Saturday, December 31, 2011

Captured Documents from Libya and a New Lawsuit in the U.K.

A lawsuit has been filed against the U.K. government by Abdel Hakim Belhadj (also known as Abu Abdullah Al-Sadiq), a commander of anti-Qaddafi forces in the recent conflict in Libya, based on documents captured in Tripoli indicating British (and U.S.) involvement in his earlier detention and rendition (apparently via Malaysia, Bangkok, and Diego Garcia) to Libyan custody in 2004.  Details on the lawsuit are available in this piece in the Guardian and this press release from Reprieve.

Copies of a number of the captured "Tripoli files" are posted here and here.  The documents were found by journalists and representatives from Human Rights Watch in Qaddafi's abandoned military intelligence headquarters in Tripoli in September.  According to a piece in the New York Times there were "at least three binders of English-language documents, one marked C.I.A. and the other two marked MI-6, among a larger stash of documents in Arabic." Human Rights Watch took pictures of approximately 300 of the "thousands" of documents, but left the originals in Libyan custody. For a first person account of finding the documents see Peter Bouckaert's "The Gaddafi Files" in Foreign Policy.

Captured documents relevant to Belhadj's suit in the U.K. reportedly include a letter dated March 18, 2004 from Sir Mark Allen, formerly the head of counterterrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa, the head of Libyan intelligence stating:
I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq [Belhadj]. This was the least we could do for you and Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week.
The Belhadj lawsuit joins another one against the U.K. government filed in October by Sami al-Saadi, which also relates to involvement by U.S. and U.K. authorities in his rendition and is also based, in part, on captured documents from Tripoli.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

WWII Captured German Documents: "we can 'lose' some if we wish"

The U.K. National Archives are providing an increasing number of copies of its records online.  An interesting example that illustrates the importance of retaining notes of meetings (and not just final memoranda) for adequately documenting government activities and also demonstrates that concerns about the integrity of captured documents in foreign custody are not just conspiratorial is the record of a cabinet meeting discussion of captured German archives from October 1952.

Attendees at the meeting included Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden, and Secretary of State for War Anthony Head. The participants discussed the status of negotiations for the possible return of captured German diplomatic and military documents.

The formal memorandum of the meeting notes that, while there was every intention to eventually return the diplomatic documents, the military documents "presented more difficulty, since there were security reasons for not returning some of these to the Germans" and that preliminary discussions were needed between the U.K., the U.S. and France to "determine what classes of documents should continue to be withheld from the Germans."  The memorandum notes:

Thanks to thoughtful records retention, what survives from the meeting is not just the formal memorandum, but also the notes that were taken at the meeting.  When the notes are consulted the discussion of the German archives appears to have had a different tenor and indeed some different content.  Attributed to Secretary State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden is a statement that the U.K. could copy the documents before they are returned to German and that "we can 'lose' some if we wish."  Moreover, in contrast to the formal memorandum that speaks of granting the Minister of Defence discretion to "withhold" documents, the notes of the meeting conclude that that the "M/D" [Minister of Defence] with "C.O.S."[Chiefs of Staff] will have "discretion to destroy."

I am posting here the full memorandum and the notes of the meeting, courtesy of the U.K. National Archives.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Declassified Northern Ireland Conflict Files Online

Mural of Battle of the Bogside - pic by Sean Mack
IrishCentral has a piece (thanks to rainbyte) highlighting the online availability of declassified "Secret files from 1968-1979 about Northern Irish policy on education, politics, and security" courtesy of the University of Ulster's Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN).  The CAIN documents, which were initially publicly released in late 2010, are digital versions of selected public records relating to "the conflict and politics of the region" held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) that were cleared for public disclosure according to a 30-year rule for declassification.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New article on IMF/Hoover/Ba'ath Debate

Bruce P. Montgomery has a great new article entitled "Immortality in the Secret Police Files: The Iraq Memory Foundation and the Ba'ath Party Archive" that was recently published in the International Journal of Cultural Property.  UPDATE: here is the full-text.

