AALL Spectrum Blog

  • Bookmark and Share

The AALL Spectrum® blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.

The AALL Spectrum blog is no longer published. Previous posts are archived on this page.
4/3/2015 10:16:21 PM

Biblioclasm*: ISIS Attacks Libraries

Biblioclasm: "the destruction of books, especially the Bible. — biblioclast, n."  

“During the first hours of any war the information that profoundly shocks the planet can be summed up in four words: The library is burning.”
Lucien X. Polastron, Books on Fire, 235 (2007).

We have all heard and seen the horrors of the recent conflict in Iraq and Syria. In addition to the abhorrent human suffering, it is estimated that more than 100,000 books and manuscripts have been burned by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since last December. Given the scale of the human tragedy, the destruction of books is not likely to be what most “profoundly shocks the planet.” Yet, this heinous destruction should not go unnoticed. As described by the UNESCO Director-General: “[this] cultural cleansing . . .adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities, [and] seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people.”

At about the same time as we watched video of the destruction of Mosul Museum in Iraq, the Mosul Library was also destroyed. Some have called this “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.” On February 22nd, 2015, improvised incendiary devices were detonated in the Library causing fires that consumed over 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. Many of these works appeared on the UNESCO “rarities” list. Well-respected members of the Mosul community pleaded with ISIS militants not to destroy the library, but in the end were unable to prevent it.

This is not the first time that the Mosul Library has been destroyed. During the U.S. Invasion in 2003, mobs ransacked the library, but nearby residents protected much of the collection, hiding books in their homes. This time, however, ISIS has declared that any person attempting similar preservation efforts will face execution. Many Iraqis have evoked the adage “may the books be a sacrifice for the people” in the face of this adversity.

Among the materials lost were “manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac books printed in Iraq’s first printing house in the 19th century, books from the Ottoman era, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and treasured antiques like an astrolabe and sand glass used by the ancient Arabs.” UNESCO reported the loss of law and philosophy texts. The library also contained materials on subjects traditionally censored in Iraq, such as Communism, socialism, and sex – housed in special rooms devoted to the private collections of as many as one hundred Iraqi founding families. Even the Library’s website has been suspended.

The destruction of the Mosul Library represents one of a series of attacks on libraries, bookstores, and university collections in Iraq and Syria. Some institutions having sustained particularly heavy damage include “the archives of a Sunni Muslim Library, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers, and the Mosul Museum Library with works dating back to 5000 BC.” Only months before the Mosul Library destruction, ISIS denounced Mosul University, which was closed and converted to barracks, “along with the colleges of law, fine arts, physical education, languages, social sciences and archaeology.” Each school, including the school of law, had its own library, which was looted. In the Mosul University Central Library, ISIS militants “constructed a huge pyre of scientific and cultural texts as university students watched in horror.”

While UNESCO specifically mentioned the loss of legal texts in Mosul, many relevant legal documents are preserved online through the Iraqi Local Governance Law Library, “including local laws, orders, decisions, and regulations now being published by provinces in monthly legal gazettes”. However, legal documents published before 2010 are not available there. The Iraq Legal Database, created in 2008, contains a wealth of additional information, including “approximately 30,000 legal texts and more than 7,000 laws, 4,000 ministerial decrees, 3,000 regulations, and 5,000 declarations passed since 1917.” However, the website does not appear to be accessible at this time.

Rebuilding or replacing a physical collection in a region currently a “self-declared ISIS caliphate” may well be impossible or simply result in more destruction. Organizations and foreign governments, are seeking to prevent further loss. Partially in response to the destruction caused by ISIS, the U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced H. R. 1493, “a bill to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters. . .” This bill aims to “coordinate and promote efforts to protect international cultural property” by increasing communication between relevant stakeholders and reducing the incentive to steal cultural property by reducing consumer demand for trafficked and illegally-traded artifacts.

Some international organizations are looking for ways to help mitigate the harm already done. The Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) has embarked on an ambitious task called Project Mosul, reconstructing Mosul’s Cultural Artifacts in a four-dimensional virtual museum. Only two weeks after the destruction of the Mosul Library, “researchers from ITN-DCH, IAPP, and 4D-CH-WORLD” began the project, crowd-sourcing photographs of the artifacts and creating digital exhibits. “The team is [] calling on volunteers to help them to sort and tag pictures, process them, [and] take care of coding.” While a digital rendering cannot completely replace an original, at least items of cultural significance will be available in some form to future generations.

