Gavin86 and others have submitted links to This Wonkette article (profanity warning) about the Marines Corps blocking access to some Web sites for their people in Iraq. This article was a follow-up to an earlier Wonkette post. Before I posted these links, I looked for verification of this problem but found nothing but links to Wonkette, so I cannot say for sure whether this is true. Hopefully, alert Slashdot readers (like you) will post confirmations if, indeed, there are any to be found. Meanwhile, if this is true, it's eerily reminiscent of an experience I had when I visited Saudi Arabia in January, 2004.The Wonkette post contains this list of sites blocked and not blocked, allegedly sent by a Marine serving in Iraq:
- Wonkette - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.wonkette.com/) is categorized as: Forum/Bulletin Boards, Politics/Opinion."
- Bill O'Reilly (www.billoreilly.com) - OK
- Air America (www.airamericaradio.com) - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.airamericaradio.com/) is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion."
- Rush Limbaugh (www.rushlimbaugh.com) - OK
- ABC News "The Note" - OK
- Website of the Al Franken Show (www.alfrankenshow.com) - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.airamericaradio.com/) is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion."
- G. Gordon Liddy Show (www.liddyshow.us) - OK
- Don & Mike Show (www.donandmikewebsite.com) - "Forbidden, this page (http://www.donandmikewebsite.com/) is categorized as: Profanity, Entertainment/Recreation/Hobbies."
I spent several hours in my Riyadh hotel room one evening checking sites suggested to me by Slashdot coworker Jamie McCarthy via IRC (which was not blocked by the Saudi filters). Among them were sites decrying Holocaust denial, which were blocked, although many sites espousing the old Protocols of the Elders of Zion antisemitic lies were not.
A number of sites that talked about human rights -- especially women's rights -- were also blocked. Sites that glorified Islam were, of course, fine. Interestingly, Jamie and I found that some (but not all) sites that were blocked when the 2002 Harvard Law School article, Documentation of Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia, was released had been unblocked by the time of my visit.
And when I met with Eyas S. Al-Hejery, the man in charge of Saudi Arabia's Internet Serice Unit and told him about some of the blocked sites Jamie and I had found, including several innocuous Israeli government ones, he agreeably unblocked them.
I have no way of knowing whether Eyas reblocked those sites as soon as I left his country, but he told me more than once that he did not, himself, decide which sites should be blocked but only reacted to complaints from Saudi Arabia's infamous religious police and submissions from concerned citizens, which he said numbered up to 200 per day, total, while he only received a "trickle" of requests to unblock sites.
Now comes a big question: If the charges of Marine Internet blockage are true, will the Marines unblock incorrectly-blocked Web sites as quickly as Eyas did in Saudi Arabia?
But first, another big questions must be answered: Is the Wonkette story true? It's been up and spreading around the Internet since March 1st, and no official Marine spokesperson has bothered to either debunk it or admit that yes, the Marine Corps is blocking Web sites for political reasons.
It's going to be interesting to see if, here in a country where we supposedly hold freedom of speech dear, we expect our overseas troops to submit to the same sort of censorship that is an everyday thing in Saudi Arabia, a famous breeding ground for the Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism our Marines are supposed to be fighting against.