Posts Tagged ‘Obama administration’

Political Earthquake in Egypt: Military Takeover Imminent

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Egypt army statement in full

Following demonstrations larger than those at the peak of the 2011 revolution against Hosni Mubarak, estimated by the Interior Ministry to involve some 14-17 million people according to Al Jazeera, the Egyptian Army issued the following statement on Monday, July 1, 2013 (text in full):

Egypt and the whole world witnessed yesterday demonstrations by the great people of Egypt expressing their opinion in an unprecedented, peaceful and civilised way.

Everyone saw the movement of the Egyptian people and heard their voices with the greatest respect and concern. It is necessary that the people receive a reply to their movement and the call from every party with any responsibility in the dangerous circumstances surrounding the nation.

As a main party in the considerations of the future and based on their patriotic and historic responsibilities to protect security and stability, the armed forces state the following:

• The armed forces will not be a party in the circles of politics or governance and are not willing to step out of the role defined for them by the basic ideals of democracy based on the will of the people.

• The national security of the state is exposed to extreme danger by the developments the nation is witnessing, and this places a responsibility on us, each according to his position, to act as is proper to avert these dangers. The armed forces sensed early on the dangers of the current situation and the demands the great people have at this time. Therefore, it previously set a deadline of a week for all political forces in the country to come to a consensus and get out of this crisis. However, the week has passed without any sign of an initiative. This is what led to the people coming out with determination and resolve, in their full freedom, in this glorious way, which inspired surprise, respect and attention at the domestic, regional and international levels.

• Wasting more time will only bring more division and conflict, which we have warned about and continue to warn about. The noble people have suffered and have found no one to treat them with kindness or sympathize with them. That puts a moral and psychological burden on the armed forces, which find it obligatory that everyone drop everything and embrace these proud people, which have shown they are ready to do the impossible if only they feels there is loyalty and dedication to them.

• The armed forces repeat their call for the people’s demands to be met and give everyone 48 hours as a last chance to shoulder the burden of the historic moment that is happening in the nation, which will not forgive or tolerate any party that is lax in shouldering its responsibility.

• The armed forces put everyone on notice that if the demands of the people are not realised in the given time period, it will be obliged by its patriotic and historic responsibilities and by its respect for the demands of the great Egyptian people to announce a road map for the future and the steps for overseeing its implementation, with participation of all patriotic and sincere parties and movements – including the youth, who set off the glorious revolution and continue to do so – without excluding anyone.

• A salute of appreciation and pride to the sincere and loyal men of the Armed Forces, who have always borne and will continue to bear their patriotic responsibilities toward the great people of Egypt with determination, decisiveness and pride. God save Egypt and its proud, great people.

–“Egypt army statement in full; Military says it will not stand idle as “the national security of the state is in severe danger; The Egyptian army on Monday gave politicians 48 hours to resolve the country’s political crisis or face intervention by the military,” Al Jazeera, July 1, 2013 (last updated 19:14)

The demonstrations and the Statement by the Egyptian army represent a political earthquake signaling an imminent military takeover of control of the government, whose impact will reverberate throughout many countries in the Middle East for years to come.

The Obama administration has provided shameful support to Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood as Morsi launched a coup against the Constitutional order on November 22, 2012, assuming all power, then using dictatorial powers to block action by the Constitutional Court which would have held the election of the Upper House of the National Assembly unconstitutional.  He did so through the use of Hitler-style “Brownshirt” tactics to block access to the court by its members, who also reported receiving numerous death threats.

Morsi then pushed through a draft constitution which was illegitimate because the body that drafted it was elected unconstitutionally, calling a forced national referendum on what was—hidden in its provisions–an extreme Islamist constitution, on December 15 and 22, under circumstances where opponents had no time or effective opportunity to analyze its provisions or to organize campaigns against its approval in the referendum.

Latest New Reports

For news reports on these late-breaking events, see

Ulrike Putz (Kairo), “Machtkampf in Ägypten: Militärputsch mit Ankündigung;Ägyptens Militär setzt der Politik ein 48-Stunden-Ultimatum – und hat Präsident Mursi damit wohl praktisch des Amtes enthoben. Nun muss die Opposition nur noch zwei Tage lang einen Kompromiss verzögern, schon müssen die Generäle einschreiten. Fraglich ist nur, wie die Islamisten auf einen Putsch reagieren würden,” Der Spiegel, 1 Juli 2013 (20:11 Uhr).

