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Documents at Stanford detail Saddam's brutal regime

July 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Millions of documents believed to contain detailed records of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime in Iraq are now available to the public at Stanford University.

As chaos closed in around Baghdad in 2003, Hussein and members of his government were driven into hiding or arrested. Hussein's famous statue was pulled down, but another testament to his power remained -- millions of documents that chronicle the rise of the ruling Ba'ath Party and Hussein's years as dictator.

Many Iraqis have been waiting for years to find out what's in those papers.

"And see how Iraqis suffered and killed by our Ba'athist party, by Saddam Hussein," says Iraqi journalist Wahab Al Hindawi.

A private group called the Iraqi Memory Foundation ended up with the documents in the United States and they are now on loan to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

"There are approximately 4,000 boxes of these cubic foot boxes," says director of the Hoover Institution's library Richard Sousa.

There are 12 million documents going back to the start of the Ba'ath Party in 1968 and include everything from identification cards to routine information about how they got electricity.

"We feel it's one of the most important collections in the world that's available, readily available right now," says Sousa.

Sousa is now in charge of keeping the papers safe.

"This is a speech that was given at the 50th anniversary of the Ba'ath Party. You can see we've encased it in Mylar," says Sousa.

The preservation work took months.

"We ship them to a bulk freezing facility where they do blast freezing which basically retards any further growth of mold and mildew," says Sousa.

It took many more months to organize the papers and digitize them so people can view them on computer rather than handling them. The entire collection is in Arabic and has not been translated. It was just recently opened for research, so there's still very little information about what's in the documents.

"As far as if there's a smoking gun, I don't know if we will find one," says Sousa.

Many Iraqis expect the papers to include details about atrocities committed by Hussein's regime and the murders of hundreds of thousands of people.

"It's our history, our families, who killed my mom, who killed my father, who killed my brother? We need to know," says Al Hindawi.

But not every detail in the documents will be made public. As archivists pour through them, they are blacking out the names of some private individuals. High government officials will still be identified and all names are available if you have a subpoena. For people who were tortured or lost their families, the papers mean a new chance to shed light on what they call a holocaust.

"These documents are very important to us as Iraqis, as victim [sic]. We don't want money, we don't want nothing, we just want the world to know about us," says Al Hindawi.

Right now the only way to see the collection is on a computer at Stanford. The original documents are on loan for five years. Many people want them back in Iraq and there are ongoing negotiations to return them when safe storage is available.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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