Saturday 22 December 2012

ICE Takes a Trip to Baghdad

From a US Homeland Security, ICE Press release, accompanied by a photo of serious men in grey suits:
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad hosted a delegation of nine American experts in the fields of federal law enforcement, justice and cultural heritage protection including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, from Dec. 17 to 20 at a training conference on "Countering Antiquities Trafficking." The four-day training, sponsored by HSI in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, was provided to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior police investigators representing 15 provinces on methods of identifying Iraqi cultural heritage sites, and preventing and investigating looting and illegal trafficking within and beyond Iraq's borders. [...] "The countering antiquities trafficking conference in Baghdad marked a new beginning in HSI's efforts in assisting Iraqi Antiquities Police in their fight against the illegal trafficking of Iraq's cultural property," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ransom Avilla, HSI liaison in Baghdad. "We are hopeful that this training conference will provide the tools necessary for Iraqi Ministry of Interior police to detect, investigate and protect their national heritage."
Such announcements would raise a different kind of smile if the US authorities had a better record of actually investigating and preventing such crimes back home. As it is, US authorities are powerless to prevent looting of archaeological sites even on government-owned land, and when caught even admitted culture-thieves are let off with a slap-on-the-wrist, free to go out and loot some more. Dealers daily handle dodgy stuff right under the authorities' noses, their lawyers find one of the many loopholes in existing law time and time again to try, for a fee, and get their client off lightly - most of the time with considerable success. The ICE press release goes on to point out the "successes" (a repatriation in February 2010, another in July 2011, and one in 2008 repatriating "1046 artefacts that were seized in four separate investigations dating back to 2001"). What they do not say is who took those items out of Iraq and back to the USA and in what circumstances, and how many people have been sentenced as a result of those "investigations". Funny, that, isn't it? And how many ancient coins, pots cuneiform tablets, foundation cones and cylinder seals etc. have come - undetected by ICE - onto the international antiquities market since the US-led invasion of sovereign Iraq (pretty good at protecting its heritage until the Americans stuck their oar in)? I bet its a number far higher than what they've spotted and "repatriated".

ICE press release, 'HSI participates in training conference on countering antiquities trafficking in Iraq', December 20, 2012

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