Bel Trew, “Millions of Egyptians turn out nationwide for anti-Morsi rallies; 7 dead in violence,” Al-Ahram (alahramonline) (Cairo), July 1, 2013.

Egyptian Newspapers

For the latest news from Egyptian newspapers in English, see (in addition to Al-Ahram, above), the following:

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt Independent

Egypt Daily News

Aswat Masriya

CoptsUnited: A Newspaper for All Egyptians

Egypt Online (Egyptian State Information Service. The site contains the official text of the army statement of July 1, 2013.

Daily News Egypt

Obama and the Struggle for the Rule of Law in Egypt

As noted above, by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood at the critical moment when Morsi was carrying out a coup d’état on November 22, 2012, Obama and the United States–through excessive caution in revolutionary times–got on the wrong side of history.

It is now time for the president to get out from under the wheel of history, and to get out in front of the struggle for democracy, by voicing his strong support for constitutional government and the rule of law in Egypt, and all those who support these goals. 

This means, at a minimum, abrogation of all of the elections and legal changes, including Morsi’s imposed constitution, that followed his dictatorial decree of November 22, 2012, and erasing their effects. 

What is required as a minimum, in short, is the restoration of the status quo ante before Morsi’s coup on November 22, 2012.

If Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are unable to lead the nation to this result, as is likely, it appears that the Egyptian people will insist that Morsi himself leave the scene, and that the Muslim Brotherhood withdraw from all government positions they may currently hold.

The Trenchant Observer

Where are the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

U.S. law requires that the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights be published by February 25 of each year.

The seriousness with which the State Department views human rights is reflected by its compliance with this statutory deadline.

The reports are not supposed to be massaged in order to further the foreign policy interests of the United States. The delay in the date of their publication, which has become egregious under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, fosters perceptions that that is exactly what the foreign policy leaders of the United States are doing.

The fact that the reports are to be delivered to the Congress does not diminish the force of the law, even when Congress does not complain about the delay. The law is not for the benefit of interested Congressmen, but rather for the benefit of the people of the United States.

In the case of the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, the delay is an indication of the importance he gives to compliance with U.S. law, as well as the subject of human rights. Put differently, the delay suggests the extent to which the U.S. stands–in deeds and not just in words–for the rule of law.

To what extent do U.S. officials seek to comply with U.S. law?

Finally, a state characterized by the rule of law is one in which the government takes the requirements of law seriously. Given the history of extended delays in the publication of the country reports on human rights, in this regard at least the United States does not appear to meet this standard.

The Trenchant Observer

No time for cowboys: U.S. preparation for reprisals against Libyan targets

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

News report

WASHINGTON — The United States is laying the groundwork for operations to kill or capture militants implicated in the deadly attack on a diplomatic mission in Libya, senior military and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday, as the weak Libyan government appears unable to arrest or even question fighters involved in the assault.

The top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is compiling so-called target packages of detailed information about the suspects, the officials said. Working with the Pentagon and the C.I.A., the command is preparing the dossiers as the first step in anticipation of possible orders from President Obama to take action against those determined to have played a role in the attack on a diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three colleagues three weeks ago.

–Eric Schmitt and David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. Is Tracking Killers in Attack on Libya Mission,” New York Times, October 2, 2012 (October 3, 2012 print edition).

Several facts have now become clear regarding the attacks on the U.S. consulate and other buildings in Benghazi on September 11-12, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.  They include:

1.  The Ambassador, and the consulate in Benghazi, were woefully unprotected in terms of security.  The State Department had refused numerous requests for more robust security arrangements in view of the changing risk environment in eastern Libya.

2.  The CIA and/or other U.S. government agencies were conducting a major “black” or secret  operation in Benghazi, without the knowledge of ranking Libyan officials.

3.   The lack of any warning of the imminence or possibility of the attacks on September 11-12 against the consulate, and a second compound at some remove from the consulate (often referred to as a “safe house”), constituted an enormous intelligence failure on the part of the Obama administration.

4.  The failure of the “black ops” group to anticipate the attacks reveals a stunning lack of effectiveness of intelligence operatives whose precise task was to track activities among anti-American and extremist groups.

5.  As one official told the New York Times, the attacks in Benghazi and the withdrawal of the U.S. intelligence operatives meant that the U.S. had had its “eyes poked out”  in Libya, or at least in eastern Libya.

Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.

“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.”

