WASHINGTON – Three members of the White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee have resigned to protest the looting of Baghdad's National Museum of Antiquities.
Martin E. Sullivan, Richard S. Lanier and Gary Vikan, each appointed by former President Clinton, said they were disappointed by the U.S. military's failure to protect Iraq's historical artifacts.
"The tragedy was not prevented, due to our nation's inaction," Sullivan, the committee's chairman, wrote in his letter of resignation.
Noting that American scholars had told the State Department about the location of Iraqi museums and historic sites in Iraq, he said the president "is burdened by a compelling moral obligation to plan for and try to prevent indiscriminate looting and destruction."
Lanier criticized "the administration's total lack of sensitivity and forethought regarding the Iraq invasion and the loss of cultural treasures."
Vikan said in a separate interview that he saw "a failure on the part of the United States to interdict what is now an open floodgate."
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the United States "in liberating Iraq worked very hard to protect infrastructure in Iraq and to preserve the valued resources of Iraq for the people of Iraq."
"It is unfortunate that there was looting and damage done," she said.
Looters made off with statues, golden bowls, manuscripts and other treasures in the museum's collection chronicling ancient Mesopotamia, considered the cradle of civilization and modern home to Iraq.
The American Anthropological Association said Thursday it sent letters to President Bush and the Defense Department urging Bush to "use all means" to protect Iraqi cultural sites and institutions. The group also wants plans in place immediately to recover artifacts and reconstruct Iraq's collections — including offering amnesty and monetary rewards to encourage the return of items.
President Bush in January appointed nine new members to the commission and they are undergoing background checks.
Sullivan heads a historic commission in St. Mary's, Md. Vikan is director of Baltimore's Walters Art Museum. Lanier is director of a New York foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, that deals with relations between the U.S. and Eastern Europe.