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Questions and Truth

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) argued that truth is a value judgement and questioned the premise that truth is always preferable to (or more valuable than) untruth. He also suggested that we should learn from the ancient Sphinx how to ask questions. Should a question always seek the truth as a response? One would normally think so, but what of the case where an untruth is valued more highly by someone than the truth? Is insinuation of an untruth in the form of a question a reflection of values and therefore acceptable? Nevermind, that’s a rhetorical question that has no truth or untruth in the answer.

In a news article headlined “Why are Ancient Coins From Cyprus Featured in a Suit Against the US Department of State?” archaeologist David Gill asks a misleading question. Of course, they are NOT featured in any such lawsuit (at least not yet). This question was posed by Gill in a press release filed through a commercial news service. It ran, as these releases always do, in scores of media outlets that reach a very wide spectrum of society.

Being a news medium, with certain standards of veracity, the reader might expect to find an answer based on truth. Unless, of course, the question is framed with a Nietzschean mindset. In that case, an untruth may be viewed by the author as a perfectly acceptable answer, irrespective of societal norms. The typical reader of a press release is not going to know much about Nietszche or about ancient coins, maybe not even about Cyprus. They definitely will not know much about the U.S. State Department, which is by design one of the most secretive agencies in the U.S. government.

For Gill’s answer to the headline question, the reader is referred to his most current blog posting. But, as a final teaser at the end of his press release Gill asks one more question: “Are these aggressive legal tactics really for the benefit of collectors, or are there other factors at work?” Once again, the reader expects a question to be followed by a truth. Instead, what they are fed is a potpourri of inaccuracies, untruths and insinuations. What poses as an innocent question is really the sort of catty insinuation that one comes to expect in blogs these days, not in the media.

Let me just outline a few specific inaccuracies in the Gill press release and blog. Speaking about the ACCG/IAPN/PNG Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, he writes: “The alliance objected to the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) restricting the import of ancient coins minted in Cyprus as part of a wider memorandum of understanding (MOU).”

The truth is that CPAC did NOT restrict the import of ancient coins minted in Cyprus. CPAC voted against adding coins to the extension of the existing MOU. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs added coins on its own volition, disregarding the advice of its own advisory committee. Moreover, the FOIA lawsuit is not about the Cyprus import restrictions as the sources that Gill himself quotes will attest.

It’s unfortunate that Dr. Gill chooses to argue against the actions of ACCG et al when he clearly does not understand how the U.S. government or legal systems work. The FOIA lawsuit is not about the Cyprus MOU, it is about a series of nine FOIA requests for information dating back to 2004. The requested information consists of documentation that should, under law, have been released to the general public. However, the State Department has in every case denied access to even the most mundane information. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit exhausted every possible administrative appeal prior to launching this suit. Since filing the suit, the State Department has voluntarily released hundreds of documents previously denied. Further releases of material still withheld may be mandated by the federal judge presiding over the case. To characterize this suit as commercially motivated is either ignorant of the facts or malevolent. But, even if it were commercially motivated, so what? Is commerce immoral or against the law? Dr. Gill is certainly not a member of the ACCG and has no standing to complain on that account. As a point of fact, not one single member of the guild has complained about this lawsuit or how it is being handled. On the contrary, they are funding it.

Gill asks on his blog: “Is this alliance of three organisations in reality acting over freedom of information? Could there also be an implicit commercial interest in the liberalisation of the market in ancient coins? This reference to “the liberalisation of the market in ancient coins” is actually a bit comical. The market is constantly being assailed and restricted in one action after another. I don’t quite understand how trying to deflect this onslaught is a liberalization of the market. He quotes the following phrase from a State Department filing in court: “Consequently, Plaintiffs’ claims that they are advocating the public interest are properly viewed with some skepticism given ACCG’s “two phase” “coordinated plan” to attempt to rescind the import restrictions, which would commercially benefit a number of its benefactors, who appear to be U.S.-based dealers and brokers of ancient coins.”

