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    Chief Iraqi Theft Investigator to Speak at SB

    Last year, Colonel Mathew Bogdanos was instrumental inrecovering more than 4,000 priceless stolen treasures in Iraq. Histask force remedied, in part, much of the damage looters had doneto the Baghdad museum. Much more work needs to be done however, asestimates of stolen goods run up to 9,000 missing items. This year,he is visiting countless universities and organizations to spreadthe truth about his experiences, and those of the men and women whowith him worked to secure the safety of the Iraqi people. He willalso visit other countries, military leaders and antiquespecialists to speak with them about the importance of continuinghis recovery efforts.

    On March 17, this U.S. marine and Assistant DA will speak atStony Brook as part of the President’s Lecture Series in theWang Center, Lecture Hall 2. In an exclusive interview with theStatesman, Colonel Bogdanos explained the importance of informingthe public about his work, and related poignant stories from hisjourney.

    ‘The main reason I’m coming out to Stony Brook togive this lecture, is,’ he said, ‘to insure that peoplehave opinions based on facts.’

    His talk will focus on clearing up several misunderstandingsthat he perceived from the American public upon his return from thewar.

    ‘Unfortunately when I came back to the states after havingbeen away for a year, my first reaction was, what country are theytalking about? My goal is simply to lay out the facts withoutagenda, without bias, without politics,’ he said. ‘Idon’t want to hear your views on the war. You can have allyour opinions on the war; keep them to yourself. The message that Ihave is really simple: these are wonderful people who wereoppressed under a brutal r’eacute;gime, and now they arefree.’

    As he entered the cities following the war, he described thewelcome as one he had never received elsewhere. Most people, hesaid, embraced U.S. troops with open arms.

    ‘The response and reaction from the Iraqi people wasoverwhelming,’ Col. Bogdanos said. ‘I couldn’twalk down the street with out being hugged and thanked.’

    Still, his main purpose in Iraq lay ahead of him and would proveto be a challenge in which he would have to establish trust, makevital contacts in the business of art trade and study the dynamicsof a culture. To find looters and dealers on the black market, theColonel narrowed his investigation on the streets and among thepeople.

    ‘Classic law enforcement techniques were used,’ hesaid. ‘We attempted to determine exactly what was missing. Wewent to mosques [and] marketplaces. The first thing we did wasestablish an amnesty program so that anyone could return anythingthey had stolen.’

    There was wide-spread cooperation throughout the cities, as theColonel found himself with ‘more informants than [he] knewwhat to do with.’

    The question remained however, whether these thefts wouldultimately go unpunished. Through the amnesty program, many lootershad gone free, without incurring any form of penalty for theircrimes. Col. Bogdanos explained that the amnesty program wasnecessary to accomplish the task at hand.

    ‘The question you have to first address is: what shouldthe goal be when you are confronted with the loss of thesepriceless treasures? Do you want to prosecute the people who tookthem, or do you want to return these artifacts to the Iraqi people?You’ll get a good prosecution, but you’re not going toget anything back.’

    America’s role in Iraqi security was hotly debated lastSpring as the lootings came to the forefront of the myriad post-wartroubles that American forces had to deal with. Several newsorganizations criticized the army for not having secured the museumas looters raided the city. Col. Bogdanos responded saying thatthese critics could not even comprehend the difficulty of such aventure.

    ‘Of course the person making those claims was sitting inthe comfort of their own living room,’ he said, ‘nothaving the faintest idea of what was happening on that ground. Iwant to say to them, come to Iraq, see it for yourself, and thenmake an informed decision.’

    Col. Bogdanos said that the main perpetrators, however, operateon the inside circle of the art business. To prevent more theft atthese museums, museum staff and security must be questionedfirst.

    ‘There is clear and undeniable evidence that museum staffwere involved in the thefts,’ he said. ‘It is wellknown that the curators support the black market for the trade ofthese artifacts. If you want to cut down on the illicit trade,start from the top. There are less than scrupulous dealers whoengage in black market practices who are in every audience I speakto. One of the ways you can make it more difficult for the bad guysis to get the otherwise law abiding community-the art museum,the collectors-to improve their policies.’

    The most important aspect of U.S. intervention in Iraq, he said,is that steps are now being forged toward a more stable democracy.While the majority of the people support America, once he saw agroup of about 100 protestors speaking against the war. ‘Ayear ago, had a Shiite or a Kurd done this, and had a publicdemonstration, they would have been dead [and] there would havebeen masquerades,’ he said. ‘My reaction is:isn’t democracy wonderful?’

    ‘Thinker, Lawyer, Soldier, Spy’

    March 17, Wang Center Theatre

    Campus Lifetime, 12:45 – 2:00 p.m.

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