Iraqis take page out of German book
An East German secret police archive is seen as a model for chronicling Saddam Hussein's crimes.
An ugly complex of buildings here that once housed the East German secret police is the stuff of dreams for two Iraqi exiles.Skip to next paragraph
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The climate-controlled rooms, storing millions of pages of material gathered by Stasi spies - neatly categorized and ready for examination - are the kind of place Hassan Mneimneh and his colleague Kanan Makiya would like to see in Baghdad one day.
"What you have here, we can only dream about," says Mr. Mneimneh, who with Mr. Makiya is trying to set up an archive documenting the Baathist regime that could be used to help bring Saddam Hussein and his henchmen to justice.
"Now is the time we should be working to provide evidentiary support to try these people," says Makiya, founder of the Iraq Memory Foundation. "We need a paper trail for the regime itself."
Since his capture Dec. 13, Mr. Hussein has been in US custody under CIA interrogation. Washington, which plans to hand over power to Iraqis on June 30, has stated it wants an Iraqi court to try him. Some observers have said it could take up to two years to bring him to justice. Meanwhile, the International Red Cross said Wednesday that it is waiting to set a date with US authorities to visit the former dictator, now classified as a POW.
The East German archive has also become a model for six former Soviet bloc countries trying to come to terms with their totalitarian pasts. Of particular interest are the categorization methods and the legal framework allowing access to the files. More than 5 million files have been reviewed, either by the victims of the state security system or as part of background investigations into former high-ranking East German officials and spies.
In the 14 years since the collapse of the Iron Curtain, no place has moved more quickly to confront its big brother spy network than the former East Germany. In the 1990s, a special section of Berlin's chief prosecutor's office launched more than 20,000 investigations into Stasi, border guards, and members of the Politburo - although critics have charged that the resulting 200 convictions were a paltry yield.
In recent months Makiya and Mneimneh have met twice with the head of the East German Stasi Archive, Marianne Birthler. The archive is "more thorough than any country we have looked at," says Makiya, who praises the Stasi Records Act. The unique law, passed by the German Bundestag in 1991, regulates the access of both victims of spying and former spies to their files and has become a reference point for lawmakers from Bucharest to Bratislava ever since. The law, for example, allows people who were spied on to view their dossiers. They can find out who spied on them, but, to avert revengetaking, they are not given access to the spy's files.
"For us, there was no other model," says Mirsolav Lehky, a former Czech dissident and director of the Slovak Institute for Public Rememberance. "The [Birthler] law was the only one around."
Slovakia copied the records law almost word for word when drafting its own legislation in 2002. In the six months the institute has been open, 4,000 people have applied to look at their files, says Lehky.