The C.I.A.’s surveillance targets in Benghazi and eastern Libya include Ansar al-Sharia, a militia that some have blamed for the attack, as well as suspected members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

–Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and Michael S. Schmidt, “Deadly Attack in Libya Was Major Blow to C.I.A. Efforts,” New York Times, September 23, 2012.

6.  Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, provided misleading information about who was responsible for the attack on the consulate, in a series of constantly-changing stories over a period of weeks.  In particular, these officials pushed a narrative that the attacks were the result of demonstrations in front of the consulate that were a reaction to the movie trailer for “The Innocence of Muslims,” which gave rise to demonstrations throughout a number of Muslim countries, when the known facts strongly suggested this was not the case.

7.  Obama administration officials have apparently leaked information regarding the preparation of target options or “packages”, to be executed against those responsible for the attacks in Benghazi, if President Obama gives the go-ahead. 

8.  The last two points continue a pattern in which leaks by government officials seek to portray President Obama as a “macho” president who is extremely tough on national defense and national security.

Two extremely dangerous factors seem to be converging that could lead the president to undertake disastrous actions against targets in Libya.

The first is the dominance within Obama’s national security councils of CIA and military advocates of using force against targets in other countries without regard for their sovereignty, including a special attachment to drone stikes and special operations attacks conducted outside the framework of international law.

International law establishes with great clarity that the conduct of ireprisals within the territory of another state is a violation of bedrock principles of international law prohibiting the use of force (e.g., Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter), and are not permissible under international law as lawful exercises of the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter.

The second factor is the presidential election to be held on November 6, and the ongoing campaign including the first debate between  Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to be held tonight, October 3, 2012.  Romney has criticized Obama sharply for some of the failures mentioned in the points above.

Obama’s argument throughout the campaign has been that he has effectively reduced the threat of Al Queda and terrorists against the United States.  The Libyan failures do not fit well within this narrative.

Washington’s misleading statements about what happened in Benghazi suggest, to this observer at least, that the CIA and other intelligence agencies have been very keen to distract attention from what the black operations group was doing in Libya, without the permission of the Libyan government.  The administration’s objectives in making these misleading statements seem to have been to avoid discussion of this sensitive issue, and to keep the whole Libyan mess out of the presidential campaign.

This tactic of issuing misleading statements has now backfired.

The great risk at the moment is that President Obama, in order to shift the conversation away from his administration’s failures in Libya, will resort to the direct use of force against those believed to be responsible for the death of Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans in Benghazi, without the consent and cooperation of the Libyan authorities.

The electoral logic is powerful, but the risk is that such actions could inflict enourmous damage on U.S. foreign policy and public attitudes toward the United States not only in Libya, but also throughout the Middle East and in other Muslim countries.

The United States should not react to the attacks in Benghazi like a tribe which demands immediate blood vengeance for the killing of one of its members. Rather, it should act as a great democracy and example to the world, dedicated to the rule of law, and proceed to identify those responsible for the attacks, and then over time seek to bring them to justice through cooperation with the governments of the countries in which they may be found. This is the example which will have a real and lasting impact in the Middle East, and beyond.

The cowboys who have grown accustomed to conducting drone attacks in other countries without regard for international law, or for the reactions of the peoples and governments in the territories where they direct their strikes, should be sent back to the corral.

They should not be allowed to call the shots on this one.  Nor should the Obama campaign operation be allowed to undermine U.S. foreign policy in the region for the sake of electoral politics.

Above all, if President Obama is wearing a cowboy hat, he should take it off.

The Trenchant Observer

Washington Post editorial decries “moral bankruptcy” of Obama policy on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #80 (August 28, 2012)

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

On August 27 the Washington Post published an editorial regarding U.S. policy on Syria, and the Obama administration’s “stubborn stance of passivity” in the face of the commission of horrendous acts of barbarism.

See Editorial, “Syria’s escalating slaughter,” August 27, 2012.

The Post noted that events such as the massacre last week at Daraya, where over 300 people were reportedly killed, “reflects a deliberate strategy”.

As the Post’s Liz Sly has reported, the Assad regime is seeking to regain control over opposition-held areas by teaching their residents that harboring the rebels will be punished with mass murder. In Daraya, opposition accounts said, government soldiers first drove the forces of the Free Syrian Army from the town with artillery and air attacks, then went house-to-house, rounding up people and shooting them in groups.