The article is an important new examination of the debate over the Iraq Memory Foundation/Ba'ath party documents currently on deposit at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

The article also repeats the fact that the U.S. government made a digital copy of the documents and discusses the fact that the IMF was a defense contractor in Iraq for several years - copies of the IMF defense contracts will be posted here. UPDATE: here they are.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Security Council Meeting on Missing Kuwait National Archives Seized by Iraq

Yesterday the UN Security Council issued this press statement and this news piece following a meeting in which members "called on Iraq to intensify its efforts to clarify the whereabouts of Kuwait's national archives, which disappeared during Iraq's 1990 invasion of the country."  Yesterday's meeting discussed the Secretary General's Thirty-second (yes, 32nd) Report "pursuant to paragraph 14 of resolution 1284 (1999)" completed earlier this month. Paragraph 14 of Security Council Resolution 1284 requested that the Secretary-General report periodically "on the return of all Kuwaiti property, including archives, seized by Iraq."

In the latest report, the Secretary-General states that he remains "concerned that no substantial progress has been made in the search for the Kuwaiti national archive, and that no credible information about its whereabouts has so far emerged."  He noted Iraq's recent letter regarding the return to Kuwait of microfilm cassettes of the archive of the official newspaper, Kuwait Today, welcomed the newly formed, high-ranking Iraqi committee to coordinate efforts on the missing archives, and looked "forward to the intensification of efforts to clarify the whereabouts of the archives by this newly established body and expect[ed] that its activities will be brought to the attention of the United Nations."

A more substantive post on the interesting history of the missing Kuwait national archives will follow in the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Calls for New Investigations and the Return of Seized Documents in Panama

Relevant to the earlier posting of inventories of the documents seized in Panama during Operation Just Cause in 1989, Amnesty International is reacting to the return of Gen. Noriega to Panama by calling upon the Panamanian government to launch new investigations into crimes against humanity. Amnesty's call for investigations appears to be based on two considerations. First, a concern for victims. An Amnesty Researcher on Central America Sebastian Elgueta states, "The courts owe it to the victims to clarify the extent of his involvement in these violations that took place over several decades." Second, a desire to ensure that legal proceedings against Noriega are just and fair.  In relation to previous in absentia convictions against Noriega, Amnesty argues that "trials in absentia should be avoided as they are unjust, except when the accused deliberately absents him or herself after the trial has begun." Elgueta states:
Manuel Noriega should be present to hear the full prosecution case and be able to refute facts and present a full defence. With anything less, the reliability of the verdict will always remain in doubt and justice will not be seen to be done.
Meanwhile, Newsroom Panama has a story on Gen. Noriega's return that states that an associate of Noriega's has urged:
the [Panamanian] government to ask for more than 15,000 thousand boxes of information that were confiscated by the US army of that country in the 1989 invasion, in which he claims is the truth of the dictatorship.
To be clear the associate is not part of Gen. Noriega's legal team and there is no indication that he spoke on Noriega's behalf, but it is another interesting reference to the importance of the seized documents that remain in U.S. custody nevertheless.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Classified U.S. Documents Found in Iraqi Junkyard

The N.Y. Times has a story entitled "Accounts of a Massacre, Saved From Junkyard Flames" about classified documents, including transcripts of military interviews about the 2005 killings of Iraqi civilians in Haditha, being found in an Iraqi junkyard:
The 400 pages of interrogations, once closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were discovered along with reams of other classified documents, including military maps showing helicopter routes and radar capabilities, by a reporter for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.
* * * * 
Told about the documents that had been found, Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, said that many of the documents remain classified and should have been destroyed. “Despite the way in which they were improperly discarded and came into your possession, we are not at liberty to discuss classified information,” he said.
He added: “We take any breech of classified information as an extremely serious matter. In this case, the documents are being reviewed to determine whether an investigation is warranted.”
* * * * 
The documents were piled in military trailers and hauled to the junkyard by an Iraqi contractor who was trying to sell off the surplus from American bases, the junkyard attendant said. The attendant said he had no idea what any of the documents were about, only that they were important to the Americans.
He said that over the course of several weeks he had burned dozens and dozens of binders, turning more untold stories about the war into ash.
“What can we do with them?” said the attendant. “These things are worthless to us, but we understand they are important and it is better to burn them to protect the Americans. If they are leaving, it must mean their work here is done.”