The Freedom of Information Act protects the rights of all U.S. citizens whether they be archaeologists, collectors or coin dealers. Gill ought to know this, since he is quoting above from court documents provided for the public on the ACCG web site. Although he states in his blog that the plaintiffs refuted the above statement, he chooses to post it anyway and conveniently neglects to post or link to the plaintiff’s response (below) from those same documents:

“Initially, it should be noted that Defendant spends a great deal of space in its reply/opposition discussing Plaintiff ACCG’s efforts to challenge import restrictions. Defendant’s reply/opposition at 4, 25-26. No matter how Defendant feels about these actions, they are completely immaterial and unrelated to this FOIA action (1). NARA v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157, 172 (“[A]s a general rule, when documents are within FOIA’s disclosure provisions, citizens should not be required to explain why they seek the information.”) reh’g denied, 541 U.S. 1057 (2004). The fact that Defendant is upset with one of the three Plaintiffs actions is not surprising when reviewed in the prism of this lawsuit. Defendant initially refused to process most of the requests at issue until Plaintiffs brought this action. See Compl. At Counts I to IX. And the releases grudgingly made by Defendant illustrate the lengths Defendant’s component controlling many of the responsive records, the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (“ECA”), has gone to circumvent Plaintiffs and others with similar points of view from voicing their opinions on import restrictions.

(1) In fact, only one of the three named Plaintiffs in this matter, ACCG, is making the challenge to the import restriction as detailed by Defendant. At pages 4-5, Defendant claims ACCG is pursuing that matter in support of the “commercial interests” of some its benefactors. This tact, evidently cribbed from some of the more outspoken archaeological blogs, is not only inaccurate, but beside the point. See (last visited June 2, 2009) and (last visited June 2, 2009). In any event, only U.S. Customs has the power to ensure that ‘test case” will proceed. To date, U.S. Customs has detained some 23 inexpensive, common, “unprovenanced” ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins properly declared before import from the United Kingdom into the “Port of Baltimore.” See (last visited June 2, 2009). Customs will either return the coins or take the legal steps necessary to seize them either through an administrative process or through an “in rem” action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.”

Gill further states in his blog: “The growing realisation that action needs to be taken about the antiquities market has been reflected in the work of the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). The most noticeable action was over antiquities from Iraq in the wake of the Second Gulf War and the looting of the Baghdad Museum.”

This statement is really ludicrous as well as being one of those “untruths” that get tossed about with such wild abandon. Regarding CPAC, the committee was formed under law expressly to protect the rights of the trade and general public. That is why the seats on the committee are mandated by law to include representatives from the trade, museums, and general public as well as archaeologists. Any change of concensus that may be detected at CPAC in recent years is not a reflection of a change in market dynamics, but rather a product of the fact that pro-archaeology and nationalist leaning individuals had been appointed to some of the museum and general public slots, skewing the ideology and consequently the vote from its legally mandated representative base toward a special interest. Gill’s comment about CPAC and Iraq is profoundly off the mark. CPAC had no involvement whatever with Iraq and in fact could not have had under law. The temporary import restrictions on antiquities from Iraq (which are soon to expire) were authorized by specific legislative action, not by the State Department under CPIA.

He goes on to say: “The ACCG seems intent on criticising a policy that is intended to offer some protection to the archaeological heritage of Cyprus and China by placing restrictions on the movement of material that may have been derived as a result of illicit diggings on archaeological sites.” I would consider this an innocent misunderstanding had we not plowed this field so many times in the past. In the present light, I can only see it as a purposeful and malicious mischaracterization. The ACCG has never opposed CPIA and indeed has stated publicly and often that it is a fair and equitable law. The ACCG has opposed the tyranny, secrecy, and disregard for the letter and intent of CPIA evidenced repeatedly by the State Department’s arbitrary and capricious application of select provisions of the law while ignoring basic protections within that law. That Dr. Gill finds this objectionable seems odd to me since it is a matter between American citizens and the U.S. Government and he is neither. The ACCG has always condemned illicit digging on archaeological sites. That is a well known fact that Dr. Gill fails to admit. Instead, he suggest through his implicit language that the situation is otherwise. He is being neither coy nor subtle, he is courting his own distorted view of the truth.

Despite their erudition, Dr. Gill and his colleagues Barford and Elkins seem to know precious little about American law and even less about the ACCG court cases in progress and pending. They, in fact, know very little about the ACCG itself and obviously operate on presumptions made within their narrow ideological framework. They spread misinformation, like wildfire on the plains, often through pure murdering of the truth. I don’t think even Neitzche had that in mind. He did, however, say:

“To help a perception to achieve victory often means merely to unite it with stupidity so intimately that the weight of the latter also enforces the victory of the former.”

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