Friday, June 22, 2012

Homeland Security Censors Brad-buryed? Today's Whistle Blowers Either Silenced Or Trying To Move (To Ecuador!)

Ray Bradbury was a particularly favored writer by my set in high school and college. We loved it when his stories were featured on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, and his own show The Martian Chronicles, not to mention The Ray Bradbury Theater, but these came much later when teenage awe had passed into the dark, truly dark past and the current day's political consequences were staring at us so malignantly that Bradbury was no longer escape fiction. The movie Fahrenheit 451 was a particular thrill as it came out at the height of whatever teen angst (not much really) there was  in my life (my Dad, who also was a Bradbury fan, liked it as much as I did).

Speaking of my Dad, I remember watching Moby Dick with him at the Drive-In movie as a nine-year-old when he pointed out that a well-known writer named Ray Bradbury was listed among the writers of the screenplay.

It's quite a jolt (and probably totally dependent on the fact of his recent death) that someone has finally gotten publicity about honoring him with a Bradbury reference for an error message number (and this one is especially apt). Being a software guru-type myself I know we've been suggesting these remembrances since the 70's. It's been a long time coming.

Ray Bradbury’s Work Inspires Internet Censorship Code

Alison Flood, The Guardian

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ray Bradbury’s fiction looks set to enter the structure of the internet, after a software developer has proposed a new HTTP status code inspired by Fahrenheit 451.

Tim Bray, a fan of Bradbury’s writing, is recommending to the Internet Engineering Task Force, which governs such choices, that when access to a website is denied for legal reasons the user is given the status code 451.

There are already a host of HTTP status codes, from the common 404 Page not found to 504 Gateway timeout. The 451 idea follows a blogpost from Terence Eden, who found that his ISP had been ordered to censor the Pirate Bay when he was given an HTTP 403 Forbidden message, meaning that “the server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfil it”.  In fact, Eden writes on his blog, it was not Pirate Bay that was preventing access but the government, after Britain’s high court issued an order to ISPs to block access to the filesharing site in April, so the response was “factually incorrect”, and a new code is needed to indicate “censorship”.

451, Bray believes, would work nicely, as it would provide a tribute to Bradbury as well as reminding users of the dystopian future predicted by the science fiction author. Bradbury died earlier this month, leaving behind an oeuvre numbering hundreds of short stories as well as the novels Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, which tells of a world where books are banned and burned and fireman don’t put fires out but start them.

“We can never do away entirely with legal restrictions on freedom of speech. On the other hand, I feel that when such restrictions are imposed, they should be done so transparently; for example, most civilised people find Britain’s system of superinjunctions loathsome and terrifying,” Bray told the Guardian.  “While we may agree on the existence of certain restrictions, we should be nervous whenever we do it; thus the reference to the dystopian vision of Fahrenheit 451 may be helpful. Also, since the internet exists in several of the many futures imagined by Bradbury, it would be nice for a tip of the hat in his direction from the net, in the year of his death.”

The Internet Engineering Task Force is likely to look at his proposal when it next meets in late July, Bray said. “This is a smart and conservative group and it’s possible that someone will point out a fatal flaw in the idea, or that while such a status code is sensible, the number ’451′ is inappropriate for technical reasons. I’d be mildly surprised, but not too terribly; designing the internet is hard,” said Bray. “On the other hand, assuming the IETF smiles on the idea, the work of deploying it in web servers and browsers would be easy and straightforward, and I would expect to see fairly rapid uptake.”

It’s not clear whether Bradbury would have welcomed a proposal to honour his memory in an internet error code. He said in an interview in 2009 that “the internet is a big distraction”. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the internet.’ It’s distracting,” he told the New York Times. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

[Fahrenheit 451 on the e-book via unten44 / Flickr]

And as for today's Bradbury ringing the bells of alarm?

Assange Asks Ecuador For Asylum

The WikiLeaks founder is motivated by one thing: a desire to avoid extradition to the U.S. Can anyone blame him?

