Thursday, 12 August 2010

Slime Attack

ACCG's Peter Tompa continues his slime-attack on whistle-blowing archaeologist Donny George, reinforcing his earlier intimations (on the basis of unconfirmed second-hand information) that the archaeologist had been involved in “looting” of museums and collections in Kuweit during the 1990 Iraqi invasion. Now he writes:
Despite Dr. George's protestations that all was done in accordance with international law, does anyone really believe that Saddam's Baathist regime intended to give everything back voluntarily after the end of hostilities had Iraq prevailed in the First Gulf War? Or is it more likely Saddam's government [which Dr. George willingly served at the time] intended to take the same path as past conquerors […]?
In line with the typical black propaganda Americans now consistently use against their former close Middle Eastern ally Saddam Hussein, the “past conquerors” to which Tompa compares the late Iraqi leader however were not Eisenhower, MacArthur or even (since we are dealing with Moslem leaders from Tikrit, Saladin) but – how could it be otherwise - “like Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon, etc” (Scipio Africanus, Atilla the Hun, Genghis Khan, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Tommy Franks etc too no doubt).

Mr Tompa claims godlike ability to see into men’s hearts. Just how “willingly” somebody has served a country’s strongly enforced regime seems however to me remarkably difficult to measure, especially from afar. It is the subject of still-ongoing deep reflection and public discussion here in post communist Eastern Europe, but I expect Tompa is unaware of any of that.

While I am not going to speak for Donny George, I can say that I would be placed in an ethical dilemma if as an archaeologist I was asked to help empty a storeroom at an airbase in northern Poland containing antiquities and artworks because my (democratically elected) government could not guarantee their safety because the buildings were going to be turned over to the a foreign government’s agents (let’s say the CIA) to use as one of their secret prisons in which they were going to illegally hold and torture “suspects”. Should I refuse, not wanting to facilitate my government allowing something that I abhore and regard as immoral or illegal? Then, on the other hand if I refuse, would a few dozen boxes of potsherds and bones, old coins and other stuff stop the foreign agents moving in? If no properly trained professionals could be found to do it, would not my country's government property agency anyway just get a band of squaddies to bundle the whole lot in some lorries and shift them to some leaky sheds and hangers somewhere, thus clearing space for the torturers? To be honest I really do not know what I would do. My job however is to preserve the remains of the past, to look after the heritage of the past, leaving a museum store to be cleared by unsupervised unskilled and uncaring squaddies potentially leading to loss of information and damage to the objects would not be ethical either.

Mr Tompa until recently served a government of the (as far as I am concerned) war-criminals that in his name invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, killed civilians, tortured prisoners imprisoned in various secret bases and camps all over the world, and one infamous one in Cuba, without charges and generally made a bloody great mess. Did he do it “willingly” though? Who knows? Maybe he found it convenient just to play along, close his eyes to the abuse and corruption, do what he was required to, and wait for another government to come in?

Tompa has not noted that Iraq ratified the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in December 1967. This, among other things, obliges them to take care of museum collections in territory under their occupation. Tompa suggests that this is somehow against "international law". He fails to note that Dr George reports that a full inventory was made of the material that was removed when Iraq occupied Kuwait City. The material was apparently packed properly and evacuated to a place outside the zone of unrest and further conflict. It also was returned when peace was restored (and I really do not think Dr George is responsible for what was in Saddam’s heart or plans for the future of the material). Tompa calls this securing of the collectionslooting”. Let us compare it with what happened just a few years later in the same region during the chaos of another invasion.

The stormtroopers of the United States shot and bombed their way into Baghdad in April 2003 and the occupying forces allowed public order to break down almost immediately. Looting began within a few hours, the Iraq National Museum was one of the targets of this robbing. The United States of America to their shame only ratified the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in 2009, well after these disgraceful events. No inventory was made by the US occupier of what was taken out of the museums that were in their hands, it was not packed up in nice boxes and removed under military guard to safe storerooms outside the zone of unrest and further conflict. And neither, seven years on, has a substantial part of it been returned, because the US occupier immediately lost control of it. Some of it has now been appearing in markets all over the Middle East and in the United States. What happened to the museums and libraries of Iraq under occupation by the forces led by Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush and General Tommy Franks was “looting”.

What Saddam’s intentions were for the cultural property from the Kuwaiti collections might of course be revealed by the archives of the Ba’ath party . But these were siezed by the Americans during the invasion. They managed to hold on to much of them and withold the information they contain from the Iraqi people. Seven years on they are no nearer being restored to Iraq (Iraqi Files in U.S.: Plunder or Rescue?)

In the context of the accusation Tompa levels at Donny George, let us also note that the "internationalist" antiquity collecting and dealing clients of Mr Tompa's law firm ( Bailey and Ehrenberg PLLC) are only too happy to profit from the dispersal of 'ancient art' as a result of the military exploits of the US in sovereign states. The ACCG notoriously fought the passing of regulations to curb the illicit flow of looted material from Afghanistan onto the US market after the US invasion. The ACCP reportedly wanted to see a free market for newly dispersed collectable antiquities from Mesopotamia on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq (and Tompa sits on the board of the CPRI which though now moribund, seems likely to have been intended as a revival of the discredited ACCP in a new form). Bailey and Ehrenberg are reportedly now on their clients' behalf fighting government measures on curbing the imports of illegally obtained items from Cyprus and China, aiming to (re-)establish a free trade in such items in the US.

Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium;
atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

Tacitus Agricola Bk 1 (21)

Photo: July 1990, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, April Glaspie assures Saddam the US will not interfere in his border dispute with Kuwait - but then as we all know they went back on that assurance.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.