Whose Free Speech?

A disturbing story that came to light last week, courtesy of Think Progress

Middle East analyst Flynt Leverett, who served under President Bush on the National Security Council and is now a fellow at the New America Foundation, revealed today that the White House has been blocking the publication of an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times. The column is critical of the administration’s refusal to engage Iran.

Leverett’s op-ed has already been cleared by the CIA, where he was a senior analyst. Leverett explained, “I’ve been doing this for three and a half years since leaving government, and I’ve never had to go to the White House to get clearance for something that I was publishing as long as the CIA said, ‘Yeah, you’re not putting classified information.’”

According to Leverett the op-ed was “all based on stuff that Secretary Powell, Secretary Rice, Deputy Secretary Armitage have talked about publicly. It’s been extensively reported in the media.” Leverett says the incident shows “just how low people like Elliot Abrams at the NSC [National Security Council] will stoop to try and limit the dissemination of arguments critical of the administration’s policy.”

In remarks to the New America Foundation, Leverett explained that the op-ed made a case for diplomatic engagement with Iran. He had submitted the op-ed to the CIA to verify that the piece had no classified information. The CIA cleared the op-ed without reservation. But the White House intervened, claiming there was classified information in the piece. Leverett says this was nothing but a bare-assed attempt to squelch debate on President Bush’s Iran policies.

Carol Giacomo of Reuters reported

Flynt Leverett, a Middle East expert who once worked for Bush’s National Security Council, advocates a “grand bargain,” offering Iran full diplomatic and economic relations and a security guarantee in return for forswearing nuclear weapons.

This was “the best of the available options for American policy,” Leverett, now with the New America Foundation, told a conference hosted by the CATO Institute thinktank. …

… Bush has resisted even the modest step of talking with Tehran about Iraq and has shown no signs of being prepared to consider what Leverett and other analysts call “a grand bargain.”

In a Voice of America report by Barry Wood, Leverett says the Bush Administration needs Iran’s cooperation if there’s to be progress in Iraq.

Former diplomat and Central Intelligence Agency analyst Flynt Leverett says the Bush administration finds itself in the awkward position of needing Iran’s help to bring stability to war-ravaged Iraq. “They (the Iranians) are very well positioned on the ground, right now, to defend their interests in Iraq without our help. We’ve put ourselves in a situation in Iraq where at this point we need them (the Iranians) more than they need us,” he said.

This is what the Bush Administration doesn’t want you to know. And if indeed the op-ed contained no classified material, it is censorship in the purest sense of the word.

Today some rightie bloggers are also up in arms over “a disturbing story for those of us who defend freedom of speech through our blogging,” quoting Captain Ed. Government interference with the right to blog? Not quite.

HostGator has suspended the Right Wing Howler for linking to and excerpting an “editorial” at IMAO, a well-known source of biting (and excellent) political satire. Vilmar’s offending web page has been cached by Google here.

The article in question calls for saving America by killing all Arab children; in other words, it’s one of IMAO’s lead-balloon attempts at wit. There’s no question that it’s a satire, however unfunny. [Update: Actually, there is a legitimate question on this point; see update below.] HostGator suspended the Right Wing Howler account after the Council on American-Islamic Relations complained; IMAO is still online.

I can empathize with Right Wing Howler’s frustration. I lost more than a year of work when Lycos Tripod destroyed the original Mahablog archives without prior notice. Since I didn’t owe them money and had been very careful not to violate Tripod rules — there was no obscenity; I had deleted most of the graphics to stay within byte parameters, etc. — I can only assume that someone had taken offense at the anti-Bush Administration content. Needless to say, I was very angry. Although I had saved a little of it elsewhere, it still frustrates me sometime that I have no record of what I blogged from July 2002 to August 2003 (when I moved Mahablog to a new web host).

So, yeah, it’s frustrating. But it’s not censorship. Tripod doesn’t have the power to keep me from expressing opinions; it just doesn’t want my opinions on their servers.

Further, CAIR says the one li’l satire wasn’t the only problem with Right Wing Howler.

Other entries on the site contain obscene and hate- filled attacks on Islam and Muslims, as well as support for violent actions. One entry states: “It’s bad enough some (expletive deleted) in Minnesota elect a Muslim to Congress but the people in Michigan might have done them one better…Start sticking (sic) up on guns and ammo. The war will start soon.”

Here’s the post quoted above, courtesy of Google cache. It is not satire. However, it is par for the course for a rightie blog. If CAIR tries to shut down every blog publishing anti-Muslim hate speech it’ll have to take on most of the Right Blogosphere. They might as well try to clear the sand off Miami Beach.

But the point is that HostGator and Tripod are not restricting free speech. They are not the government. Tripod is a wholly owned subsidiary of a North South Korean corporation. HostGator is a privately owned company. Neither is under any obligation to host or publish anybody’s rhetoric they don’t want to host or publish. HostGator’s Terms of Service statement clearly says

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. Any material that, in our judgment, is obscene or threatening is prohibited and will be removed from our servers with or without notice.

The flaming bigot of Right Wing Howler is free to set up shop at another host and resume spewing out pollution.

Flynt Leverett, on the other hand, is being censored by the government. Even if Leverett does find another venue for his opinion, he (and his publisher) could face serious repercussions from the feds. Do you see the distinction, righties? If so, do you care?

Update: Amanda argues that to call the IMAO piece a “satire” in the style of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, as Captain Ed did, is a slur of Jonathan Swift. She says,

The piece that’s being defended today is at lMAO, and it’s a “satirical” piece suggesting that the best way to handle terrorism is to kill all children of Muslims. Now, to make it very clear, the authors are right wing shills who support killing Muslims, at least under the guise of the Iraq War. This is critically important to understanding why the comparisons to Swift are asinine, besides just quality issues.

My reading — a casual reading, I admit — of the piece is that it is intended to make fun of people who are unconscious bigots. I base that opinion mostly on this bit —

Others object to this as genocide, but only a moron would do that. I’m not saying we should kill all Arabs; I’m just saying we should kill all their children. Think before you speak.

As I said, it’s a lead-balloon attempt at satire. I don’t think it gets anywhere close to being “Swiftian.” But the “Think before you speak” lick lifts the piece to the level of being almost clever. Or maybe that’s just me.

On the other hand, Pandagon commenter DivGuy writes,

As Amanda points out, in theory, this could be Swiftian satire.

Of course, satire always has a point. The point of A Modest Proposal was that the colonial treatment of the Irish was a moral abomination of such great extent that eating Irish babies would be a logical extension of the injustice.

If the IMAO piece is satire, it is one of the most cutting critiques of US policy to be posted to the web at any time, let alone by a wingnut site. The logic of a Swiftian satire of US policy would be, again, that the war was so horribly unjust that the US might at some point start killing Muslim children.

I agree; if it’s supposed to be a “swiftian” satire, as Captain Ed claims, that’s the only reasonable interpretation.