Article Title

Museums in the Crosshairs: Unintended Consequences of the War on Terror

Publication Title

Washington University Global Studies Law Review


Congress has passed ineffectual, “sound bite” anti-terrorism legislation that has foisted conflicting jurisdictional mandates upon the federal courts, sucked terrorist victims into a vacuous, exhausting drama with no chance for justice, and interfered with the President‟s ability to conduct diplomatic relations in the Middle East. One group of victims is mired in multiple jurisdictions trying to enforce a default judgment, exorbitant by international standards, against the Islamic Republic of Iran by forcing auctions of antiquities collections housed at Harvard University, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago), and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) among others. Congress in this political posturing has triggered the Department of Justice to participate in the litigation counter to the victims‟ interests. The victims likely feel ignored and maligned by their own president, while Congress all along was the master puppeteer of their false hopes. This Article analyzes the legislation and litigation and concludes that Congress should leave the ever-changing war on terror to the executive branch and that the artifacts should not be auctioned—even to satisfy the plaintiffs, the most deserving of victims.