Tuesday, 19 June 2012

FOI Lawyer Wades into Controversy

Scott Hodes, a Washington attorney who specialises in Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") cases, has been involved in the ACCG-PNG-IAPN battle against the Department of State's Cultural Property Protection Programme since at least 2007. He  candidly admits in a recent 'Statement on ACCG v. State Department', posted June 19, 2012 on his FOI blog, that he was at the time "unaware of the controversy swirling between coin collectors, archaeologists, museums and others over the importation of ancient coins" (- and other artefacts? Really?). Hodes' Statement then quotes posts by myself and Looting Matters' David Gill:
Interestingly, the archaeological blogosphere has made much of this case and extrapolated much about the Court's decisions.  These bloggers have asserted that the Court's recent decision stated that there was no conspiracy between the State Department and a deceased archaeologist who allegedly provided her opinion on the importation of ancient coins in confidence to the government.  However, as the Cultural Property Observer, written by an ancient coin collector states, these bloggers don't really show the entire picture.
Neither does Mr Hodes. Nowhere does he mention that what he and his clients are fighting for is the import of artefacts illegally exported according to the terms of the CCPIA. Nowhere does he make reference to the series of conspiracy theories promoted by coin dealers and their lobbyists to make coin collectors appear to be 'victims', in which the ACCG case alleges the late Danielle Parks was part. It was on the basis of this that Mr Hodes was engaged to help get hold of the correspondence between her and a single Department of State employee. Neither does he mention that the third blog to which he refers is written by not so much a "collector", but as part of the paid lobbying its author does for two international dugup dealers' associations. Hodes intones:
I usually do not comment on matters that I worked on.  However, I think that a few things need to be said.  [...] The ancient coin collectors groups were well within their rights to seek this information and the bloggers offense that this case was even brought is just silly [...] the criticism for bringing the case in the first place is just a bunch of internet noise.
One wonders why he felt constrained to break his rule of silence this time. For the record, nobody asserts that the coineys had no "rights" to know what the US Gubn'mint is doing. I think we'd all like to know a lot more about certain cases in the news over the past years of this and the previous administration - many of them far removed from the matter of the import of smuggled dugup artefacts (but representing the same American exclusionists and neo-colonialist attitudes).   The question for me is what the coineys intend doing with this information. Mr Hodes makes no mention of this either, but surely realises that it is in some way related to this "controversy" [sic] over his clients' handling of ancient coins taken from other countries.

That question is not "just a bunch of internet noise", it raises a fundamental issue about the nature of the US and global market  in dugup ancient artefacts.

And I would say it is our job to do our best that the public, especially those among them with higher education like Mr Hodes, should be less "unaware of the controversy swirling between coin collectors, archaeologists, museums and others over the importation of ancient [artefacts]" than it seems Mr Hodes feels no embarrassment whatsoever admitting to. Let us recall the wording of Article 10 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, how well is the US fulfilling that obligation in the light of a Washington DC lawyer's admission?

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