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ACCP ACTION

Press Release Department of State 7-14-03 Press Release Department of State 7-3-03

False and Defamatory Statements about the ACCP
and its
Efforts to Protect Iraqi Antiquities

 

The American Council for Cultural Policy is a public charity created in 2002 dedicated to enhancing knowledge and understanding of issues and policies affecting the collecting of works of art by museums and private individuals in the United States and to research, gather and disseminate information relevant to such issues. The Council is overseen by a Board of Advisors which includes scholars in the fields of history and art history; archaeology; museum officials including: directors, administrators, curators, and trustees; art collectors; distinguished representatives of not-for-profit and other public service organizations; and legal specialists in art and the international art trade.

The Council is aware that certain intentionally false and defamatory statements about the Council have been published on a University of Chicago internet site. The site, the IraqCrisis list host, is a project of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. The site identifies itself as a "moderated list for communicating substantive information." It bears the address of: https://listhost.uchicago.edu/mailman/listinfo/iraqcrisis ("IraqCrisis").

The false statements at issue specifically involve the circumstances under which, prior to the commencement of war with Iraq in 2003, the Council led an initiative by representatives of the US cultural community to alert the US Departments of State and Defense to the need to protect Iraqi cultural and archeological sites in the event of war.

Appearing on the IraqCrisis list host is an April 24, 2005 entry, attributed to David Nelson Gimbel, who asserts that:

The American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP) is, as many subscribers to this list know, commonly regarded as little more than a lobbying group for the antiquities trade--see for example, the articles by:

Zanib Bahrani: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml%3Fi=20030526&s=bahrani

Rob Gowland: http://www.cpa.org.au/garchve03/1138cult.html

The biographical description of the contributors provided in the link (http://www.culturalpolicycouncil.org/news.htm ) shows that the vast majority of the contributing authors are either: dealers, collectors, curators of museum collections with large numbers of unprovenienced artifacts, or their lawyers. Needless to say, you won't find any Mesopotamian archaeologists represented in this volume.

These are the very same people who at the outbreak of the Iraq Crisis labeled the Iraqi antiquities laws as "retentionist," and who engaged in lobbying the US government to relax legislation regarding the import and sale of antiquities. [emphasis added]

The publication of such a volume by a university press (i.e.: rather than by a more 'commercial' publisher) is unfortunate. It will only help add an air of legitimacy to ACCP's lobbying efforts on behalf of wealthy and powerful institutions and individuals who continue to collect cultural artifacts.

Gimbel’s fabrication concerning the Council’s activities is totally devoid of factual basis. Its continued posting on the University of Chicago’s internet site is intended to damage, and has damaged, the Council and its reputation.

Contrary to Gimbel’s assertions, the Council has never lobbied the US government to relax legislation regarding the import and sale of Iraqi antiquities. Stated below is the full text of a statement on the Council’s website captioned "ACCP Action," which sets forth the relevant facts (http://www.culturalpolicycouncil.org/accp_action.htm):

The protection of sites and cultural institutions in Iraq was the focus of the first initiative undertaken by the American Council for Cultural Policy. The subject of how to protect Iraqi sites and monuments in the event of war was discussed at length during the first Advisory Board meeting of the Council on October 9, 2002. Investigation revealed that other members of the arts community, including archaeological scholars and museum organizations, had made no visible effort to engage the U.S. government on these issues.

Members of the Council contacted the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Association of Museums, the World Monuments Fund and other arts organizations to ask them to join us in raising these issues with appropriate U.S. government officials. On October 14, the Council wrote to the Secretaries of State and Defense, urging their attention to the protection of cultural property in Iraq in the event of conflict. An Op-Ed article expressing the same concerns and signed by Ashton Hawkins, President of the Council, and Max Anderson, President of the Association of Art Museum Directors was published in the Washington Post on November 29, 2002.

The initiative resulted in the invitation to a small delegation to meet with representatives of the Department of Defense and the State Department on January 24th, 2003. These meetings were attended by Max Anderson, University of Chicago Professor McGuire Gibson, as well as Arthur Houghton and Ashton Hawkins of the American Council for Cultural Policy. The purpose of the first meeting with the Department of Defense was to discuss updating the database created in 1991 in order to avoid damaging Iraqi archeological sites and monuments. In a second meeting that day with State Department officials the delegation, which was joined by Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments Fund, discussed concerns about restoring and strengthening the administration of Iraqi archeological sites and monuments after any war. The delegation stressed the fine record of the Iraq Antiquities Department personnel and offered to seek material assistance that would strengthen the ability of Iraq to protect and preserve its own cultural sites in the aftermath of any conflict.