Similar digital reconstruction projects might provide hope for recreating some of the rare print volumes lost in Mosul and the surrounding areas. One Dominican Monk, Father Najeeb Micheel, has been photographing and digitizing early Christian texts in Iraq “with help from Father Stewart’s Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota.” Unfortunately, he was forced to stop his work and flee ISIS with only one truck of books and artifacts from the 50,000-volume collection. Perhaps through a crowd-sourcing effort, more photographs and scanned images can be used to revive bits of the print materials that were lost.

© AJ Blechner, 2015. Reference/Outreach Librarian, University of Miami Law Library, Coral Gables, Florida. ablechner@law.miami.edu.

Posted By AJ Blechner at 4/3/2015 10:16:21 PM  0 Comments
4/2/2015 12:08:57 PM

Check out the April 2015 Issue of Spectrum, Now Available on AALLNET

The April 2015 issue of Spectrum is now available on AALLNET. You should receive your print copy in the mail soon. Please post any feedback you may have in the comments section below!

Posted By Ashley St. John at 4/2/2015 12:08:57 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: spectrum
3/30/2015 3:32:59 PM


Book Review: Meltdown in Haditha: The Killing of 24 Iraqi Civilians by U.S. Marines and the Failure of Military Justice

Englade, Kenneth F. Meltdown in Haditha: The Killing of 24 Iraqi Civilians by U.S. Marines and the Failure of Military Justice. McFarland and Company, INC, 265 pages. 35.00 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-7864-9734-8

Meltdown in Haditha: The Killing of 24 Iraqi Civilians by U.S. Marines and the Failure of Military Justice is an analysis of 7 men tried for their actions and cover up of the killing of 24 citizens in Haditha Iraq. 

Kenneth F Englade has the book laid out in four parts.  Part one is Anbar Province where he lays out what happened in Haditha Iraq.  It starts with what the men involved were doing prior to Haditha, goes into the convoy attack, the fall-out of the attack, and then finally the media finding out about the 24 citizens killed.  Part two is Repercussions where he discusses the investigation that is finally called for from Washington and the charges that are filed against seven marines.  The last two chapters in this section cover an interview on CBS one of the accused gave and the Bargewell Report.  The next section Hearings is a chapter for each of the men charged.  These chapters goes over the evidence presented to the judge for each of the defendants.  The chapters end with the recommendation of charges.  The final section of the book is Trials.  This section is the legal maneuvering of both sides as well as more in-depth information to what was presented in the last section. 

This book had a lot of repetitive facts throughout.  Section three and four covers the same information.  Section three breaks the information down to the individual trials but each chapter goes over the same evidence and essentially the same testimony.  Section four is the same information from section three just extrapolated slightly more.  Such as, how the United States Marine Corp tried to squash subpoenas.

The author used both military and civil terms for legal terms.  He felt it would be too confusing for the reader if he used military terms for judge, jury, and prosecutor but he was comfortable using other terms such as preferred instead of filed.  The terms he chose to use were actually more confusing to a civilian then the terms he didn’t want to use.  He should have stayed with all civilian or all military terms instead of picking random words. 

Another issue I had with this book was Englade starts to talk about things but does not concluded them.  An example of this would be in chapter five Congressman Murtha was sued for libel but there is no mention of what happened.  This would be a good book for people who want to learn the details about what happened in Haditha.  It is not for people who are interested in learning about military court cases.  The author has a variety of sources and he sites everything he writes about.  However, one of the biggest issues with this book is there seems to be a lot of information not provided.  The author stated there were issues getting information from reliable sources and the actual documents from the trial have been sealed.  He based his book on what was available since the trial documents have been kept sealed.


This book may appeal as a general interest book but for a law book, it is unclear and repetitive.  In trying to be comprehensive to a wide array of readers, he mixes terms from civilian and military which is confusing and somewhat inaccurate.  Overall, it is an interesting look at what happened in Haditha but not a concise and accurate book to address military law.

Author: Victoria Troemel (vgtroemel@indianatech.edu) is Technical Services Librarian at Indiana Tech Law Library, Fort Wayne, IN.

Posted By Victoria Troemel at 3/30/2015 3:32:59 PM  0 Comments