. But. Are the Iraqis children? Is this totally our fault, or just the one thing left the antiwar movement (who's every prediction has been wrong) can criticize?

"The destruction of the Islamic libraries, especially, validates Usama bin Laden's political account of US behavior, though not his theology; unless the US does something dramatic by way of apology and amends I expect the Islamic intellectual center to shift in that direction."

Of course this would validate Osama's view of US behavior - the Iraqis did the looting, let's hold the Great American Satan responsible. And while we're at it, let's blame the Jews. The International Zionist Conspiracy probably beamed instructions into Iraqi brains urging them to go down to their local museum with crowbars.

"If the former regime had the ability to arrange _anything_ remotely organized as things collapsed around them, I suspect they'd have tried to get that cash out of the country, rather than risk emptying a museum of artifacts that would be harder to liquidate and transport."

The theory is they started taking the artifacts out of the country weeks before, so they weren't in a rush. They probably planned to get the cash at the last minute and were surprised by the speed of the troops.

"Not forgetting all the interrogators and torturers who'll escape justice because all the records relating to their particular line of work have been lost. And the relatives of people who were arrested or disappeared and now have no hope of finding out what happened to them."

Why do you assume torturers records were kept at the library? They would be kept at the various prisons, and were. I saw a news article last week to the effect that thousands of meticulous records of torture and imprisonment were found in several of these prisons.

#65 ::: yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 08:14 PM:

"Fisk is a superb writer and a great on the ground reporter, and it is curious that the Right have stopped attacking him. "

"Well, the sheer brilliance and bearing-witness aspect of his despatches from Baghdad have rendered his critics mute (probably with admiration, were they to admit it). "

That's sarcasm, right? I recall much gloating on various blogs over Fisk's version of the Iraqi info minister - reporting that the American troops weren't at the airport when they were.

I find Fisk's prose so hyperbolic that even if the facts of his reporting were credible, I wouldn't believe him. I think DeLong's adjective of "creepy" is just about right.

#66 ::: yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 08:30 PM:

"According to the NY Times, the U.S. Army in World War II had a specific unit devoted to preserving art, antiquities, and archives in Europe."

And the Nazis managed to loot large quantities of European art anyway, some of which has still not been recovered. The current military had a list of Iraqi historical sites they promised to avoid bombing if possible - they've done pretty good on that. I agree with everyone about the worth of the museum - getting hysterical about the nefarious motives of "Rummy" et al simply doesn't follow.

BTW let me know when anybody gives a shit of the destruction of the Temple Mount archeological site by Arafat's WAQF, which has been going on for about 10 years.

#67 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 09:27 PM:


Would it make you happy if we blamed the International Zionist Conspiracy?

The Temple Mount archaeological site has not been destroyed. It is arguable about how much it has been damaged, but from what I've read, all that was discovered in the dirt that was displaced at the Al-Aqsa mosque were a few pot sherds--hardly a major find.

Yes, we can start into conspiracy theories about the Ark of the Covenant being run through a rototiller and spread on the flowerbeds, but honestly, if we're going to believe that, we need to believe in the International Zionist Conspiracy and their Orbital Mind Control Lasers.

These, however, are distractions from the main point: Every city has thieves and dishonest people. You do not leave your keys in the ignition of a new Mercedes and expect it to be there when you get back, unless you've left it at valet parking. And if soldiers have run down the street, shot the parking attendant, then driven off in their merry little tank, you think they don't bear some responsibility for it getting stolen? Especially if your car is later found in the soldier's grandmother's chop-shop?

The U.S. has the largest number of international antiquities fences in the world. Ergo, the largest number of looted antiquities are going to end up here. Ka-ching!

Yes, the looters did a bad thing. However, we made it happen and we're going to profit by it. Ergo, we can blame Donald Rumsfeld for the looting of the museums and the burning of the libraries by the same logic as you can blame Arafat for the displacement of ancient Temple Mount pot sherds, even if he didn't go and dig them up personally.

