Sunday, April 13, 2014

FBI Believes Antiquities Laws Apply Retroactively?

The FBI's actions in descending on the home of a 91 year old war veteran and missionary who has collected artifacts all his life has become even more troubling.  According to a spokesman for the Bureau, some of the treaties and laws that provided a basis for the seizure are "retroactive."

But then what of the US Constitution's strict prohibition on ex post facto or retroactive criminal laws?  Does the FBI believe such constitutional protections no longer apply to collectors?  And, if so, who will tell them otherwise?


kyri said...

hi peter,i think there is more to this than meets the eye.if you scratch beneath the surface a different picture emerges.dr miller was an electronics wizard,he worked on the manhattan project developing electronic systems for the first atomic bombs.i have also found suggestions that he worked on many top secret high tech devices used by the military and that he even did some work for other countrys not members of nato in the 90s.personally i think artifact collecting was the last thing on the feds minds when they raided his place and was a ruse used by the feds to raid.i always like to think outside the box rather than get spoon fed by the national press or by gove press officers.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this:

"Peter, it would be appropriate if the question were put to the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General, directly in each case, with a request to respond immediately, copies to relevant media, as to which laws the Bureau and the Department of Justice believe are retroactive and the justification for their views, Silence on their part, of course, would clearly mean, "We don't know."

Hold their feet to the fire on this, I think.

Best regards,


Cultural Property Observer said...

Hi Kyri, if the FEDS thought Dr. Miller kept unauthorized secret material, I suspect they would not need to use such a ruse.

Here there was some suggestion in a local paper Dr. Miller invited them in because he wanted to repatriate some artifacts. That again undercuts that suggestion.

Anyway, feel free to provide additional information you might have.

Best wishes,

Peter Tompa

David Knell said...

I know nothing of US law but I wonder if FBI spokesman Drew Northern's use of the word "retroactive" referred to the fact that items which contravened "statutes and treaties" which dealt with such things as human remains or Native American relics could be seized even if the items were acquired before those laws or treaties were enacted? I don't know if that is a fact or not but perhaps you can enlighten me, Peter.

Despite huge media hype, I gather Dr Miller willingly invited the government to help him dispose of his vast collection and repatriate relevant items since he is old, lives alone and has no heirs. He sounds like a true gentleman but it seems the media are milking this story to make it appear like a melodramatic raid.

Cultural Property Observer said...

David, I too would like to know more about the meaning of this troubling atatement. The expost facto law prohibition was drafted in response to abuses in England and elsewhere our founding fathers wanted to avoid. I also read information that Dr. Miller called the FBI to ask about voluntarily repatriating some objects. If so, why the need for 100 or so agents to descend on the home of this very elderly man who served our country in WWII and afterwards? Why not be more discrete?

Paul Barford said...

"If so, why the need for 100 or so agents to descend on the home of this very elderly man who served our country "

Perhaps there was the choice of "100" staff working through the material on his property in a week, causing less disruption to the owner, (and the surrounding neighbourhood) than twenty officers for five weeks?

Why at once assume bad will when we do not know the circumstances, and especially the collector's own involvement in the matter?

Do we assume from the outset that if Mr Miller is a collector, he'd never in a million years himself be interested in "doing the right thing"? I think not.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Mr. Barford, you really are on another planet if you think its no big deal to have 100 agents show up at your house. The artifacts had apparently been there quite openly for years. Why they needed to be "secured" in this way is hard to fathom.

David Knell said...

Thanks, Peter. I note that not all laws with retroactive effects have been held to conflict with the ex post facto prohibition in the US Constitution. No doubt (or at least, hopefully) details of Northern's reference will eventually emerge.

Ha! Since when was the word "discrete" part of the vocabulary of most law enforcement agencies? They tend to treat almost every operation like a scene out of Die Hard. I understand Dr Miller's collection is truly massive but yes, media hype apart, it does sound like a typical overkill reaction from the government. I feel sorry for him.

David Knell said...

However, my sympathy for Dr Miller is mixed with a question. Why has he left all this until he is 91 years old? He clearly suspected parts of his collection might be unlawful or at least unethical. If he had dealt with this himself many years ago, this current situation would have been avoided. Now it has to be dealt with at the taxpayers' expense.

Cultural Property Observer said...

David, I'm afraid all is speculation at this point.

Paul Barford said...

"Mr. Barford, you really are on another planet if you think its no big deal to have 100 agents show up at your house"

My post follows yours in which you say that some reports suggest the collector had asked for an assessment of his collection, and then you suggest that 100 was an unnecessary number. That is why it perhaps was done that way to allow the whole lot to be examined, photographed and catalogued quickly. He reportedly had stuff in different buildings, several teams could work concurrently.

I imagine serving them all tea and biscuits might be a daunting task, though I assume they brought their own portable loos, otherwise they'd block access to mine.

David Knell said...

It was not "100 agents", Peter. I gather it was a few agents plus a team of about 100 other people - most of whom were presumably there to sort through, catalogue, transport, etc. the collection.

I think Paul raises a valid point. I've posted a brief summary of my own impression on my blog.