Tag Archives: government records

Records as Spoils of War

This is just depressing.


The Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank associated with Stanford University

…signed a deal on Monday with the Iraq Memory Foundation—a private, nonprofit group that has had custody of the documents since just after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003—for the transfer of about seven million pages of records and other artifacts from Saddam Hussein’s tenure as Iraqi president. The deal came despite recent impassioned calls from Iraq’s national archivist for the collections’ immediate repatriation back to Baghdad.

These records were taken from Baghdad just after the start of the U.S. invasion in 2003, and their presence in the U.S. has been debated ever since. The American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table initiated a resolution condemning the seizure of these documents at the recent ALA Midwinter meeting. That resolution was approved by ALA, and while it’s not yet online, should be available soon (I am told) at the Social Responsibilities Round Table site: http://libr.org/srrt/index.html.

This is a very similar issue to the repatriation of Rwandan genocide records that I wrote about in an earlier post. The same arguments are in play: as an Iraqi expat and professor at Brandeis puts it in the Chronicle of Higher Ed article (linked above), “Baghdad is just not ready for it.” My opinion – and that of the entire American Library Association – remains the same: records belong with the people they belong to.

But how convenient that the Hoover Institution – specializing in the records of other countries undergoing “political transformation,” (their words) – should have these documents. I’m sure their first concern is for the Iraqi people. The whole thing just reverberates with the phony justifications and the clandestine interests of the U.S. in the war itself.

In fact, if you read alllll the way down in the Chronicle story linked above, there’s a hint of a bigger issue:

By all accounts, the largest collection of Baath-era documents resides not with Mr. Eskander or Mr. Makiya, but with the U.S. Department of Defense.


Thanks to Lisa Hooper for alterting the SAA student listserv to this issue.


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Housing and Accessing the Record of a Genocide

Over on Feministe, contributor Anne has an interesting post on the fate of the archives documenting the proceedings and findings of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). These archives include case files, transcripts, confidential records and audio/visual materials that document the brutal history of the Rwandan genocide.


According to Anne (who attended a conference on the subject), there is pressure to move the physical archives out of Rwanda and to The Hague. This is a common archival dilemma: what are the ethics of moving the records of a community (or in this case, nation) into another community for ‘safekeeping’? This is enough of a problem in the local cultural communities of Los Angeles, where moving community records to a major institution (say, UCLA) can set up cultural and physical barriers to access. In the case of the ICTR archive, the problem is greatly magnified by factors such as travel distance, travel cost and visa requirements. Though The Hague may be the safest place to keep the records, moving the records to Europe would present huge barriers to access for Rwandans, to whom these records belong.

Anne mentions in passing, however, a potential way to address to ongoing questions of responsibility for documentary records. Apparently, digital copies have been made of most, if not all, of these records. A digital copy of the record allows physical as well as virtual access to the records. In this case (and in an increasing number of cases, as more of our records are ‘born’ digital), Rwanda could continue to house the physical records, keeping the evidence of history and its victims where its citizens can have access. But these records are also available virtually for access around the world.  Virtual access can facilitate ongoing research by the international community, and an (curated, preserved) virtual record can counter any government attempt to ‘expunge’ the physical records. (In light of my last post, experience shows that this is possible everywhere.) In a world of digital records, our notions of ‘ownership’ and ‘safekeeping’ of the record should change to allow for negotiated, flexible responsibilities. In the case of the ICTR records, the physical evidence can remain in Rwanada, where Rwandans can have the first and best access to these records of this difficult past.


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