Inventories of Captured Panama/Noriega Documents

I am posting today several inventories of the documents seized during Operation Just Cause.

As was widely reported, Sunday evening Gen. Manuel Noriega returned to Panama from France after more than 20 years in foreign prisons.  I previously noted in an op-ed that thousands of boxes of documents seized by U.S. forces in Panama during Operation Just Cause in 1989 are surprisingly still in the custody of U.S. Army South and I argued that, for purposes of historical and human rights research as well as for possible use in future legal proceedings related to Noriega in Panama, the U.S. should finally begin returning those documents to Panama. The inventories below provide additional details about the nature of those documents.

As background, the Operation Just Cause document exploitation effort was extensive and involved an interagency team led by the DIA.

The volume of documents and media seized in Panama was variously measured. An early DIA report from Jan. 1990 on the document exploitation effort noted that "the collected material is expected to approach 50 tons." The military's  "Operation Just Cause Lessons Learned" stated, however, that within "the first week" of the operation "it was estimated that over 120 tons of documents had been captured."  News reports usually referred to 15,000 boxes worth of seized documents.

As the DIA notes above, the documents contained quite a bit of variety, everything from "personal correspondence" to "arms inventories" to "stolen U.S. documents."  The inventories below provide additional detail.

Seized Document Inventories 

The first three are inventories - here, here, and here - of documents and other material seized in Noriega's residences and offices.  These include everything from Noriega's credit cards to membership cards to the Smithsonian to "U.S. Aircraft Charts" to "approximately $5 million cash."

The next inventory is a 50-page list of boxes of documents and media seized elsewhere.  The inventory is dated May 1991 and is entitled "Captured Document Facility" and references Charlie company, 746th Military Intelligence Batallion, 470th Military Intelligence Brigade, which continues to support U.S. Army South at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The descriptions of the boxes are very brief. You'll notice in the bottom right corner of the first page of the inventory it says "Exhibit A."  The corresponding "Exhibit B" was a classified report that gave much more extensive detail about the contents of these boxes.

The "Secret Inventory"

Not to be confused with the classified "Exhibit B" just mentioned, there was also what became known as the "secret inventory."

The "Secret Inventory" - written across the top is "Found this list wadded up as garbage"

In the lead up to Noriega's trial an investigator sent to Panama by a co-defendant found a partial inventory of documents "crumpled in a box among materials open for inspection by defense attorneys" which led to allegations that the U.S. had violated court orders in the case (see, for example, "U.S. Accused of Withholding Secret Papers on Noriega").  Here is the "secret inventory" in full.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kate Doyle on Access to Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN)

Kate Doyle at the National Security Archive has a great post "Where Archives and Human Rights Connect: Millions of pages of Guatemalan Police Archive released digitally" on Unredacted.  Over 10 million scanned images from the National Police Historical Archive of Guatemala were recently made  available for online research as a result of a collaborative project of the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, and the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas with the Archivo Historico de la Policia Nacional de Guatamala.

Doyle states, "There is no parallel for on-line, unrestricted access to an archive of this magnitude anywhere in the world" and notes, "Less than one week after its first unveiling in the United States, UT Austin reports that there have been over 17,000 page-views by individuals from 47 countries."  She then addresses the issue of access and privacy protection that is highly relevant to many captured document collections:
The decision on the part of the Guatemalan Police Archive to provide unrestricted digital access to records that contain countless references to private individuals – many of them entrapped by a security system designed to identify suspected subversives and kidnap or kill them solely on the basis of those suspicions – is highly controversial within the archiving world. Even in countries with no formal privacy or archive laws such as Guatemala, standard archival practice strives to protect the privacy of the victims of repression – whether by withholding entire records or selectively deleting individual names and other identifying information.
* * * * 
This was an approach ultimately rejected by the Guatemalan Police Archive. The process by which the archive decided to open the records related to political repression without restriction involved a long internal debate within the archive’s management and staff, as well as a panel discussion held in 2009 inviting public comment. It is also described in the archive’s own report, published in June 2011.
Citing several legal instruments, including Guatemala’s Constitution and an article in the country’s freedom of information law that prohibits the denial of records relating to gross human rights violations, the report, From Silence to Memory: Revelations from the Historical Archive of the National Police, found: “The armed internal conflict and repressive practices characterized a recent historic period in Guatemala that affected and continues to affect society enormously. In the face of this reality, the conclusion is inevitable that the political events that took place between 1960 and 1996 form part of the collective history of the Nation. This should be understood in its fullest dimension, so that no one has the right to hide information that comes from the actions by the State and its officials.”  (See pp. 37-39)
For additional background on the Guatemalan archives see also Doyle's, "Recovery of the Guatemalan Police Archives - An Update" (2008) and her piece "The Atrocity Files:Deciphering the archives of Guatemala's dirty war" in Harper's in 2007.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wikileaks & Denying the Authenticity of Captured Documents