U.S. officials at both the Departments of State and Defense expressed their appreciation for the views of the delegation and assured its members that protection of cultural property would be given high priority in the event of conflict. The applicability of Iraq’s patrimony laws was not discussed at any point during the Washington meetings, although some press reports have suggested otherwise. Ashton Hawkins has stated that in the Council’s view Iraq’s laws were appropriate and should remain in effect (Science 2003 January 31; 299: 643).

Particularly troubling to the Council is the fact that at least one prominent scholar at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, McGuire Gibson (Professor of Mesopotamian Archeology at the Oriental Institute), and perhaps others, are aware of the falsity of Gimbel’s statements. Gibson attended the meetings in Washington through the efforts of the Council and can verify what was said at the meetings by representatives of the Council.

A Memorandum of Conversation prepared immediately after the meetings, and sent at that time to the Departments of State and Defense, which had no objection, as well as to Gibson, who orally verified its content. At the time, Gibson unsuccessfully insisted that the Memorandum of Conversation be destroyed and the fact of its existence suppressed for fear that it would compromise his standing with Iraq’s Ba’athist authorities. (1)

Equally troubling are Gimbel’s reliance on the articles by Gowland and Bahrani as purported confirmation of the Council’s putative "lobbying" efforts.

The Gowland article, captioned "Collecting Loot" was published in The Guardian, May 21, 2003. Gowland relies in part on an article in The Spectator, April 19, 2003, by Rod Liddle, captioned "Day of the Jackals." Both articles essentially propose that the Council orchestrated the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

Gibson is prominently quoted by Liddle as stating, among other things, that "You have to understand that some of the members of [the Council] are among the biggest collectors and dealers of illegal artifacts in the world….." (2)

The Council was advised, on a preliminary basis, by UK counsel that the articles in both The Spectator and The Guardian lacked factual basis, were defamatory and that the Council could assert meritorious civil claims against the publishers for damages and obtain retraction and correction under applicable UK press complaint procedures.

The Bahrani article, captioned "Looting and Conquest, The Nation, May 14, 2003, is also maliciously false and inaccurate. First, she ignores the Council’s role in arranging the January 24, 2003 meetings and writes as though these meetings were obtained and attended by the archaeological community alone, which is false.

Not enough attention has been paid to the fact that for several months before the start of the Iraq war, scholars of the ancient history of Iraq repeatedly spoke to various arms of the US government about this risk. Individual archeologists as well as representatives of the Archaeological Institute of America met with members of the State Department, the Defense Department and the Pentagon. We provided comprehensive lists of archeological sites and museums throughout Iraq, including their map coordinates. We put up a website providing this same information. All of us said the top priority was the immediate placement of security guards at all museums and archeological sites.

She then repeats the accusation that the Council orchestrated the looting for the benefit of the illicit trade in antiquities generally and New York collectors in particular, and invents fictitious meetings by the Council with the White House and the Pentagon "right before the war and right after the looting". The Council never met any White House personnel before or after the war or anyone in the Pentagon other than at the meetings on January 24, 2003.

And who stands to benefit from this plunder? The illicit trade in antiquities, which funnels works from countries such as Egypt, Greece and Italy to collectors based in New York, London and Geneva. Collector William Pearlstein, of the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP), an organization that met with the White House and the Pentagon right before the war and right after the looting, is appealing for the cultural theft to continue by other means...."

At the least, Bahrani’s reputation as a scholar is undermined by the reckless inaccuracy of her statements. (3)

The University of Chicago and the IraqCrisis list host have acted irresponsibly by publishing these libelous statements about the Council without any investigation or inquiry into their basis, or the reliability of the source of the allegations. If Charles Jones, the moderator of the site and a faculty member of the Oriental Institute, had made any inquiry into the basis of the statements concerning the Council, he would have recognized that the statements at issue were false. McGuire Gibson, who attended the January 24 meetings and is a principal resource for Prof. Jones, knows them to be so.

In light of the above, the Council hereby makes an open request to the University of Chicago to immediately remove, or caused to be removed, from the IraqCrisis site, and all other internet sites owned, maintained, operated and/or controlled by the University of Chicago, any and all inaccurate and/or unreliable statements of and concerning the Council, and delete and deactivate any and all related links, hyperlinks and references thereto.

We understand from counsel that the University’s preference is to resolve these matters in a manner consistent with the purpose of the IraqCrisis list host; i.e., to call attention to the crisis of Mesopotamian archeology by publishing the facts surrounding the war and its aftermath. The factual corrections stated in this memorandum and the request made hereby are clearly consistent with the purpose of the IraqCrisis list host.

This memorandum is not intended to be a complete recitation of all relevant facts and/or law, and is written without waiver of any rights in law or equity that the Council may have, all of which are expressly reserved.

