Monday, October 29, 2012

Bradsher on the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS)

Greg Bradsher recently had an interesting post on The Text Message (one of the National Archives blogs) called "Seventy Years Ago: Colonel Sidney F. Mashbir and the Allied Translator and Interpreter  Section (ATIS), September - October 1942" available here. It begins:
Seventy years ago, on September 19, 1942, one of the most important intelligence organizations in the Southwest Pacific Area was created and not long afterwards its commander, Sidney F. Mashbir, arrived in the theater to take command of it.  This was the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, commonly referred to as ATIS. 
After the Allied Forces seized the offensive in the Southwest Pacific Area, the increasing number of prisoners and documents captured necessitated the consolidation and expansion of such Allied linguistic units as already existed.  As a result, General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area, issued on September 19, 1942, a directive establishing the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) as a centralized intelligence organization composed primarily of language personnel and designed to systematize the exploitation of captured documents and the interrogation of prisoners of war.  
A manual created by the ATIS concerning the restoration of captured records was earlier featured here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Interview about "Struggle For the Files" on Captured German Records in WWII

A quick note that New Books Network has posted a fascinating interview (here) by Marshall Poe of Astrid M. Eckert, a history professor at Emory, discussing her wonderful book "The Struggle for the Files: The Western Allies and the Return of German Archives after the Second World War" (which I previously recommended here).  The interview provides an overview of the book and covers some of the more colorful and interesting events described in it.

Chabad Rejects U.S. Government Position on Jewish Archives

Somewhat belatedly I wanted to briefly update the issue of possible contempt sanctions in the Chabad v. Russian Federation case involving the Russian Federation's failure to comply with a court order to hand over a historical Jewish archive and library (background is here).

Prior to deciding whether to impose sanctions on the Russian Federation, Judge Lamberth had asked for the views of the U.S. government (whose views were previously discussed here).  In short, the U.S. government stated that while it believed the Russian Federation ought to transfer the archives, the U.S. government argued that the Court could not and should not use contempt sanctions in order to force the Russian Federation to do so.

In the most recent filing in the case (available here), Chabad responded to, and rejected, the U.S. government's legal arguments.  Chabad summarizes its arguments quite clearly as follows:
The United States’ Statement of Interest is erroneous and defective for several reasons: 
First, rather than addressing the specific inquiry made by the Court at this juncture in this extended proceeding – i.e., whether any serious impact to American foreign-policy interests would result from the imposition of contempt sanctions that this Court has already held to be justified – the Statement of Interest challenges the legal holding that the Court made in July 2011, after the United States had filed a Statement of Interest that did not object to the imposition of sanctions. Contrary to what it acknowledged in the Statement filed in June 2011, the United States now argues that a contempt sanction in this case “would be inconsistent with the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.” This Court squarely held to the contrary in July 2011, and it has not requested the United States to revisit that legal issue.
Second, in making this new legal argument, the United States invokes a legal principle that has no application to this case. The United States asserts that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act does not permit execution of a judgment against “tangible property possessed by Russia in Russian territory.” Chabad is not seeking to execute its judgment against property in Russia. It is seeking to enforce a court order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1610(a)(3), (b)(2) and with a contempt sanction that would be executed entirely within the United States.
Third, in a vain effort to distinguish this case from the ruling of the Court of Appeals in FG Hemisphere Associates, LLC v. Democratic Republic of Congo, 637 F.3d 373, 377 (D.C. Cir. 2011), the United States contends that the Court of Appeals’ decision in the Republic of Congo case concerned “non-compliance with a discovery order.” Statement, p. 9. The United States has apparently overlooked the fact that the defendants’ pattern of contempt in this case began with false interrogatory responses and ended with a refusal on June 26, 2009, to “respond to plaintiff’s discovery requests”, followed by a withdrawal of the case after noting that defendants would not recognize any orders of the Court. 729 F. Supp. 2d at 144. (ECF 71, 92-1.) Hence this case also concerns “non-compliance with a discovery order.”
Fourth, the United States’ Statement totally fails to specify any serious impact to American foreign-policy interests that would result from the entry of a civil contempt order in this case. The Statement invokes only a general concern regarding reciprocity and retaliation, and that concern rests on a misstatement of the relief that Chabad is seeking in this case. It also asserts – contrary to ample historical evidence – that entry of a contempt order will hinder “amicable resolution of the dispute between Chabad and Russia concerning the Collection.” Statement, p. 13. History has proved that many years of diplomatic effort at the highest levels of the United States and Russian governments failed to reach such an “amicable resolution.” And the Department of State has been singularly passive and unsuccessful in convincing the Russian Federation to comply with this Court’s judgment and international law.
We will await any further action on docket.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Joffe on Syrian Regime Archives