The State Department's recent response (see ACLUNY Times, and Secrecy News for summary) to the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit for official copies of 23 embassy cables published by Wikileaks is quite remarkable and relevant to the issue of captured documents.  Briefly, in response to the FOIA request, the State Department shockingly released redacted copies of a number of the records, which allowed the ACLU to create this exhibit comparing the redacted documents with the Wikileaks documents to illustrate exactly what was redacted.

What does this have to do with captured documents? While the Wikileaks documents are not "captured documents" in the strict sense, they are certainly a kissing cousin that shares many characteristics: nonpublic/sensitive/classified state documents in non-official custody that are made public despite vigorous demands for their return and allegations of illegality.  Both might be put into a larger category of "displaced" records or archives.

I find it remarkable that the government did not more aggressively and actively call into question the authenticity of the Wikileaks documents in the first place.  Among other things, a stronger response could have allowed the questionable "Wikileaks documents" to be treated as something substantively different than the classified documents they purported to replicate and arguably would have obviated the need for the restrictions on accessing Wikileaks on government computers that only served to further validate them as authentic classified documents and to chill both research and public debate.

In the context of captured documents exposed publicly, denying authenticity has historically been a primary defensive strategy.  When the Germans published a "White Book" called "Polish Documents Bearing on Events that Led Up to the War" in 1940, for example, that purportedly consisted of diplomatic documents seized by German troops from the archives of the Polish Foreign Office in Warsaw and which included purported communications from United States envoys to France and Britain, President Roosevelt referred to the documents as "sheer propaganda" and said that they "should be taken, not with one or two, but with three grains of salt."

Another example relates to the Smolensk archives, the documents famously seized by Germany from Smolensk, Russia, during World War II that the U.S. took into custody at the end of the war and later made publicly available, which led to decades of debate over their return to the U.S.S.R.  Patricia Kennedy Grimsted describes in her wonderful "The Odyssey of the Smolensk Archive: Plundered Communist Records for the Service of Anti-Communism" (Worldcat) that in 1965 the acting Archivist of the United States actually informed a Soviet official that "if the USSR were to make an official request for the return of the Smolensk Archive, undoubtedly the State Department would be prepared to resolve the matter favorably."  According to to Grimsted's research, however, despite the public availability of the documents and the passage of time, the Soviets nevertheless decided against making such a demand on the basis that:
An official petition by the Soviet Union to the State Department could be used in the USA as an official recognition of the authenticity of those documentary materials, and thus even contribute to falsified display in public exhibits and further published utilization with the aim of anti-Soviet propaganda and hence appear to substantiate concrete examples of events which took place in the 1930s.

In relation to the Wikileaks documents, both the U.N. and even Iran appeared to be using the old playbook and basically invited the U.S. to join them in undermining the authenticity of the Wikileaks documents.  As applied to the FOIA response, the State Department apparently chose not to try using a Glomar ("can neither confirm nor deny") response.  It might have been a novel usage, but one a court could have potentially found compelling under these unique circumstances.  Instead the redacted cables serve to further confirm the authenticity of the Wikileaks documents and, as the ACLU itself points out, the redacted disclosures are "perhaps more sensitive than the cables themselves, revealing what the government thinks the public should and should not be able to see."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