AMERICAN COUNCIL FOR CULTURAL POLICY

New York, New York

September 2005

1. The complicity of American archeologists, including McGuire Gibson and John Malcolm Russell, with Saddaam’s regime is persuasively documented in Museum Madness in Baghdad by Alexander H. Joffe, The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2004, Volume IX, Number 2, http://www.meforum.org/article/609. Gibson and Russell each knowingly violated the pre-war State Dept. ban on travel to Iraq. Despite this, the State Dept. appointed Russell as Special Coordinator for Iraqi Cultural Heritage in the Cultural Heritage Center of the U.S. Department of State in August 2005.

2. Gibson’s assertions are simply wrong, not to mention defamatory. Gibson is fundamentally opposed to the legal acquisition of unprovenienced objects. As an orientalist, he seems unable to blame those directly responsible for destroying Iraq’s cultural heritage--Iraqi looters and others who then sold objects onward to wealthy collectors in Gulf states that permit the import of looted antiquities–choosing instead as his target the Council, whose views he reflexively sees as being opposed to his own.

3. Bahrani is said to have accepted substantial fees from at least one prominent antiquities dealer for whom she catalogued unprovenienced Near Eastern artifacts for exhibition. If this is true, her participation in the antiquities trade is in stark conflict with her anti-market statements. We invite Professor Bahrani to clarify the apparent inconsistency between her words and her actions

 

MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION

 

Date: January 24, 2002
Location: Department of Defense (OSD/SOLIC)
Department of State (NEA)
Participants: (See below, first and second paragraphs)
Subject: Protection of Iraq’s Cultural Sites

On Friday, January 24, 2002, members of four concerned institutions met with officials of the US Government to discuss ways to protect Iraq’s sites of cultural and historical importance in the event of conflict. The meetings were convened at the Department of Defense by Dr. Joseph Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, where they included Caryn Hollis, and Maj. Christopher Herndon. Ryan Crocker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, chaired the session at the Department of State; he was joined C. Miller Crouch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs,. Jessica Davies (NEA/PD) and Jonathan Carpenter (NEA)

The Defense Department meetings included Ashton Hawkins, president of the American Council for Cultural Policy; Maxwell Anderson, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors; McGuire Gibson, president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad, and Arthur Houghton. Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund joined the session at the State Department.

At DOD, Dr. Collins noted that the question of how to avoid damage to Iraq’s cultural and religious sites was of considerable importance to the Department of Defense. Some 150 non-religious cultural sites were now in DOD’s database, although he knew this number only scratched the surface. Prof. Gibson responded that there were perhaps some 500,000 to a million archaeological sites in Iraq. Indeed, the entire country was an archaeological site and at any point in the countryside one might be able to see as many as a dozen sites or more from where one stood. (In southern Iraq, he later noted, there were no natural hills, and every hill could be assumed to be an archaeological site.) Prof. Gibson thought the 150 number came from a 1991 list that he and Robert Adams, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, had passed to the Defense Department. He noted that the University of Michigan now has a website on which some 2000 sites had been accurately located, although the satellite imagery available to scholars had only 18-meter resolution, which was insufficient to the task of specific localization. He understood that Michigan had been contacted by someone in the US Army, but did not know who. He mentioned also that the new president of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) had written to the Defense Department – he thought to Undersecretary Luti – about their interest in the matter.

Dr. Collins said that his office (OSD/SOLIC) had been tasked with the coordination of information on cultural sites in the Defense Department. He said that matters related to cultural property protection in Iraq would routinely come to him, but that he had heard of no letter from the AIA or anyone else on the subject.

Prof. Gibson concluded by mentioning his concern that damage to cultural sites during a possible conflict was likely to be less than what could occur in the aftermath. On one hand, occupying forces might carry away material from archaeological sites, but at least as important was the looting and destruction that could be caused by Iraqis themselves in a situation of political chaos. He noted that in the uprisings that followed the Gulf War, 9 of Iraq’s 13 museums were either looted or destroyed. The Baghdad Museum, which he understood was now the collecting point for material from Mosul and perhaps other provincial Museums, was likely to be protected only by a small staff, and was particularly vulnerable.

With regard to the possible looting or damage to sites by coalition forces of occupation, Dr. Collins said he would undertake to have an order issued that he hoped would ensure this did not occur. He noted that orders of a similar nature prohibiting the consumption of alcohol by US forces in certain countries had been effective, and he believed orders preventing looting would also.

On the conclusion of the meeting, Prof. Gibson agreed to remain in touch, as necessary, with Dr. Collins’ staff.