Julian Assange was scheduled within days to turn himself over to British authorities for extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault case in which he has never been charged. Instead, Assange earlier today went to the Embassy of Ecuador in London and sought asylum from that country under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, issued a statement indicating that his government is “evaluating the request” and that Assange will remain under protection at the Embassy pending a decision.

Ecuador may seem like a random choice but it’s actually quite rational. In 2010, a top official from that country offered Assange residency (though the Ecuadorian President backtracked after controversy ensued). Earlier this month, Assange interviewed that nation’s left-wing President, Rafael Correa, for his television program on RT. Among other things, Correa praised the transparency brought about by WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables as being beneficial for Ecuador (“We have nothing to hide. If anything, the WikiLeaks [releases] have made us stronger”).

President Correa also was quite critical of the U.S., explaining the reason he closed the American base in his country this way: “Would you accept a foreign military base in your country? It’s so simple, as I said that at the time, there is no problem in having a U.S. military base in Ecuador but ok, perfect - we can give permission for the intelligence base only if they allow us to install an Ecuadorian base in the United States, a military base. That’s it, no more problem.”

Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden for a year-and-a-half now, during which time he has been under house arrest. He has never been charged with any crime in Sweden, but a prosecutor from that country is seeking his extradition to question him. After the British High Court ruled against him by a 5-2 vote earlier this month, and then refused to re-hear the case last week, his appeals in Britain contesting the extradition are exhausted.

Assange’s resolve to avoid extradition to Sweden has nothing to do with a reluctance to face possible sex assault charges there. His concern all along has been that once he’s in Swedish custody, he will far more easily be extradited to the U.S.

In general, small countries are more easily coerced and bullied by the U.S., and Sweden in particular has a demonstrated history of acceding to U.S. demands when it comes to individuals accused of harming American national security. In December, 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum-seekers to the CIA, which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt.

A ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government). The fact that Sweden has unusually oppressive pre-trial procedures — allowing for extreme levels of secrecy in its judicial proceedings — only heightens Assange’s concern about what will happen to him vis-a-vis the U.S. if he ends up in Swedish custody.

Can anyone claim that Assange’s fear of ending up in American custody is anything other than supremely reasonable and rational? Just look at what has happened to people — especially foreign nationals — over the last decade who have been accused of harming the national security of the United States.

They’re imprisoned — still — without a whiff of due process, and President Obama just last year signed a new indefinite detention bill into law. Moreover, Assange need merely look at what the U.S. has done to Bradley Manning, accused of leaking documents and other materials to WikiLeaks: the Army Private was held for almost a year in solitary confinement conditions which a formal U.N. investigation found were “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and he now faces life in prison, charged with a capital offense of aiding Al Qaeda.

Beyond that, the Obama administration has been uniquely obsessed with punishing whistleblowers and stopping leaks. Worse still, the American federal judiciary has been staggeringly subservient to the U.S. Government when it comes to national security cases, rendering defendants accused of harming national security with almost no chance for acquittal. Would you have any confidence in obtaining justice if you were accused of harming U.S. national security and came into the clutches of the American justice system?

Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with numerous individuals who were once associated with WikiLeaks or who still are. Of those who no longer are, many have said that they stopped even though they believe as much as ever in WikiLeaks’ transparency cause, and did so out of fear: not fear that they would be charged with a crime by their own government (they trust the judicial system of their government and are confident they would not be convicted), but out of fear that they would be turned over to the United States. That’s the fear people have: ending up in the warped travesty known as the judicial system of the Land of the Free. That is what has motivated Assange to resist extradition to Sweden, and it’s what has undoubtedly motivated him to seek asylum from Ecuador.