More Detail on Seized Osama bin Laden Docs

In an article entitled "Osama bin Laden 'was not in charge of al-Qaeda at time of raid'" the Telegraph in London cites an unnamed U.S. expert who reviewed the documents seized from bin Laden's Abottabad home in reporting that:
the 200 pieces of evidence – notebooks, files, computers and USB drives – recovered by the US commandos who staged the raid in which he died, showed "it had been quite a while since he was involved in the day-to-day management of the organisation."
"The writings we recovered are mostly general position papers, along the lines of 'We must continue to attack the US' or 'Can the Somali Shebab be trusted?" the source said.
"In one small blue notebook from February 2010, he wonders if one member should be promoted, who should be named to replace another killed in a drone raid. But nothing about operational management of the organisation," the source added.
About a third of the items confiscated were about personal family matters including efforts by one of his wives to find a husband for one of their daughters, the source added.
"In any event, for security reasons, he only received messages one or two times a month. How can you run a network in those conditions?" the expert said.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Japan transferring Korean Royal Archives to South Korea

According to a news report from the Mainichi Daily News, Japan will be transferring Korean royal archives to South Korea within the next few days.  The royal archives which are known as "Uigwe" date to the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and were seized by Japan during its colonial rule of Korea from 1910-1945. The Uigwe are royal archives that documented royal events and ceremonies. They were inscribed in UNESCO's Memory of the World project in 2007.  The nomination form noted that the Uigwe in Japan were taken from the Odaesan archive in 1922.

The Uigwe from Japan will now join nearly 300 other Uigwe transferred earlier this year from the Bibliotheque nationale de France to South Korea.  The Uigwe in France were seized in military operations in Korea in 1866.

Virtual U.S. Embassy for Iran

The State Department launched a virtual U.S. Embassy for Iran yesterday which has apparently already been blocked by Iranian officials.  There is another historical, virtual U.S. Embassy for Iran of sorts in the form of the collection of U.S. documents seized during the 1979 siege of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Copies of seized documents were published as a series called "Documents from the U.S. Espionage Den" volumes of which are available online.

The publishers of the documents reportedly utilized skilled carpet weavers to reconstruct documents that had been shredded, a technique that would likely impress DARPA.

Unclear whether there are any plans for similarly publishing documents recently seized from the British Embassy in Tehran. For additional information on the publication of the U.S. embassy documents, see this post by the Federation of American Scientists.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"National Archives and International Conflicts" (article)

New article in latest American Archivist entitled "National Archives and International Conflicts: The Society of American Archivists and War" available here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Government digital copies of IMF/Hoover documents?

The debate over the documents obtained by the Iraq Memory Foundation from Ba'ath Party Headquarters in Iraq and that are now on deposit at the Hoover Institution at Stanford is epic.

Access to the documents at Hoover requires physically traveling to Stanford and signing an agreement available here, that, among other things, forbids "commentary for public use in print media or over the Internet that uses or quotes from the IMF Collection without prior written permission from Mr. Kanan Makiya of the Iraq Memory Foundation." There are certainly important and valid reasons for restrictions on access to, and disclosure of, these documents given that they contain, among other things, personal information on victims. Restrictions on access to government documents that require such personal written permission from a specific individual, however, seems a bit odd.  I was therefore interested in a detail in a Chronicle of Higher Education piece that said the following (emphasis mine):
According to Hassan Mneimneh, director of the Iraq Memory Foundation's documentation project, the group reached an agreement with the U.S. military in February 2005 to have the documents shipped to the United States, where government contractors would complete the digitizing process at a much faster rate. That agreement also provided for the U.S. government to keep a digital copy of the collection.
I had assumed the most likely government entity to hold that digital copy would be the DIA. Therefore I requested via FOIA last year a sampling of these records on the basis that, regardless of the ownership of the original documents, the digital copies in the possession of the government ought to constitute agency records within the meaning of FOIA.  Morever, access to the government copies would be governed by established FOIA standards for redaction and withholding rather than by the personal restrictions at Hoover.