The State Department meeting focused on how to strengthen Iraq’s future ability to protect and preserve its cultural heritage, and means to coordinate both public and private sector support for Iraq’s efforts in this area. It was explained that the request for the meeting was generated by the participants’ understanding that no mechanism in the US government was now charged with the issue of how best to protect and preserve Iraq’s cultural sites in the event of hostilities and the aftermath. The protection of Iraq’s sites during a possible conflict and period of occupation had been discussed at DOD, but it was hoped that the State Department could suggest a way to approach the longer-term preservation and institutional development matter. The participants included Dr. Gibson, who had specific knowledge of the situation on the ground with regard to the Iraq’s cultural sites, but also included interested institutions that could play a helpful role in any post-Saddam environment. There were likely other institutions, as well as private individuals, who would want to help.

DAS Crocker emphasized that no decision had been made by the US government about how to proceed, so the discussion would have to be considered hypothetical, but he added that the question of how to address issues related to Iraq’s cultural sites had been a matter of concern to the State Department also. In the Spring of last year the State Department had established a set of 16 working groups to consider various aspects related to the future of Iraq, but subjects related to Iraq’s material culture were not included. He said that he thought another group could be established that would deal with this matter specifically.

DAS Crocker explained that the US government was sensitive to the concerns of Iraqis that the US not be, or appear to be, a neo-colonialist power in a post-Saddam Iraq, and he cautioned that a new group not include only Americans or seem to function without reference to what Iraqis themselves wanted. He said that a first order of business should be to identify Iraqis – presumably expatriates – who might be able to work on the subject alongside US participants. He asked if members of the group could suggest names. (Prof. Gibson said he would try to identify individuals who might be part of the new working group, and would get back on the matter.) Further discussion was given to the possible participation or inclusion of international or non-US elements, possibly including the British and others.

It was discussed and agreed that the outside participants would be in further touch with DAS Crocker in the coming days with suggestions on how a working group on the protection and preservation of Iraq's cultural sites might be organized, its scope, and its composition. Tom Warrick, who was away but who was principal point of contact for the working groups in the Near East Bureau, was to be informed of the substance of the meeting convened by DAS Crocker. Arthur Houghton was asked to be principal point of contact in Washington for the institutions represented at the meeting.

IRAQ INITIATIVE

The protection of sites and cultural institutions in Iraq was the focus of the first initiative undertaken by the American Council for Cultural Policy. The subject of how to protect Iraqi sites and monuments in the event of war was discussed at length during the first Advisory Board meeting of the Council on October 9, 2002. Investigation revealed that other members of the arts community, including archaeological scholars and museum organizations, had made no visible effort to engage the U.S. government on these issues.

Members of the Council contacted the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Association of Museums, the World Monuments Fund and other arts organizations to ask them to join us in raising these issues with appropriate U.S. government officials. On October 14, the Council wrote to the Secretaries of State and Defense, urging their attention to the protection of cultural property in Iraq in the event of conflict. An Op-Ed article expressing the same concerns and signed by Ashton Hawkins, President of the Council, and Max Anderson, President of the Association of Art Museum Directors was published in the Washington Post on November 29, 2002.

The initiative resulted in the invitation to a small delegation to meet with representatives of the Department of Defense and the State Department on January 24th, 2003. These meetings were attended by Max Anderson, University of Chicago Professor McGuire Gibson, as well as Arthur Houghton and Ashton Hawkins of the American Council for Cultural Policy. The purpose of the first meeting with the Department of Defense was to discuss updating the database created in 1991 in order to avoid damaging Iraqi archeological sites and monuments. In a second meeting that day with State Department officials the delegation, which was joined by Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments Fund, discussed concerns about restoring and strengthening the administration of Iraqi archeological sites and monuments after any war. The delegation stressed the fine record of the Iraq Antiquities Department personnel and offered to seek material assistance that would strengthen the ability of Iraq to protect and preserve its own cultural sites in the aftermath of any conflict.

U.S. officials at both the Departments of State and Defense expressed their appreciation for the views of the delegation and assured its members that protection of cultural property would be given high priority in the event of conflict. The applicability of Iraq’s patrimony laws was not discussed at any point during the Washington meetings, although some press reports have suggested otherwise. Ashton Hawkins has stated that in the Council’s view Iraq’s laws were appropriate and should remain in effect (Science 2003 January 31; 299: 643).

After the fall of Baghdad to coalition forces in April, the National Museum and the Mosul Museum were attacked by Iraqi looters, and numerous other cultural institutions were damaged as well. The Council is firmly a part of the important international effort to help Iraq reclaim as many of the looted objects as possible, prevent further looting and take all steps necessary to restore the damage done and to protect monuments and sites in the future. The Council remains deeply proud of its initiative with regard to Iraq – the first such to have been undertaken by any US organization -- and of its continuing efforts to ensure the protection of Iraq’s cultural treasures.