I can understand why that particular site is important to your pet religion, but in archaeological terms, the looting and destruction of hundreds of artifacts from hundreds of digs is a damn sight more awful than just running a bulldozer through one unexcavated corner of one. Add to that the burning of several libraries and you have a disaster of unparalleled magnitude.

Even speaking in religious and holy terms, the Koranic library likely had original writings of Mohammed. Certainly of later Caliphs.

This is not going to go over well.

#68 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 02:11 AM:


I didn't mention the guilt of the looters because I took it as self-evident. It's evident to me, and the preponderance of insightful, informed reasoning that I've found in Teresa's posts and the typical comments left by her readers lead me to the conclusion that the guilt of the looters was so obvious that it needed no comment...

In a similar vain, the blueness of the sky, wetness of rain and unrelenting tug of gravitational attraction to the earth were not mentioned.

The looters were only able to commit their varied acts of theft and arson because the legal mechanisms that had previously restrained them were removed by the concerted effort of the US military. This causal relationship suggests that the planners of the US military effort bear some responsibility for the crimes, unless there are powerful mitigating circumstances.

This implied responsibility is almost universally acknowledged, not least by those who excuse the US leadership by claiming that there were powerful mitigating circumstances (such as insufficient manpower, ongoing hostilities, etc.) that excuse the failure to protect the museum, libraries and hospitals.

The fact that the oil wells and related ministries and offices were protected puts the lie to the claims of mitigating factors.

Your comments about the anti-war movement are, of course, an irrelevant red-herring. On the one hand, the accuracy of dire predictions by anti-war people has no bearing on the culpability of the US in the looting. On the other hand, I supported the war and I feel that the US leaders are guilty. Despite right-wing propaganda, it isn't necessary to mindlessly cheer every aspect of the war, claim perfection in US militray equipment, tactics or personnel, or believe in the infallibility of Rumsfeld or W, to support the war.

Your point about the Nazi looting is as wrong as it could possibly be. The Nazis looted when they were in power. The allies took successfful pains to prevent looting when they took power from the Nazis. Nazis in power, Nazis responsible. Allies in power allies responsible. See the difference?

Oh and I give a shit about the arab attempts to erase Jewish history in the temple mount and throughout the region (not least in Syria)--Uh, Kevin, there is overwhelming evidence that this is happening if you haven't seen the evidence, you haven't looked for it--so there.

#69 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 03:03 AM:


I followed yedudit's links and read the historical overview of what called JERUSALEM'S TEMPLE MOUNT FLAP. I consider this a credible source, and the summary basically said the complaints are about unsealing a Crusader-era doorway to make an emergency exit from one of the mosques. Since the dirt was from the Christian/Muslim era, this isn't really a destruction of the old Jewish remains that are somewhere deeper down at the site, and the main opposition to the remodeling is coming from some nutjob who was jailed for trying to blow up the Dome of the Rock. Just follow the link. It's all there.

This isn't to say there aren't Muslims out to destroy Jewish sites, and Jews out to destroy Muslim sites (see aforementioned nutjob), but in the matter of the remodeling job, I'm going to side with the mosque. Crusader-era is not terribly significant for that part of the world, and when all you're doing is essentially unbricking a bricked up doorway, that's not a huge deal.

#70 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 04:29 AM:

Hmmm. There must be a rhetorical term for it called a false choice? Basically when you undercut someone you disagree with by ascribing to them opinions which do not necessarily follow from what they have said...the classic recent example being, if you disagree or have reservations with how the war has been fought, you support Saddam or something equally outlandish.

Is false choice the correct term? There must be a term for it...

#71 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 11:58 AM:


The article linked to was about one little battle in an ongoing war over the archaeology of the Al Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount.

The idea that the Crusader era is not terribly significant for that part of the world is very curious, and not, I think, commonly held. But one needn't squabble over this kind of detail to acknowledge that there is, at the least, some legitimacy to Yehudit's claim that damage is being done to Jewish archaeological heritage by anti-Zionist Arabs.