After more than a year and a half, I finally received the response below indicating that "no documents responsive to your request were found."  Perhaps the search conducted was inadequate or perhaps the DIA is not the governmental entity that has custody of the digital copies after all.  Not knowing which specific agency has custody or authority over seized records is a recurring obstacle.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Iran protesters seize documents from UK embassy in Tehran

Several reports indicate that the Iranian protesters that forced their way into the British embassy yesterday in Tehran seized a number of embassy documents.  The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), for example, reported:
Speaking to IRNA, one of the students said the protestors are studying the documents seized from the Garden to get information on the UK's role in assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari.  He added that having found the documents, the students hoped to prove the UK's role in assassination of important personalities and elite of the country. . . . Incoming reports indicate that the documents obtained from the Garden have been transferred to a safe place.
The Guardian also reported that:
Tabnak, a conservative website close to the former revolutionary guards commander, Mohsen Rezaei, claims the protesters have confiscated secret and spy documents from British embassy compound. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Saddam Tapes (Book)

I highly recommend "Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant's Regime, 1978-2001" edited by Kevin M. Woods, David D. Palkki, and Mark E. Stout, which was recently published by Cambridge University Press (also at AmazonWorldcat and preview at Google Books).

The Saddam Tapes consists of edited transcripts of audio tapes of Saddam Hussein and senior Iraqi officials. The transcripts are extensively annotated with footnotes and text to put them in context. I am still making my way through the transcripts, which are fascinating and at times harrowing.  The book's introduction briefly discusses the history, benefits, and challenges of using captured documents for research.

From the publisher: During the 2003 war that ended Saddam Hussein's regime, coalition forces captured thousands of hours of secret recordings of meetings, phone calls, and conferences. Originally prepared by the Institute for Defense Analyses for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, this study presents annotated transcripts of Iraqi audio recordings of meetings between Saddam Hussein and his inner circle. The Saddam Tapes, along with the much larger digital collection of captured records at the National Defense University's Conflict Records Research Center, will provide researchers with important insights into the inner workings of the regime and, it is hoped, the nature of authoritarian regimes more generally. The collection has implications for a range of historical questions. How did Saddam react to the pressures of his wars? How did he manage the Machiavellian world he created? How did he react to the signals and actions of the international community on matters of war and peace? Was there a difference between the public and the private Saddam on critical matters of state? A close examination of this material in the context of events and other available evidence will address these and other questions.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Iraq to UN Security Council on Missing Kuwait Archives from 1990 Invasion

As has been reported in the news, Iraq recently sent this letter to the UN Security Council, which notes two things.  First, at the Security Council's urging Iraq has formed a high-ranking committee for "coordinating the efforts relating to Kuwaiti national archives" that have not been returned since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  Second, letter states that, as a small gesture:
The Minster for Foreign Affairs of Iraq sent a letter to the Kuwait Embassy in Baghdad regarding the existence of 136 microfilm cassettes that include the official archive of the official newspaper, Kuwait Today.
The cassettes are in good condition and ready for transmission.  The cassettes were handed over by an Iraqi citizen to the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

World War II Captured Document Research at Fold3

Fold3, formerly Footnote, has an impressive digital collection of documents related to captured documents and archives from World War II.  See especially, sections on WWII Captured German Records, various Ardelia Hall Collections (such as the Offenbach Administrative Records) and the Office of Military Government U.S. (OMGUS) Cultural Affairs Branch, which includes a wide variety of records related to Archives in WWII.  Certain of these collections used to be available online for free, but now unfortunately require membership.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Al-Ahram Weekly: "Iraq's stolen memory"

Salah Nasrawi has an editorial in Al-Ahram Weekly entitled "Iraq's stolen memory" arguing that the "massive state archive that American forces captured after they invaded Iraq in 2003 are considered a treasure and part of Iraq's national heritage, which should be returned to Iraq." The editorial is keyed to the recent release of documents coinciding with the CRRC/Wilson Center conference on the Iran-Iraq War.

