Monday, August 23, 2004

Grave Robbers

I raise my glass to celebrate the liberation of a noble reporter, Micah Gaven. He was in Iraq finishing a documentary on the worldwide plague of grave robbing, when the war intervened. He was kidnapped and threatened with execution, but was let go, in part at least because he had interrupted his work to do a bit of freelance reporting, in which he exposed the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Italian soldiers. Our congratulations to his family, good progressive peaceloving people.

I look forward to seeing his film this fall. I began writing about tomb robbers 30 years ago in the Times and then in other publications and in my books, The Grand Acquisitors and My Times. As with the nursing-home scandals, the plague never ended. Around the world, poor men dig up sites where our history was born, in order to peddle artifacts to merchants who smuggle them to rich men, who display them as souvenirs till they get bored with them, then give them to museums and are honored for it, and take tax deductions that often exceed their original cost. It drives archeologists wild, because it fouls up their effort to explore the ancient history of mankind. But greed knows no conscience.

Nonetheless, a salute to the Gaven family. It’s rare that we get news from Iraq that makes us feel good.