Warehouse C
First Amendment Threat
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US Court Attempts To Shut Down Whistleblower Web Site


By James Donahue


Journalism once held the distinction in the United States as being the silent fourth estate of government. That is because the job of reporters and all forms of media was primarily to serve as a watchdog over government and keep the public fully informed as to all actions taken by elected and appointed people serving in the executive, legislative and judicial branches.


Sadly, this role has been tarnished as our government becomes more complex, the forms of media become more varied and competitive, and our world becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. As a retired newspaper reporter and editor, I watched the erosion of these old values and clashed with my superiors during many a closed-door meeting over decisions made to pull away from full coverage of meetings of elected boards serving township, village, city, school and county governments.


In their haste to compete with the glamour of daily television news reporting and deal with declining readership, newspaper publishers moved away from (dull) government stories and chose to fill this print space with light feature stories designed more for public amusement. Sadly, the newspapers have since become public dinosaurs, still struggling to stay relevant at a time when even television news is being outpaced by Internet news.


Interesting to note that the Internet news sites that are attracting public attention today are attempting to do the very thing newspapers were always supposed to be doing. They are reporting the actions of government and the public is clamoring for this information.


The problem is that government has been given free reign over its own affairs for too long, and it is fighting back. People in high places, especially in the Bush Administration, are not willing to allow the public to see what they have been up to and are resisting efforts even by Congress to open documents that should be public information.


This trend toward government secrecy took an alarming shift on Feb. 15 when a California court granted an injunction for lawyers representing the Cayman Island’s Bank Julius Baer and ordered a whistleblower web site, Wikileaks.org, shut down. Apparently the reporters on that site were publishing documents that reveal some shady dealings the bank wants to keep under wraps.


The temporary restraining order, issued by the California Northern District Court in San Francisco, targeted a domain name registrar, which included not only the key site address, but several mirror sites. Fortunately, Wikileaks is operating outside US legal jurisdiction and mirror sites from overseas can still be found.


Wikileaks is a bold whistleblower operation that publishes controversial documents provided by anonymous whistleblowers who do not wish to have their names made public. It is raw investigative journalism that dances at the very edge of revolution and anarchy when dealing with governments that go to great lengths to hide its secret agendas.


A visit to the site reveals that the data published there is obviously angering high government officials in not only the United States, but Europe, China, Kenya and political hotspots throughout the world.


Among the important published leaked documents that appeared on this site are the Rules of Engagement for Iraq, the 2003 and 2004 Guantanamo Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures, and evidence of bank fraud in Kenya that had an impact on elections there.


In addressing the court order, Wikileaks noted that Internet censorship is virtually impossible. “Cut off one site, and a thousand more pop up,” the writer noted. “So Wikileaks.org went offline, but Wikileaks mirror sites hosted overseas hold the same content, and the original site is still up and running from Sweden ( without its easier-to-type URL.”


The irony here is that in its effort to force a whistleblower site to go dark, the court drew so much attention to Wikileaks that the site has gained instant international attention. Now everybody wants to link to the site and see what the fuss is all about.