I also have to take issue with your choice of words: "we made it happen... We didn't stop it, we allowed it, but that's a far cry from making it happen. The homeowner who installs a sunken swimming pool into which a toddler topples may well face a criminal charge, but it won't be the same charge as that facing the adult who pushes a toddler into a pool and holds his head under the water.

Your snarky remarks about Yehudit's "pet religion" don't strengthen your argument. I'm not categorically opposed to snarky remarks but when the focus is racial and/or religious--you end up adding just one more ugly, unhappy drop in a river of brutality, hatred and misery already swollen by the contributions of so many others. None of us wants to be caught in that torrent when it breaks it's banks, so why add to it?

#72 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 01:19 PM:


Crusader-era is not terribly significant when compared to the centuries of history that came before. It also doesn't change the fact that people have to live in places that sometimes have very ancient history, and you do have to occasionally do sensible modern things like installing emergency exits and plumbing.

Salvage archaeology should have been done, and in a perfect world would have been done, but wasn't because there was a rush to get it done before someone said they couldn't. It's the same sort of thing that took place when they were building the Mexico City subway system--major finds were built around, but piles of bones and pot sherds? Dig on through and don't tell anyone. The damn things are everywhere.

This is the reason archaeologists call it "salvage archaeology." Occasionally roads, dams, sewers and other things have to be built, and archaeologists have to get the stuff out of the way.

Your example with the pool is incorrect. A better example is having a safety fence and lifeguards around a pool to keep random toddlers from wandering in and drowing themselves. You take down the fence and shoot the lifeguards, you've created an attractive nuisance, and yes, you are responsible.

As for snarky remarks about "pet religion," I'm tired of religious people trying to equate "sacred" with "of great historic interest." Holy water may be sacred. However, from an archeological perspective, it's just water, and aside from analyzing the mineral content to see where it came from, it's of far less interest than the bottle. The Temple Mount site? Intriguing, but no more intriguing than the various Catholic cathedrals built atop Aztec ruins, and far less than the Ziggurat of Ur and other earlier sites.

#73 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 01:54 PM:


What constitutes significance? Is there an standard metric? An international standard? some kind of objective measuring device?

It would seem that the Crusader era is of some interest to Bin Laden and his companions.

RE: the pool thing. OK. You bulldoze the safety fences and shoot the lifeguards. Toddlers wander in and drown. You are responsible, but you do not have the same responsibility as someone who forcibly drowns a toddler... I find it hard to believe that you don't understand this, nt bng rvng dlg lk Yhdt.

Do you think it necessary to claim that the US made it happen because establishing such a claim will provide advantage in some other contest? Or do you really believe that the US bears primary responsibility?

#74 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 04:30 PM:

Archaeological significanse is generally agreed upon (and argued over) by the professional archaeologists in the world in the various scientific journals. It's usually a factor of age and rarity, sometimes mixed with relevance to history.

Crusader era is significant, but it depends. The dirt fill in a bricked-up doorway isn't anything amazing. Even a crusader era kitchen midden will tell you more.

And if the fence is around the tiger enclosure at the zoo and you let the tiger out? Or if it can be proven that you took out an insurance policy on the curious toddler before taking down the pool fence? The items looted, and professionally stolen, will be ending up in the hands of the same ridiculously rich collectors, who, it has been reported earlier, had their lawyers and agents show up to petition the President and the Pentagon. That smells of collusion, and I'm just waiting for the missing Ram in the Thicket to be found in the hands of one of Bush's main campaign contributors.

So, do I think the US made it happen? Yes. I think Rummy and Bush were asked nicely to leave the barn door open so someone could steal the horses, and if they did, there'd be something in it for them. Can't prove it, but I have my suspicions. Primary responsibility? Well, since it was a group of thieves and a group of collectors, then Rumsfeld and Bush? That sounds like more responsibility on the whole.

Even if they were just brazenly stupid and insensitive, they were warned beforehand and they chose to ignore those warnings.