The atrocities have resulted in a growing tide of refugees neighboring countries are ill-equipped to handle. On August 30, Turkey is reported to be planning to ask the U.N. Security Council to authorize a “safe zone” for refugees, within Syria.

The Post notes the yawning gap between President Obama’s rhetoric and his administration’s policy on Syria:

Mr. Obama has said that that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.” In a speech at the Holocaust Museum in April, he said that “we need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these kinds of atrocities — because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people.” Yet now, as atrocity after atrocity is recorded in Syria, he rejects proposals by aides and allies for even limited and humanitarian intervention. Administration officials reportedly have discussed options for a safe zone, but the president has repeatedly sided with those favoring inaction.

To be sure, Mr. Obama indicated last week that the use or dispersal of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a “red line” which would presumably justify military intervention. But as one Syrian blogger, Ammar Abdulhamid, has written, the drawing of the “red line” may have actually emboldened the Syrian government to act as if nothing short of the use of chemical weapons would draw a U.S. military response.

The editorial concludes,

Mr. Abdulhamid wonders “why slaughter would be deemed tolerable if it happened one way and not another.” It’s a good question — and one for which the administration’s morally bankrupt policy has no answer.

On the moral bankruptcy of the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria, see also these previous articles by The Trenchant Observer:

“Looney Toons” at the White House: New York Times article details Obama’s thinking on Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria
— Update #45 (May 27), May 27, 2012.

“The emperor has no clothes”: Foreign policy without a moral core—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #19 (March 29), March 29, 2012.

“Into the Abyss: Washington’s Fecklessness, Syria’s Fate—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #20 (March 30), March 30, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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Where are the State Department Country Reports on Human Rights? Are Clinton and Geithner visits to China at play? (Updated May 1)

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Section 116(d) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, provides that “(T)he Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 of each year, a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act emphasis added).”
–as quoted by Pete Winn, cnsnews.com, full cite below.

The State Department is required by law to submit annual reports describing in detail the situation concerning human rights in the different countries of the world by February 25 of each year. During George W. Bush’s administration, these reports were submitted no later than March 11, with one exception (March 31, 2003 for the 2002 reports), and usually earlier.

See Pete Winn, “State Department Misses Statutory Deadline for Delivering Human Rights Report,” CNSnews.com, April 10, 2012.

Last year the Obama administration did not submit the human rights country reports for 2010 until April 8, 2011. Even by that standard, the reports for 2011 are very seriously overdue.

The State Department has offered the following excuse for failing to comply with the statutary deadline in 2012:

A State Department spokesman said …the country reports on human rights had not been released in either February or March and that the department was waiting to release them at a time when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can personally do so.

“They’ve been postponed a couple of times, the roll-out, because of scheduling issues, and because the Secretary wants to personally roll out the reports due to the importance she places on human rights,” Anthony Pahigian, spokesman for the Bureau of Democracy, (Human) Rights and Labor at the State Department, told CNSNews.com.

“But we’ve been–we’re keeping Congress informed, and we hope to find an opportunity,” he said. “It’s obviously a very busy season for everybody. There’s a lot going on.”

–Pete Winn, cnsnews.com, April 20, 2012.

The law requires that the reports be released by February 25, not when the Secretary of State finds time to do so or when it fits her political agenda.

This reporting process is supposed to be totally free of political considerations.

Diplomatic Context: Clinton and Geithner’s visits to Beijing; the Bo-Xilai and Chen Guangcheng Affaires

One would hope that the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, and other U.S. officials to Beijing has not played a role in the delay of the issuance of the report.
.
The recent escape of Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights lawyer who has been under house arrest, has been treated as a “problem” for the United States and its visiting delegation. He is reported to have sought and found refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

See David Elmer (Beijing), “Dissident Chen Guangcheng ‘chased by undercover Chinese agents’ as he fled to US Embassy; Astonishing details of how a blind lawyer escaped house arrest in China emerged as fellow dissidents said he had arrived safely at the American embassy in Beijing,” The Telegraph, April 28, 2012.

To be sure it is a sensitive moment in the generational change of leadership underway this year, greatly unsettled by the fall of Bo Xilai from power in Chongquin and the continuing criminal investigations into the death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, in November, 2011. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, is currently in custody accused of poisoning Heywood. There are also allegations that Bo Xilai was spying on high party leaders in the country.

