When the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan, I remember reading about the destruction of beautiful Buddhist statues as a result of their religious intolerance. The world rightly condemned this act of vandalism, and the US State Department was quick to state their disapproval.
"Afghanistan´s ancient statues are an important part of the world´s cultural legacy and the cultural heritage of Afghanistan. The United States ... joins the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan, the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and other governments in urging a halt to the destruction by the Taliban of a significant aspect of Afghan´s cultural heritage,"
Now, the tables are turned. By constructing a military base in the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, the US has perpetrated what the Guardian calls "one of the most reckless acts of cultural vandalism in recent memory....all the more so because it was unnecessary and avoidable."
Dr John Curtis of the British Museum confirmed that while a military presence in the area initially reduced the looting of the ancient site it eventually caused "substantial" damage to the site. His examination found:
"The Ishtar Gate (which is one of the most famous and beautiful monuments in the world) now boasts cracks and gaps where somebody had tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons.
"An area approx 300,000 square metres was flattened and covered in gravel to create helicopter landing pads and parking spaces (for heavy vehicles which should not have been allowed anywhere near the site). The sand and earth was visibly mixed with archaeological fragments from other sites.
"The 2,600-year-old processional street was crushed by military vehicles.
"Two 20-metre long trenches dug beside the "Warsaw Gate". "In the piles of spoil alongside the trenches there are many fragments of brick, some with inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar," and fuel seeping from tanks into archaeological layers.
"Trenches have been dug into the sides of the Ziggurat (thought to be the structure referred to as the Tower of Babel).
"By the "Reno Gate", he found a 200-metre stretch of road, lined with the mesh baskets "that have clearly been filled with deposits from the Babylon site, containing shards, bones, etc."
The area has not been fully excavated, and may have contained remains from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon themselves. Now, valuable data could have been irreparably damaged.
The US military was in charge of the site until they handed over to Polish soldiers, but the damage was actually perpetrated by Kellog, Brown and Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company formerly run by US vice president Dick Cheney) when they constructed the 150-hectare camp, housing 2,000 soldiers.
The report from the British museum notes "This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain,"
Lord Redesdale (head of the all-party parliamentary archaeological group) stated "These are world sites. Not only is what the American forces are doing damaging the archaeology of Iraq, it´s actually damaging the cultural heritage of the whole world."
The actions of US contractors directly contravene the 1954 Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.
The full report can be found at
The British Museum