#75 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 05:02 PM:

I haven't seen mention of this purely economic reason for
why it was stupid for the US to not guard the museums before they were looted:

The museums would have provided a major draw for tourist dollars once Iraq's rebuilt enough to start supporting tourist traffic.

It would have been a good thing for Iraq to have a second major industry, so they wouldn't have to rely so completely on oil revenue and oil-related jobs, or oil-funded government jobs such as in education or healthcare.

It would have been relatively cheap and easy to set up a tourism industry based on the museums and libraries, with day trips out to the historic sites. Let the guests stay in one of Saddam's palaces, and charge relatively big $$, and it would have been a sweet business with low startup costs.

#76 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 08:53 PM:

Who needs all that old junk for the theme park.

Dreamworks and Disney can do competing conversions of some presidential sites... with tie-ins to new lines of toys, rival animated features--maybe Arabian Knights and The Thief of Baghdad with vocal cameos from Blair, Rumsfeld, Powell and Wolfowitz and Chirac in the role of an evil sorcerer.

The art departments and effects guys can come up with much better stuff than any stuffy, smelly old archaeologists and historians. Hell, those killjoys couldn't visualize the rides if you paid them to. I'm thinking a flying carpet-themed supercoaster with dark sections, lots of loops and inversions and high positive and a little negative G loading.

Busch Hanging Gardens Adventure. Saddam's Chambers of The Damned Ride of Terror--"you'll scream, you'll cry, you'll beg for mercy."

The place could be a gold mine.

#77 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 01:47 AM:

I don't know. It seems to me that talking about primary versus secondary responsibility is splitting hairs at this point. It's responsibility, is the main thing. Could have been stopped, wasn't. Was foreseen and planned for, advice was ignored. Does that mean individuals somewhere in the US chain of command were complicit with the criminals, or simply incompetent? We don't (and probably won't) have enough information. In that void, speculate away.

So, I don't really see where this needs analogies to pools and lifeguards, gang. I know we're fond of them in English, but sometimes metaphor and allegory are not our friends...

#78 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 04:40 AM:

1) Jerusalem is a -very- peculiar place. The present and millennia of the past intermesh -- St Andrew's Church sits atop a hills one side of which has exposeed former catacombs which were once I presume in caverns. I was taking pictures and making futile attempts to paint; my aunt suggesting I sit down, I didn't feel like sitting there, which "there" turned out to be where corpses had been laid out, a couple thousand years ago...

There are churches built with many-times reused worked stones -- Jerusalem's been inhabited for at least 3000 years, and the easiest way for a new wave of occupants to build, is to tear up what was there built by others, or what's fallen down, using the already prepared building materials at hand -- that was one of the things that happened to the pyramids (then there are the souvenir collectors who vandalize the rock walls in Minuteman National Park, by taking a rocks from the wall -- if caught, they have it pointed out to them that they are stealing and destroying official US Government property and are subject to prosecution for committing a federal crime).

But anyway -- there are hundreds of years old churches in Jerusalem, with stones with carving on them indicating they were part of the Roman city which occupied the site after nearly 2000 years ago. That there was a "Crusader doorway" doesn't mean that there weren't/could not have been identifiable artifacts from a thousand or more years earlier on the site -- most of the time that sort of reconstruction involved knocking down SOME of what was there evening out the dirt, and building ontop of it, reusing the worked stone into the shape of buildings the next inhabitants want. The idea to "use all new material" was considered generally neither efficient nor expeditious.

Also, as with the palimpset with the Archimedes manuscript, modern technology and archaeology technologies can go over artifacts examined in the past, and find lots "new" exciting information, that was unknown/couldn't be done, when the artifact was originally collected. There are lots of materials science technologies and technologies in other areas, developed in the past 25 years, that are enormously valuable tools for identification, analysis, etc. etc. etc.

