Memorandum: Towards a Mitigated Reasoned Release of Documents from the Saddam Husayn Regime
We, at the Iraq Memory Foundation, believe that the culture of secrecy, surveillance, and unbound state control of information, exercised by the Saddam Husayn regime has to be replaced in the new Iraq by an approach that balances the legitimate needs of state agencies for confidential information against the fundamental premise of freedom of information bound only by respect for the privacy of individuals. We recognize that secrecy and privacy might entail similar measures, but underline that they are as different as are a totalitarian regime that allocates all power to the state a priori, and a democratic system that recognizes that it society delegates measured power to the state through constitutional means.
Therefore, while in principle calling for public access the records of the Saddam Husayn regime, we stand against their unmitigated release as a potential source of harm at many levels to Iraqi society and beyond. We call instead for a process of preparation of these records for public access while engaging Iraqi society in their significance and possible repercussions.
As illustrations of the many levels of harm that can affect Iraqi society and others the following non-exhaustive list is presented:
Documents in our custody include detailed reports of with extremely harmful social impact. In one instance, the graphic account of the rape of a young woman, who was forced to make the accusation and to submit to a medical examination—itself constituting a second rape—includes personal information that violates the privacy of the victim and exposes her to severe acts, including “honor killing”, given the norms of Iraqi society.
Other documents can appear to be more mundane, but their potential for harm is still considerable. In the late 1980s, at age 16, one young Iraqi woman in the North of the country signed a pledge to report any statements against the regime as a condition for employment in a textile factory. Whether this young woman, today presumably a wife, mother, a member of her community and society, has actually made such reports is unknown. However, any action that the regime has taken against workers at that factory can lead to acts of revenge against her today.
The harm to be caused by other documents is more certain: the Saddam Husayn regime had a network of informants in Iran, from which it derived valuable wartime information. The names of members of this network, with their location and list of kin, are part of documents in our custody. It is a near certainty that the passage of time does not entail a statute of limitations absolving them or their families from collective punitive measures by the Iranian regime.
More recent documents produced by the Saddam Husayn regime agencies list figures in public life in the new Iraq as collaborators who have made substantive contributions to the regime. While Iraqi society is entitled to hold accountable any such individual, it has been suggested that many names were deliberately planted by regime operatives and used as handles for individuals other than those listed. An uncontextualized release of the names may therefore cause irreparable harm to innocent persons.
Records in our custody detail the gifts of property from the regimes to families of individuals associated with it. In many instances, these were party officials who should be held accountable for benefiting unfairly from public funds. In other cases, however, these were families of members of the armed forces killed in action in the Iran-Iraq war and other conflicts. The unmitigated public exposition of these records might lead to attacks on property presented as reprisal against the regime.
Last but not least, the tribal structure of Iraqi society might be negatively affected by the release of records in which members of one tribe are depicted as having engaged in action against another. The revenge cycle of tribal feuds would thus be fueled.
It is our belief that all information should ultimately be made accessible to any and all responsible party interested in it. However, in light of the delicate nature of the situation in Iraq in the post-Saddam era, we consider the unmitigated release of records to be highly problematic at best, and reckless at worst.
The Iraq Memory Foundation respectfully suggests as an alternative the perusal of its experience towards the structuring for any available documentary collection towards public release, at the opportune moment that would serve the interests of Iraq, as well as those of the United States and the international community.
February 15, 2006