Friday, November 30, 2012

Conference at Columbia: "Local Memory, Global Ethics, Justice"

The Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability (AHDA), part of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University is holding a four-day conference from Dec. 11-14, 2012 entitled "Local Memory, Global Ethics, Justice: The Politics of Historical Dialogue in Contemporary Society."  The website for the conference (including registration, which is free) is here and the full schedule, which includes a wide variety of interesting topics, is here.  From the conference announcement:
Historical dialogue and accountability is a growing field of advocacy and scholarship that encompasses the efforts in conflict, post-conflict, and post-dictatorial societies to come to terms with their pasts. In contesting nationalist myths and identities; in examining official historical narratives; and in opening them to competing narratives, historical dialogue seeks to provide analysis of past violence grounded in empirical research; to acknowledge the victims of past violence and human rights abuses; to challenge and deconstruct national, religious, or ethnic memories of heroism and/or victimhood; to foster shared work between interlocutors of two or more sides of a conflict; to identify and monitor how history is misused to divide society and perpetuate conflict; and to enhance public discussion about the past.
This conference seeks to consider related questions, in addition to discussing the state of the relatively new field of historical dialogue and its relationship to other discourses such as transitional justice, memory studies, oral history, historical redress and religious studies. We will address the possibilities and limits of these concepts and methods, searching for unexplored connections and elaborating upon how historical analysis can be used to resolve long-standing sectarian conflicts. 
I will be on a panel on the first day called "Sequestered History, Public History" and will be giving a presentation called "Captured Documents, Sequestered History and Displaced Memory."

New Details from Iraqi National Archives

Leonard Kniffel has a piece in American Libraries magazine on continuing security problems at the Iraq National Library and Archives called "Terror Has Not Withdrawn: Daily Life for Librarians in Iraq" available here.  Near the end of the piece there are a couple of new details about the issue of seized records and Ba'ath party materials and information from the Director of the National Archives Saad Eskander.

Regarding negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq over the possible return of seized records (see some earlier coverage here), Kniffel notes:
The Iraqi government recently formed an intergovernmental committee to look into the issue of the records seized by the US government. The committee is headed by the deputy minister of foreign affairs, and its members include representatives from the Ministry of Culture (including Eskander), the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers. The committee has formed a three-member team that will negotiate with the US government. Eskander is also a member of that negotiation team.
Kniffel also notes that despite budget cuts and "amid the terror and turmoil," the archival collections at the National Archives have grown by 25%.  He quotes Eskander stating, "This is due to the fact I managed to persuade some Iraqi political parties to hand over to us the library of the Baath Party's training school" which "includes publications in Arabic, English, and French."

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Lost to History: Missing War Records" - ProPublica & Seattle Times

In case you missed it, Peter Sleeth from ProPublica and Hal Bernton of The Seattle Times have an important two-part piece on the U.S. military's failure to create or maintain adequate records of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the consequences, both personal and historical, of that failure. The first part (available here) is called "Lost to History: Missing War Records Complicate Benefit Claims by Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans" and the second part (here) is "A Son Lost in Iraq, but Where is the Casualty Report?"

The reporting relies, in part, on some fascinating government documents and reports including this brief on a "GWOT [Global War on Terrorism] Archive Project" and this 2009 Army "information paper" on "Army Operational Records" that begins by noting that the "long-term ability of an Army to learn from its experiences, prepare effective doctrine, adequately train and care for its Soldiers, and generate an able and ready force requires that it develop methods and procedures to capture its own operational data" and later states that between 2004 and 2007 "very few Operation ENDURING FREEDOM records were saved anywhere, either for historian's use or for the services documentary needs for unit heritage or for the increasing challenge with documenting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)."

The pieces provide a powerful example of the too-often-ignored importance of recordkeeping.

Friday, November 9, 2012

2011 Al-Qaeda Captured Records Conference Proceedings Volume

In September 2011 the Conflict Records Research Center and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Advanced Governmental Studies held a conference called "Ten Years Later: Insights on al-Qaeda's Past & Future Through Captured Records."  I had earlier this year posted this initial conference report, but had not noticed that a full conference proceedings volume was subsequently published.

The full volume, which is edited by Lorry Fenner, Mark Stout, and Jessica Goldings, is available here in a web-based reader (you can also download the full publication from this page, although registration is required).

I've posted a copy of the table of contents below.

