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»  December 9, 2005


All That Glitters

"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.... Stuff happens."
      — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on looting in Iraq, 11 April 2003
I was thinking of singular breach of rationality this morning as I listened to an interview on "All Things Considered." The subject was Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, who's a student of classics and — back in the States — a New York City prosecutor who's written a book called Thieves of Baghdad about how he took his unit to the Iraq Museum to stop the looting when he heard about it, and his attempts to recover significant items taken from the museum.

As Bogdanos points out at the end of the interview, not only are the missing pieces historically and culturally significant, but they're worth a lot of virtually untraceable money. Nobody who buys them for the millions — or tens of millions in some cases — that they're worth is ever going to be able to display them publicly. He says: "We have found that the trafficing in illegal antiquities has gone to funding the insurgency."

I haven't seen Bogdanos's book, so I don't know how well-documented his claim is, but stolen art has a good value/weight ratio, and it wouldn't take a genius to figure out that if the Americans spent several months building up a military force on the border and you wanted to get some items that you could fit in the back of a pickup truck that might be worth tens of millions of dollars, the museum might be a place to look.

Then again, if you were expecting to be greeted by flowers and candy (well, not you specifically, but the troops you are nominally in charge of) why would you bother to lock down a bunch of old, dusty crap?

Fri Dec 09, 2005 09:19 -0800