Alexander Joffe has a piece in The National Interest called "Preserving the Syrian Paper Trail" (available here) discussing the importance of the fate of the archives and records of the Syrian government. Joffe begins:
When the regime of Bashar al-Assad is destroyed or pushed out of Damascus, it will leave behind a wrecked capital and unparalleled record of supporting terrorist groups and covert deals with Russia, Iran and North Korea. What we understand of that record will be shaped by the documents that are preserved and analyzed. What Syrians will understand about forty years of rule by the fascist Baath party and its crimes against the Syrian people also depends on preserving something vital yet almost out of sight: the regime’s archives and files.
Joffe states that in "recent conflicts" the "United States has secured records haphazardly" citing Iraq and notes that in Egypt "members of the internal-security agency shredded files to sanitize the Mubarak regime and themselves and to create gaps in the historical record." Joffe continues:
Documents were once a prime military target. As the Allies swept across Europe during World War II, they seized hundreds of tons of Nazi documents that are still being studied today. Among other things, these provided the documentary record of the Holocaust and were introduced as evidence at Nuremberg and other war-crimes trials. They also form the basis for our understanding of that dark period of history. But such materials have slipped from view as a military priority. Actionable intelligence has been the primary focus of military “document exploitation” in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as Saddam’s and Osama bin Laden’s files have yielded vital historical and legal insights.
Joffe ends with the following call to action:
Demanding that mere paperwork be preserved seems strange when people are dying. But Syrian rebels, Egyptian revolutionaries and the next group fighting against repression need to be taught that files are a key to the future. The U.S. government and military must relearn the lessons of World War II—that the future depends in part on securing the past. Specialized skills are involved in document recovery and exploitation, more familiar to U.S. attorneys than U.S. Special Forces. Forensic accountants and computer geeks need to be at or near the front line supporting U.S. and friendly forces. Archivists, lawyers and historians need to follow up quickly, to utilize materials for criminal prosecutions and to correct the first draft of history provided by journalists and propagandists.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

WashPo on Sensitive Diplomatic Docs Left Behind in Libya

Michael Birnbaum has a piece in the Washington Post called "Sensitive documents left behind at U.S. diplomatic post in Libya" (available here). It begins:
More than three weeks after attacks in this city killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the wreckage of the U.S. mission on Wednesday, offering visitors easy access to delicate information about American operations in Libya.
Documents detailing weapons collection efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission were among the items scattered across the floors of the looted compound when a Washington Post reporter and an interpreter visited Wednesday.
The article also provides images of several of the documents here. Among them is an evacuation plan which lists as a task "Gather or destroy sensitive equipment and documents."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Destroyed CIA Tapes & the National Archives

I have a piece today on JURIST called "The CIA and the Unfinished National Archives Inquiry" (available here) that argues that given the completion of the full investigation of Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham into the CIA's detention program, the time has finally come for the CIA to answer NARA's inquiry (NARA letters are here and here) into whether the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes was a violation of the federal records laws.

Earlier coverage of the issue of the destroyed CIA tapes is here and here.