But, in any year, whatever the situation, the United States makes a huge mistake when its acts bashfully about its deepest values. If Chen Guangcheng seeks diplomatic asylum, the United States should focus on the human rights violations to which he was subjected and which led him to seek refuge. It may take some time to negotiate an end to his residence in the embassy, whether that be a return to life in China or a departure in accordance with a grant of diplomatic asylum.

Secretary Clinton and other U.S. officials need to address the issue, without acting ashamed of or bashful about our nation’s fundamental values, and then move on to conduct the other important business at hand.

That business should include a very serious engagement with China regarding their continued support for the Syrian regime, and the need for their cooperation in devising a real solution for a transition to a post-al-Assad government in a democratic Syria.

Why are the country reports late, and when will they be released?

Whether or not the visits to China had anything to do with the delay in issuing the human rights reports, Secretary Clinton needs to explain immediately to the American people why the country reports on the human rights situation in countries around the world have been delayed for more than two months, in violation of the statutory deadline of February 25, and when they will be released.

The report, including the individual country reports, should be released at the earliest possible date–as required  by U.S. law.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.

“Houston, we have a problem” — Mexican Prison Director Allegedly Uses Inmates as Hit Squad

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Guards and officials at a prison in northern Mexico let inmates out, lent them guns and sent them off in official vehicles to carry out drug-related killings, including the massacre of 17 people last week, prosecutors claim.
–“Convicts used as hit squad by Mexican prison governor,” The Telegraph (Telegraph.co.uk), July 26, 2010

The United States has ignored Mexico and Latin America for over a decade, with disastrous results. As the United States and NATO continue in the ninth year of the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the degree to which public order has deteriorated in Mexico and other Latin American countries has been obscured by events half a world away. Interest in foreign policy among the American electorate is low, and what there is has been overwhelmingly directed toward events in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, public order in Mexico has worsened dramatically, while other states in the region also have been increasingly weakened by the influence of drug gangs and cartels. In Guatemala, according to reports, the office of the Attorney General was briefly taken over by individuals close to the drug cartels.

See, e.g., Tim Johnson, “How Guatemala almost went ‘narco'”, McClatchey Newspapers, July 8, 2010

Every once in a while, a news story or event flashes across the world’s consciousness for a brief second, like a lightning flash illuminating a dark countryside. The news stories about the director of a Mexican prison who used inmates as a hit squad represents one such lightning flash.

It also suggests that the continued low priority given to Latin America by the Obama administration, notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s own lightning-like visits to the region, will continue to have dire consequences for both the region and the United States.

If the rule of law is important in Iraq, should we not also pay attention to what is going on in Mexico and Guatemala?

The Trenchant Observer

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Comments are invited.

GoDaddy Follows Google, Refuses to Aid Censorship in China; Clinton on Internet Freedom

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

In a sign of growing opposition by U.S. internet companies in China to assisting the Chinese government in imposing censorship on Chinese computer users, GoDaddy has announced it is curtailing its activities in China and will no longer host new sites with “cn” domain names. Silicon Valley’s leading newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News reports:

A second prominent Internet company has joined Google in rejecting Chinese surveillance and censorship rules, as Google’s move to stop filtering its Chinese search results draws more attention to Internet freedom in Washington.

Saying it hosts many individual Web sites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, the Go Daddy Group said Wednesday it would stop hosting new sites with “.cn” domain names, rather than comply with government requirements to provide increasingly detailed information about its Chinese customers.

The world’s largest Internet domain name registrar told a congressional panel that its China operations had come under increasingly stringent surveillance rules since December. Chinese authorities demanded in February that Go Daddy, which hosts Web sites tied to Tibet and the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, provide color photographs and signed registration forms for all Chinese owners of its 27,000 .cn domain sites, said Go Daddy general counsel Christine Jones.

Suspending new .cn Web sites “was a decision we made in our own right, based on our experience of having to contact Chinese nationals, collect their personal information and return that information to the government,” Jones told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “We made a decision we didn’t want to act as an agent for the Chinese government.”

–Mike Swift, “Joining Google, GoDaddy.com will halt some services in China,” San Jose Mercury News, March 25, 2010

GoDaddy.com officials testfied before a Congressional Committee on Wednesday. The Washington Post provides additional details:

GoDaddy.com, the world’s largest domain name registration company, told lawmakers Wednesday that it will cease registering Web sites in China in response to intrusive new government rules that require applicants to provide extensive personal data, including photographs of themselves.

The rules, the company said, are an effort by China to increase monitoring and surveillance of Web site content and could put individuals who register their sites with the firm at risk. The company also said the rules will have a “chilling effect” on new domain name registrations.