Table of contents page 1:

and page 2:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Aftergood on "Document Collector Charged Under Espionage Statute"

Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News has a fascinating, must-read piece called "Document Collector Charged Under Espionage Statute" (available here, read it), describing the case of James F. Hitselberger, who is apparently charged with "unlawful retention of national defense information" for allegedly having classified documents in his living quarters while working for the Navy as a contract linguist in Bahrain. Hitsleberger is not accused of trying to provide the documents to any foreign government.  Instead, Aftergood describes Hitselberger as a "peripatetic collector of rare documents" who has a collection in his name at the Hoover Institution that has been open for research and that has also allegedly been found to contain classified material.

Case files for the Hitselberger case are helpfully posted here and AP has picked up on Aftergood's coverage here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Captured Documents as Evidence in Counterinsurgency Operations

Major Andrew R. Atkins of the U.S. Army has a great new article in the Military Law Review entitled "Doctrinally Accounting for Host Nation Sovereignty During U.S. Counterinsurgency Security Operations" available here.  Major Atkins argues for revisions to Army Field Manual 3-24 -- the so-called Counterinsurgency Manual (available here thanks to the Federation of American Scientists) -- to reflect more clearly and accurately the importance of host nation law in counterinsurgency operations.

Major Atkins places special emphasis on the need to expand the focus of U.S. counterinsurgency policy to reflect the primacy of host nation law (especially domestic criminal law) in circumstances in which U.S. forces are deployed to "support a sovereign host nation government" in a non-international armed conflict against insurgents within that country.  In particular, Major Atkins stresses that in these circumstances the standards for detention of insurgents is primarily governed by domestic criminal law which often provides stricter, more exacting standards and requirements for evidence than more traditional wartime military detention.

Of particular relevance to this blog is the implications of the argument for the importance of careful collection and handling of captured documents.  Major Atkins in fact specifically suggests adding a new sentence to FM 3-24 that would state, in relevant part:
captured documents, and captured equipment may yield information usable as evidence during the host nation's criminal prosecution of the captured insurgent.  Units may have to specially train and task organize capture forces to ensure the identification, collection, and safeguarding of information and items at the point of capture for use in host nation criminal justice proceedings.
Major Atkins notes that such an amendment "[e]ncourages efficient and effective collection of information and materiel for use against an insurgent in host nation criminal justice proceedings."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Journalists Still Finding Abandoned Diplomatic Documents in Libya

Foreign Policy had a piece yesterday by Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa reporting that additional diplomatic documents are still being found in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi called "'Troubling' Surveillance Before Benghazi Attack" available here (thanks to Emptywheel, who has coverage of the issue here).

The Doornbos and Moussa piece begins:
More than six weeks after the shocking assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi -- and nearly a month after an FBI team arrived to collect evidence about the attack - the battle-scarred, fire-damaged compound where Ambassador Chris Stevens and another Foreign Service officer lost their lives on Sept. 11 still holds sensitive documents and other relics of that traumatic final day, including drafts of two letters worrying that the compound was under "troubling" surveillance and complaining that the Libyan government failed to fulfill requests for additional security.
The authors quote from some of the documents at length, but do not post copies.  The authors note that the documents remained in the compound despite an onsite investigation by the FBI, stating:
The continued threat to U.S. personnel in Benghazi may be the reason these documents escaped the FBI's attention. With suspected militants still roaming the streets, FBI investigators only had limited time to check the consulate compound. According to a Benghazi resident who resides near the consulate, the FBI team spent only three hours examining the compound.
The FBI declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Given the number of investigations and inquiries ongoing in relation to the attack on the consulate, the fact that relevant documents are still being found unsecured within the compound is truly remarkable. And given the intense debate and coverage of the attack and U.S. actions, the fact that apparently authentic documents can credibly still be found there also presumably increases the risk that fabricated ones designed to influence that ongoing debate could be too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

LCCHP's "From Plunder to Preservation" Conference Nov. 8-9

A quick note that the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP) is having its fourth annual conference on Nov. 8-9 with the title "From Plunder to Preservation: The Untold Story of Cultural Heritage, World War II, and the Pacific." LCCHP notes that the conference marks "the 70th Anniversaries of the Battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal."  Registration information is here and full program information is available here.

Sessions over the two days include "The Destruction and Plunder of Cultural Heritage in the Pacific War: A Silent Legacy," "Due Diligence, Repatriation, and Restitution," "The Legal Framework for Preserving the Pacific's World War II-Era Past," "The Environmental Threat of Sunken Military Craft," and, of particular possible interest, "Old Records: New Possibilities" which features Greg Bradsher and Miriam Kleiman from NARA and historian Marc Masurovsky in a session moderated by Tom Kline from the law firm Andrews Kurth LLP.