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Profile: Antonia Zerbiasias
Antonia Zerbiasias was a participant or observer in the following events:
The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned. [Source: Art Daily (.com)]In a press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismisses the wave of looting and vandalism throughout much of Iraq (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003) with the comment, “Stuff happens.” The looting is “part of the price” for freedom and democracy, he says, and blames “pent-up feelings” from years of oppression under the rule of Saddam Hussein. He goes on to note that the looting is not as bad as some television and newspaper reports are trying to make it out to be (see Late April-Early May, 2003 and May 20, 2003). “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” he tells reporters. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is with Rumsfeld at the press briefing, agrees. “This is a transition period between war and what we hope will be a much more peaceful time,” he says. CNN describes Rumsfeld as “irritated by questions about the looting.” Rumsfeld says that the images of Iraqi citizens ransacking buildings gives “a fundamental misunderstanding” of what is happening in Iraq. “Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Ba’ath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression,” he explains. “And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003; CNN, 4/12/2003]
Accuses the Media of Exaggeration - Rumsfeld accuses the media of exaggerating the violence and unrest throughout the country: “I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny—‘The sky is falling.’ I’ve never seen anything like it! And here is a country that’s being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they’re free. It’s just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country! Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] “Let me say one other thing,” he adds. “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think: ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’” [Huffington Post, 4/11/2009]
'Looting, Lawlessness, and Chaos on the Streets of Iraq' - The next day, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbiasias reports: “All day long, all over the dial, the visuals revealed looting, lawlessness, and chaos on the streets of Iraq. Nothing was off-limits, not stores, not homes, not embassies, certainly not Saddam Hussein’s palaces nor government buildings and, most disgustingly, not even hospitals.” She is “astonished” at Rumsfeld’s words, and observes that “the only free anything the Iraqis are going to get in the next little while is going to be whatever they can ‘liberate’ from electronics shops. Maybe Rumsfeld’s marketing people can come up with a slogan for that.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]
Archaelogists Outraged at Rumsfeld's Remarks - Historians and archaeologists around the world are outraged at Rumsfeld’s remarks. Jane Waldbaum, the president of the Archaeological Institute of America, says her agency warned the US government about possible looting as far back as January 2003. She says she is as horrified by Rumsfeld’s cavalier attitude towards the looting as she is with the looting itself. “Donald Rumsfeld in his speech basically shrugged and said: ‘Boys will be boys. What’s a little looting?’” she says. “Freedom is messy, but freedom doesn’t mean you have the freedom to commit crimes. This loss is almost immeasurable.” [Salon, 4/17/2003]
Failure to Protect Hospitals, Museums - Four days after Rumsfeld makes his remarks, progressive columnist John Nichols notes that had a Democratic or liberal government official made such remarks, Republicans and conservatives would be “call[ing] for the head” of that official. Nichols notes what Rumsfeld failed to: that looters stripped hospitals, government buildings, and museums to the bare walls. He also asks why US soldiers did not stop the looting, quoting the deputy director of the Iraqi National Museum, Nabhal Amin, as saying: “The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened.” Nichols notes the irony in the selection of the Oil Ministry as the only government building afforded US protection. He concludes: “When US and allied troops took charge of the great cities of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon. But the boss at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free people are free to do.” [Nation, 4/15/2003]
Fired for Confronting Rumsfeld over Remark - Kenneth Adelman, a neoconservative member of the Defense Policy Board (DPB) who before the war said that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” (see February 13, 2002), later confronts Rumsfeld over the “stuff happens” remark. In return, according to Adelman’s later recollection, Rumsfeld will ask him to resign from the DPB, calling him “negative.” Adelman will retort: “I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted. Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things—‘Stuff happens.‘… That’s your entry in Bartlett’s [Famous Quotations]. The only thing people will remember about you is ‘Stuff happens.’ I mean, how could you say that? ‘This is what free people do.’ This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do.… Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.” Adelman will recall: “I said, ‘You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack sh_t.’ I said, ‘There was no order to stop the looting.’ And he says, ‘There was an order.’ I said, ‘Well, did you give the order?’ He says, ‘I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order.’ I said, ‘Who gave the order?’ So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down—he says, ‘I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you.’ And I said, ‘I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 US troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.’ And so that was not a successful conversation.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
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