GoDaddy’s move follows Google’s announcement Monday that it will no longer censor search results on its site in China….

In December, China began to enforce a new policy that required any registrant of a new .cn domain name to provide a color, head-and-shoulders photograph and other business identification, including a Chinese business registration number and physical, signed registration forms. That data was to be forwarded to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a quasi-governmental agency. Most domain name registries require only a name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.

“We were immediately concerned about the motives behind the increased level of registrant verification being required,” Christine N. Jones, general counsel of the Go Daddy Group, told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Wednesday. “The intent of the procedures appeared, to us, to be based on a desire by the Chinese authorities to exercise increased control over the subject matter of domain name registrations by Chinese nationals.”

GoDaddy has been registering domain names since 2000 and has more than 40 million under management.

Jones said GoDaddy’s decision to stop registering new domains was unrelated to Google’s recent decision….”We decided we didn’t want to be agents of China,” she said.

–John Pomfret, Ellen Nakashima and Cecilia Kang, “China censors searches on Google’s Hong Kong-based search engine,” Washington Post, March 23, 2010

On Monday, March 22, Google ceased filtering search results within mainland China, redirecting searches to its Hong Kong site which had operated under fewer restrictions. By Tuesday, China was blocking access to “sensitive” sites on Google in Hong Kong as well.

China’s new restrictions on GoDaddy.com and Google reflect a worsening climate for U.S. businesses operating in China. But their signficance and importance go far beyond that. They are likely to become a source of growing friction between the United States and China, as the Obama administration has increasingly embraced a policy of support for the free flow of information over the internet.

Hillary Clinton’s Speech on Internet Freedom

In an important speech on internet freedom on January 21, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed what she termed “the freedom to connect”. She expressed the new policy forthrightly, saying in part:

Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. Now, at the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear transcended the troubles of his day. And years later, one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, worked to have these principles adopted as a cornerstone of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have provided a lodestar to every succeeding generation, guiding us, galvanizing us, and enabling us to move forward in the face of uncertainty.

So as technology hurtles forward, we must think back to that legacy. We need to synchronize our technological progress with our principles. In accepting the Nobel Prize, President Obama spoke about the need to build a world in which peace rests on the inherent rights and dignities of every individual. And in my speech on human rights at Georgetown a few days later, I talked about how we must find ways to make human rights a reality. Today, we find an urgent need to protect these freedoms on the digital frontiers of the 21st century.

There are many other networks in the world. Some aid in the movement of people or resources, and some facilitate exchanges between individuals with the same work or interests. But the internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others. And that’s why we believe it’s critical that its users are assured certain basic freedoms. Freedom of expression is first among them. This freedom is no longer defined solely by whether citizens can go into the town square and criticize their government without fear of retribution. Blogs, emails, social networks, and text messages have opened up new forums for exchanging ideas, and created new targets for censorship.

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world….

As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools. In the demonstrations that followed Iran’s presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young woman’s bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government’s brutality. We’ve seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation’s leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country. In speaking out on behalf of their own human rights, the Iranian people have inspired the world. And their courage is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.

A connection to global information networks is like an on-ramp to modernity. In the early years of these technologies, many believed that they would divide the world between haves and have-nots. But that hasn’t happened. There are 4 billion cell phones in use today. Many of them are in the hands of market vendors, rickshaw drivers, and others who’ve historically lacked access to education and opportunity. Information networks have become a great leveler, and we should use them together to help lift people out of poverty and give them a freedom from want.

The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four I’ve already mentioned: the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.

Increasingly, U.S. companies are making the issue of internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions. I hope that their competitors and foreign governments will pay close attention to this trend. The most recent situation involving Google has attracted a great deal of interest. And we look to the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough review of the cyber intrusions that led Google to make its announcement. And we also look for that investigation and its results to be transparent.

The internet has already been a source of tremendous progress in China, and it is fabulous. There are so many people in China now online. But countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century. Now, the United States and China have different views on this issue, and we intend to address those differences candidly and consistently in the context of our positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship.

Now, ultimately, this issue isn’t just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It’s about whether we live on a planet with one internet, one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors.

–Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks on Internet Freedom,” (The Newseum, Washington, D.C.), January 21, 2010.

Transcripts of Clinton’s remarks are available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu, on the State Department website (at the link above).

The Trenchant Observer

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