The Crusaders were high unlikely to have hauled dirt and artifacts -up- the Temple Mount to build with, they were much more likely to leave it in situ, or perhaps sweep it off... but these were the same folks with the castles with the stairs covered with shit and the walls pissed all over, so sweeping probably wasn't a high priority to them. For that matter, a lot can be determined from the content of ancient toilets, about peole's diets and health, and the age of the ordure....

#79 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 02:09 PM:


You're right. I've poked around on the web to see what else has been found in the fill dirt displaced from the stairway and found, aside from the Crusader pot sherds, they found what appear to be a couple stones from the Second Temple gateway.

Unfortunately there's the whole political mess around everything, so the stones are just sitting around the archaeology commission's backyard right now, but certainly of historic interest.

It's a bit of a conundrum. If it weren't for the religion and politics, the dig could have been done properly, but if there weren't the religion and politics, no one would have cared much so there wouldn't have been much funding.

#80 ::: John Waters ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 03:11 PM:

"As Teresa eloquently noted in her essay, the blame lies far up the chain of command."

It almost ALWAYS does, doesn't it?!

Sad... so sad. That people have to be killed (oppressed for sure) but innocent. Is the US government claiming that short of this massive war, it couldn't take out Saddam Hussein? What is the need for an invasion of this scale (now bringing in more troops?). Elimination of Saddam would have raised an uproar but that would have been easily manageable and I'm sure most Arabs wouldn't have REALLY cared. The man gassed his own people for God's sake.

But war? Was it REALLY the last option? ANd the way the Govt. is claiming that the Russians and the French have funny business going on with the Iraqis : Who sold 'em stuff during his war against Iran? Isn't Mr. Rumsfeld shaking hands with the 'fearless' leader himself back in the 80s? So it's ok for the US to do it but not for others?

I'm sorry if all this has been posted before. I guess I'm just frustrated by the carnage that has been unleashed. How much more blood? How much more?

#81 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 07:09 PM:


I think this distinction is important because the issue is going to be contensted. A resort to hyperbolic venting provides the other side with an easy path to dismiss all of your argument. It's also important because real charges may result, if people push for the right charges. Getting the charges wrong goes a long way toward handing the potential defendants an easy victory.

Sharon for instance, bears some responsibility for the mass killings at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. His responsibility is, however, secondary. The Phalangists who actually went in and slit throats, shot into heads and smashed skulls bear direct responsibility. Attempts to lay all blame at Sharon's feet undermine the credibility of the accusers and ensure that any legal action they bring against him will fail.

Or so it seems to me.

#82 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 05:38 PM:

John, governments everywhere truly hate the idea of assassination becoming an acceptable tactic. This is partly for purely selfish personal reasons, of course, but it's also because assassination as a tool of international conflict is only less destructive than war in the short run. In the middle and longer run, it's a direct path to more wars.

Also, it's worth considering that it's only the leaders of relatively free and democratic countries that are easy targets for a well-planned assassination. Highly paranoid dictators who don't have to pay any attention to public opinion are much harder to get at--which is why Saddam may not be dead even now. Do we really want to give the dictator in North Korea a free pass on assassinating the elected president of South Korea, or China on the elected president of Taiwan?

#83 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2003, 06:34 AM:

Look what I found.... the failures of the US Government to do anything to stop the looting of Iraq's National Bank, the Iraq Museum, etc, are war crimes -- straight off an official US Government website, it's right there.... The US Government was told that looting WOULD occur, if nothing were done to prevent it.... I separated out the specific applicable lines from the rest of the text it's embedded in.



Basic Course in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907.

LESSON: The Hague and Geneva Conventions.

READING ASSIGNMENT: Sections A and B, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, this booklet.

LESSON OBJECTIVE: To familiarize the student with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907, and further, to ensure that the student understands that American soldiers will not inflict unnecessary suffering or destruction in accomplishing their military mission; that they will treat prisoners of war, other captured or detained personnel, the wounded and sick, and civilians humanely; that they must not obey an order which requires the commission of a war crime; that they are required to report any violation of the law of war; and that they are entitled to humane treatment if captured or detained by the enemy.


