Monday, February 18, 2008

Gov't Censorship Alert: U.S. Judge Shuts Down

Also posted at Docudharma

U.S. Federal District Judge (Northern District of California, San Francisco Division) Jeffrey White, a Bush appointee, has ordered the Internet Service Provider Dynadot to shut down the important whistleblowing site, Wikileaks. In recent months, Wikileaks has published important documents related to Guantanamo's Standard Operating Procedures, the heretofore secret Rules of Engagement of the U.S. in the Iraq War, as well as bank fraud in Kenya.
Dynadot shall immediately clear and remove all DNS hosting records for the domain name and prevent the domain name from resolving to the website or any other website or server other than a blank park page, until further order of this Court.
The good folks at Wikileaks have anticipated something of this sort sooner or later, and have a number of mirror sites hosted outside the U.S., so they can still be accessed here and here. But this attempt at outright censorship must be overturned. This is not China censoring government critics, or some small corrupt country trying to hide its dirty laundry. This is a U.S. judge, at an ex parte hearing (no one from Wikileaks was even present or represented), acting like a totalitarian factotum.

A Wikileaks press release explains:
The order was written by Cayman Island's Bank Julius Baer lawyers and was accepted by judge White without amendment, or representations by Wikileaks or amicus. The case is over several Wikileaks articles, public commentary and documents dating prior to 2003. The documents allegedly reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures used for asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion. The bank alleges the documents were disclosed to Wikileaks by offshore banking whistleblower and former Vice President the Cayman Island's operation, Rudolf Elmer. Unable to lawfully attack Wikileaks servers which are based in several countries, the order was served on the intermediary Wikileaks purchased the '' name through -- California registrar Dynadot, who then used its access to the internet website name registration system to delete the records for ''. The order also enjoins every person who has heard about the order from from even linking to the documents....

Wikileaks will keep on publishing, in-fact, given the level of suppression involved in this case, Wikileaks will step up publication of documents pertaining to illegal or unethical banking practices.

Wikileaks has six pro-bono attorney's in S.F on roster to deal with a legal assault, however Wikileaks was given only hours notice "by email" prior to the hearing. Wikileaks was NOT represented. Wikileaks pre-litigation California council Julie Turner attended the start of hearing in a personal capacity but was then asked to leave the court room.

White signed the order, drafted by the Cayman Islands bank's lawyers without a single amendment.

The injunction claims to be permanent, although the case is only preliminary.
In a diary at the top of the Recommended List right now over at Daily Kos, Stephen Soldz makes the important point that there have been other attempts in U.S. history to
... block publication of particular documents, most famously in 1971 when the Nixon administration attempted to stop publication by the New York Times of excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. But trying to close down an entire site in this way is truly unprecedented. Not even the Nixon administration, when they sought to block publication of the Pentagon Papers, considered closing down the New York Times in response.
It's hard to believe that this judge's ruling will be left to stand. But in today's political environment, nothing must be taken for granted. It's not clear how to support Wikileaks in this instance, as they haven't released a call for any specific action. Of course, this has just happened. It is our job to spread the news far and wide and put the heat on the powers that be that this blatant unconstitutional prior restraint of the press will not stand.

For Presidents Day, remember the freedom that the founding fathers fought for, and let everyone know that U.S. courts are trying to shut down whistleblowers, and the internet sites that publish what they find. I don't think I need to belabor the importance of this, as any site could be affected this way, and all reasonable discussion shut down.

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