The New York Times plans to return thousands of documents its journalists “recovered” from Iraq.
The newspaper, which came under fire for removing the documents from the country, also said it would digitise the files and make them available to the public.
According to a statement on Thursday, NYT correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who has been covering the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), noted that the newspaper is “seeking a partner to digitize” the documents and make them publicly available online.
The database would include at least 15,000 pages of documents Callimachi and her team obtained after ISIL’s defeat in Iraq.
The NYT also said it would return the original documents to the Iraqi government via its embassy in Washington, DC.
The announcement follows backlash by academics and scholars who accused Callimachi and the newspaper of illegal and unethical practices after publishing an article called The ISIS files last month.
Callimachi, who was embedded with Iraqi military units, described in the published article how the documents were “recovered” with the Iraqi army’s assistance.
“On five trips to battle-scarred Iraq, journalists for The New York Times scoured old Islamic State offices, gathering thousands of files abandoned by the militants as their ‘caliphate’ crumbled,” the article read.
In Thursday’s statement, Callimachi, said that: “The Iraqi security forces agreed to help The New York Times collect and preserve the documents.”
Among the first to condemn the NYT for the recovering of the files from their place of origin was Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi writer and scholar, who in a Twitter post said the move reflected a “long history” of items being transferred overseas.
There is a long history of objects being "recovered" by foreigners and "transported" overseas to be studied/scrutinized/exhibited in imperial centers. This is yet another episode. #iraq #plunder #NYTimes #isis https://t.co/fwkXOY4SJR
— Sinan Antoon سنان أنطون (@sinanantoon) April 10, 2018
Antoon argued the documents should not have left Iraq, pointing out that the move represented a violation of the 1907 Hague Convention.
Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, millions of documents were shipped out of the country, which remain in the custody of US organisations.
Other social media users wondered how the documents would be preserved as evidence, while some questioned how the privacy of individuals mentioned in the records would be upheld.
Despite widespread condemnation, the NYT correspondent argues that the goal was to shed light on the group and make the records available “both to Iraqis and to the world”.