Nasrawi states that the release of the documents is raising eyebrows among many Iraqis about the morality, legal responsibility and academic honesty of keeping and re-examining foreign documents seized during occupation."  Nasrawi also discusses the IMF documents and the Iraq Jewish Archives and states that
The Iraqi government has repeatedly demanded the return of the historical documents held in the United States arguing that continued US possession of these documents would be of great concern. Neither the US army nor the government has disclosed plans on how to deal with the Iraqi records or say if they will be transferred to Iraq after the US troops withdraw by year end. 
* * * * 
Still, Iraqi scholars stress that the taking of the documents threatens not only the Iraqi people with the loss of their historical memory but also the academic credibility and impartiality if that archive is being treated as war spoils or colonial booty. In the case of Saddam's and the Baath archive, they argue that the analysis of the contents of such documents is critical to any final assessment of Saddam's era and they are essential for Iraqis to come to grips with their past.
Iraqi officials have demanded that the records be sent to the Iraqi National Library and Archive, a repository for government and historical documents from many periods and the key institute for researching Iraq's history. While the US government has remained aloof, a key question remains: by what right will US academia obtain and research the Iraqi records without Iraqis' consent or participation?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Bin Ladin's Audiocassette Library" in CTC Sentinel

The cover story from October's CTC Sentinel from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point is "Insights from Bin Ladin's Audiocassette Library in Kandahar" by Flagg Miller. The article notes that more than 1,500 tapes were "acquired" by CNN "in early 2002 from Bin Ladin's Kandahar compound" and that after "the tapes were reviewed by U.S. intelligence agencies shortly after their acquisition, the collection was sold to the Williams College Afghan Media Project run by American anthropologist David Edwards."  The tapes were later transferred to Yale which began making them publicly available online as "Islamic Fundamentalist Audiotapes."  For "provenance" of the tapes Yale states, "The materials were a gift of David B. Edwards" and for copyright states "Copyright status for collection materials is unknown."  Yale's own description for the collection states:
Originally said to have originated in Osama bin Laden's compound in Kandahar, Afghanistan, these tapes endured a long journey to the United States and to their final home in Yale University. In the weeks following the Taliban's evacuation from Kandahar on December 7, 2001, the audiocassettes were initially acquired by a CNN producer and his Afghani translator. After the FBI declined stewardship of the tapes, CNN transferred the materials to Williams College's Afghan Media Project, headed by anthropologist David Edwards. After several years of work with the tapes, Edwards determined that Williams did not have the resources to preserve them. Yale was approached because of its well-known collections, scholarship, and database development related to Middle East studies. The tapes, many of which are in fragile and deteriorating condition, arrived in September 2006 and are housed at the Library Shelving Facility. Physical ownership of the tapes resides with Yale. 
The origin and custody of these tapes would perhaps provide an interesting compare/contrast with the IMF/Hoover/Ba'ath Debate.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CRRC/Wilson Center: Iran-Iraq War Documents

The Conflict Records Research Center and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held a joint conference entitled "Iran-Iraq War: The View from Baghdad" on Oct. 25-27.  Coverage of the conference, including webcasts, is available here.  In conjunction with the conference media, both documents and audio, were published online by both CRRC and the Digital Archive of the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NY Times on CRRC's Saddam Collection

Great N.Y. Times coverage of documents from Conflict Records Research Center's "Saddam Hussein Collection." The piece is called "Papers from Iraqi Archive Reveal Conspiratorial Mind-Set of Hussein" with a related multimedia page with a sampling of documents.
Even in an age of WikiLeaks, such a detailed record of a foreign leader’s private ruminations — one that reveals his calculations and perceptions of American policy — rarely becomes public.

Monday, October 24, 2011

2003 doc on Iraq Jewish Archives

Following up on an earlier post on the ongoing controversy over the Iraq Jewish Archives, check out this document from Donald Rumsfeld (available at the Rumsfeld Papers Library) dated May 31, 2003 which is perhaps the documentary beginning of the controversy. Rumsfeld states:
I am told somebody found a cache of documents in the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Secret Police in Baghdad. The report indicates the documents are under water, and that some portion of them relate to the history of the Jewish Community in Iraq.
Rumsfeld also notes that he was "told that Hebrew University has offered to take possession of them, restore them and make them available in some appropriate way."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

From the archives: Vietnam War DOCEX Study

I've uploaded a 1968 U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) J2 "Study of the Exploitation of Captured Enemy Documents in SVN" (big file) which discusses, in some depth, document exploitation operations in Vietnam by U.S., Vietnamese, and Australian units as well as the work of the Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC) in Saigon. The annexes include examples of captured document reports and translations as well as a "Viet Cong Terminology Glossary."  Thanks to the Naval War College library for the ILL.
Other sources of information on Vietnam document exploitation operations can be found at Texas Tech's awesome "Combined Document Exploitation Center Collection Digitization Project" and in the U.S. Army's "Vietnam Studies: The Role of Military Intelligence, 1965-1967" (1994) written by Major General Joseph A. McChristian (see esp. "Combined Document Exploitation" starting at p. 32).  Microfilm of documents captured in Vietnam are also, of course, available at the National Archives, Record Group 472 (in particular see 472.3.4).