1. Customary Law of War and the Hague and Geneva Conventions.


8. Humane Treatment of Civilians. Assume that while conducting a sweep operation through an enemy village, a unit rounds up men, women, and children who are suspected of being either the parents, spouses, and children of enemy soldiers or enemy sympathizers. May they execute them and burn their homes: (1) as a warning to other enemy sympathizers, or (2) in retaliation for their suspected participation in the enemy war effort? No. Under Article 27 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, the civilian population of the country in conflict is entitled to respect for their persons, honor, family rights, religious convictions and practices, and manners and customs. They must be protected especially against all acts or threats of violence and against insults and public curiosity. Women should be especially protected against attack, in particular against enforced prostitution, rape, or any other form of sexual assault.

a. All persons are to be treated humanely and without any adverse distinction based on race, religion, or political opinion. While the occupying force may enforce control and security measures, commanders at all levels must ensure that all persons are treated humanely. These persons may not be subjected to murder, torture, corporal punishment, mutilation, or any form of physical or mental coercion. No person can be subjected to medical or scientific experiments, nor made the object of collective penalties or reprisals, or held hostage. Their property must be protected from pillage or looting.


b. In addition to the grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, the following acts are also war crimes:

(1) Using poisoned or otherwise forbidden arms or ammunition, such as dum-dum bullets;

(2) Pretending to surrender as a trick;

(3) Mutilating dead bodies, such as cutting off ears;

(4) Firing on localities which are undefended and without military significance, such as churches or hospitals;

(5) Abusing or firing on the flag of truce;

(6) Misusing the Red Cross emblem, such as using a medical evacuation helicopter to transport combat troops;

(7) Using civilian clothing by troops to conceal their military identity during battle;

(8) Improperly using privileged buildings for military purposes, such as using a church steeple as an observation post;

(9) Poisoning of wells or streams;

(10) Pillaging, looting, or purposeless burning of homes;

(11) Compelling prisoners of war to perform prohibited labor, such as removing mines or digging defensive positions;

(12) Killing, without proper legal trial, spies or other captured persons who have committed hostile acts;

(13) Compelling civilians to perform prohibited labor, such as carrying mortars:

(14) Violating surrender terms;

(15) Taking and keeping a captured enemy soldier's personal property, like a photograph or watch, as a war trophy; and

(16) Using an enemy prisoner of war on "point" for the unit.

This list is not complete, it only contains examples. According to FM 27-10, every violation of the law of war is technically a war crime for which the violator may be punished.

3. Responsibility of the Commander. The legal responsibility for the commission of war crimes frequently can be placed on the military commander as well as on subordinates who may have actually committed the crime. Since commanders are responsible for the actions of those in their commands, commanders may be prosecuted for war crimes if
they (1) ordered their troops to commit the war crimes; or

(2) if they knew that war crimes were going to be committed and failed to prevent them;

or (3) if they should have known, through reports or by other means, that those in the command were about to commit or have committed war crimes, and they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent such crimes or punish those guilty of a violation. As a minimum, such a commander is guilty of dereliction of duty.

4. Criminal Orders and Individual Responsibility. In all cases the person who actually commits a war crime is subject to punishment, even if acting pursuant to the orders of a superior. The soldier who pulls the trigger, killing a prisoner of war who has just surrendered, cannot excuse the act by claiming that the commander said to "take care of the prisoner," which the soldier understood to be an order to execute the prisoner. Acting under superior orders is no defense to criminal charges when the order is clearly one to commit a criminal act, as is an order to kill a prisoner of war. Likewise, the person who actually commits a war crime is not excused just because another person (e.g., the commander who issued the order) is charged with the war crime. Military necessity also does not require or justify killing prisoners of war. While American soldiers must obey all legal orders, they also must disobey any order which requires them to commit criminal acts in violation of the law of war. An order to commit a criminal act in violation of the law of war is a criminal order, and there is a duty to disobey it.

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