UPDATE: Just to address some media chatter I’m seeing around: Assange has not “fled” anything, is not a fugitive, and did not concoct some new and exotic procedure to evade legal process. Everyone knows exactly where he is: at Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Seeking asylum based on claims of human rights violations (such as unjust extradition) is a widely recognized and long-standing right, as Foreign Policy documented during the recent Chen Guangcheng drama. It’s a right that Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to invoke. If Ecuador refuses his asylum request, then he’ll be right back in the hands of British authorities and presumably extradited to Sweden without delay. He has a lot at stake, and — like anyone else accused of serious crimes (though he’s not been charged with anything) — he has every right to invoke all legal procedures available to him.

UPDATE II [Wed.]: This is one of those cases where, unless you include caveats in every other sentence about what you are not arguing, then people feel free to attribute to you arguments you plainly are not making. Here is what I wrote all the way back in December, 2010 about the accusations against Assange in Sweden:

I think it’s deeply irresponsible either to assume his guilt or to assume his innocence until the case plays out. I genuinely have no opinion of the validity of those allegations.
Nothing has changed my view of that since then. It’s really not that complicated: (1) Assange, like everyone else, is entitled to a presumption of innocence before he’s charged, let alone convicted of anything; (2) the accusations against him are serious and they should be accorded a fair resolution within a proper legal framework; and (3) until then, he has every right — just like everyone else does — to invoke any and all available legal protections and to have their validity decided upon.

UPDATE III [Wed.]: I have an Op-Ed in The Guardian today elaborating on some of these points, adding others, and responding to media discussions of this issue over the past day.

UPDATE IV [Wed.]: Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh this morning conducted an excellent interview on all of this with Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has represented Assange in the U.S. A transcript will be posted here shortly, but it’s well worth watching:

The fact that our judicial system has become a legal blackhole easily influenced by special interests is a bigger story than 9/11, terrorism, the spectacle of the election, and Wiki-leaks combined.

What happened to this country's judiciary?

The greatest crime of all is that Assange is fighting this battle by himself. If the Brits were not lapdogs of the USA, as they proved by their complicity in the invasion of Iraq, they would have one million Brits ring the Ecuadorian Embassy, and physically escort him to the airport in safety.

The real puppet-masters are the Pentagon and the State Department. And, we the American people, are complicit in this crime by standing around and doing nothing. We should enlist five million people to ring the Pentagon, five million people to ring the State Department, and terminate business as usual until they give written assurances the USA will end the harassment.


Murr Brewster said...

Without denying a thing you said, I find myself wondering if Assange has any reasonable expectation that he would be (for instance) sent anywhere for, uh, rendering. I think he's too well-known for that. That said, I'm sure he has good reason to hole up in the embassy.

Suzan said...

I agree with you in principle, you know, but there again Bradley Manning is pretty well known too, and look how that's helped his cause.


I'm with Glenn on this.

If Ecuador refuses his asylum request, then he’ll be right back in the hands of British authorities and presumably extradited to Sweden without delay. He has a lot at stake, and — like anyone else accused of serious crimes (though he’s not been charged with anything) — he has every right to invoke all legal procedures available to him.

And fear for my country and the leadership that finds this application of American law "judicious."


Thanks for commenting!

You've got a dynamite blog.


TONY said...

The attitude to Assange is a good microcosm of the gap between America's perception of itself and that of the rest of the world. Assange fears only one thing - extradition by a craven US lapdog country (Sweden) to Bradley Manning land. You and Glenn are right, Suzan.

Suzan said...

Glad to get your insight, Tony.

I'll admit that originally I was concerned that Assange's activities might be the false flag event leading to the loss of internet access for all in the name of the real false flag called the global war on terror.

I almost welcomed the well-publicized negative attention that Assange generated from U.S. intelligence as a truth moment for his existence.

Remember how quickly the suspicious sources were put into play about his sexual unpleasantnesses (reported, that is).

And, yet, no real charges were ever lodged - yeah - I know, even prostitutes have the right to complain, and who knows but that he IS an inconsiderate lover.

Amaze me again.

But, that's hardly the real issue, is it? Although if that doesn't work maybe someone will start shooting motorists in D.C. again.

Thanks for being out there. Your blogs are the absolutely the best!