CDEC translators, photo from MG McChristian's Vietnam Study on Military Intelligence. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Threat of U.S. Court Action on Iraqi Archives

Here's a new piece by Mouhammed al-Tayyeb in AKnews, with a repeat of Iraq's Taher Hamud's threat to pursue an action in U.S. court for the return of Iraqi records from the 2003 war, this one focusing exclusively on the Iraq Jewish Archive:
The documents contained a trove of centuries old Torahs and Haggadas, in addition to marriage records, university applications, financial documents seized by the Iraqi secret police from the homes of Jews as they fled Iraq under pressure and amid persecution, with only a handful remaining.
Claiming the documents were the properties of the Iraqi people, the Iraqi government has been making efforts to return the documents, but to no avail so far.
“Iraq will go to the judiciary in case the relevant US committees continue the procrastination in handing over the Jewish archive and other national documents” said taher Hammoud.
Taher Hammoud, who is also head of a committee tasked with negotiating with US authorities to return the Jewish archive, said “The Iraqi Culture ministry is beginning to feel that the US is procrastinating” he said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

in medias res: Update on Negotiations for Return of Iraqi Archives

How are the Iraq/U.S. negotiations over the return of Iraqi documents and archives going?  Not so well according to Radio Free Europe's Radio Free Iraq, which reports today in "Iraqi Official Urges U.S. to Return Archives":
An Iraqi official has called on Washington to return national archives that were transferred to the United States after the 2003 invasion of the country, adding that Baghdad may go to the courts to get the documents back . . .  
 Deputy Culture Minister Taher Hmud said in a statement on October 17 that Iraq had used diplomatic efforts through the Foreign Ministry in the past few months to try to get Washington to return the important Iraqi documents.
The article refers to several sets of documents from Iraq including those seized by U.S. Forces,  those "given to the Iraq Memory Foundation" which Hamud noted "are very important to Iraq and rich in information and details about the members of the Baath Party,"and the Iraq Jewish archive which was "taken to the United States for maintenance, but," the article quotes Hamud, "the Americans did not keep their word and did not give this archive back to Iraq."

The article provides some vague flavor to negotiations that appear to be continuing with U.S. officials:
Hmud explained how Iraq has been dealing in a "very smooth, respectful, and professional way" with U.S. officials when negotiating the return of the archives.
"We also abstained from sending a diplomatic note to the American side in respect for their will to negotiate in a practical atmosphere," he told RFI. "But now, Iraq is left with no other choice but to go to court -- whether here in Iraq or in the United States [in order to secure the return of the archives]."
* * * *
But Hmud also said Iraq is ready to go back to the table and negotiate in order to try and solve this problem, but only "if the Americans pledge to keep their word and promises," he said.
Back in May 2010 AFP and others were reporting that the U.S. "has agreed to return millions of documents to Iraq, including Baghdad's Jewish archives, that were seized by the US military after the 2003 invasion." The source then was also Taher Hamud who was quoted as saying:
We have reached an agreement with the United States, after negotiations with officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, over the return of the Jewish archives and millions of documents that were taken to America after the events of 2003.
Whether the reports of an actual "agreement" were accurate or overly optimistic is unclear. A much more extensive and nuanced report  by Iraqi National Archives Director Saad Eskander of the negotiations of an Iraqi delegation with the State and Defense Departments and the Hoover Institution in April 2010 was posted by Jeff Spurr on the IraqCrisis List on May 19, 2010 (located in the list archive).  In relation the Iraqi Jewish Archives see also the AP story from July 2011 called "Tug-of-war over Iraqi Jewish Trove in US hands."