Liberal group wants Iraq access to website restored for military

A progressive activist group in California is complaining that the Pentagon has prevented soldiers from accessing its web site in Iraq.

Courage Campaign, a 700,000-member grassroots organization, has demanded in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that access to its site be provided before the Nov. 2 Election Day.


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The group argues that Californians serving in Iraq who will vote on a series of ballot measures on Tuesday do not have access to the Courage Campaign “voters guide,” which might help them make decisions.


The voters guide on the website offers a series of recommended votes. For example, it says voters should oppose Proposition 23, which would suspend a 2006 state law requiring restrictions greenhouse gas emissions until the state’s unemployment drops. It also recommends approving Proposition 19, which would allow Californians over 21 years old to legally possess and grow small amounts of marijuana.


In contrast, the group said a number of web sites that espouse conservative views can be accessed on Defense Department computers.


The Hill independently confirmed that the Tea Party Express site can be accessed on Defense Department computers while the Courage Campaign site cannot be accessed. Courage campaign said it has received information that web sites affiliated with the Traditional Values Coalition, California Election Forum and Christian Voter Guide through the Defense Department computers in Iraq.


Courage Campaign acted on a tip from a prospective Californian voter deployed to Iraq.


“It is an enormous problem because the election on California is extremely important,” Rick Jacobs, the founder of Courage Campaign, said in an interview.


Aside from the ballot measures, California will elect a governor and a number of House members on Tuesday. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is in a tough reelection race with Republican Carly Fiorina.


Jacobs said that he considers Courage Campaign’s web site to be an issue- and education-oriented, and not candidate-driven.


“That makes the blocking of our site more frightening,” he said.


The Courage Coalition’s voter guide “deals with a series of important ballot measures being considered in California, each of which will have important implications for Golden State residents on deployment as well as their families,” Jacobs, who chaired former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in California, wrote in the letter.


Jacobs asked Gates for an answer by Oct. 26 but said he so far has not received one.


Jacobs also sent the letter to President Obama and several members of the California delegation, including Boxer, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).


So far the grassroots group said it had received no answers. As of press time, the site was still blocked.


It is unclear why the access to the progressive group’s web site is being blocked while other political sites are being allowed.


Defense Department policy is that government computers “are to be used for official purposes, in accordance with Joint Ethics Regulations (JER) governing ethics, security, and bandwidth issues,” said Lt. Col. April Cunningham, a Defense Department spokeswoman.


Cunningham explained that outside the specific categories of content prohibited through this regulation, it is against Defense Department policy to block a Web site based on the content or points of view expressed on the site.


“Individuals wishing to view such websites are free to do so on their own time and with their own computers,” Cunningham said.


Under the joint ethics regulations, communications systems cannot be used for “pornography; chain letters; unofficial advertising, soliciting or selling except on authorized bulletin boards established for such use; violations of statute or regulation; inappropriately handled classified information; and other uses that are incompatible with public service.”


There are other reasons for blocking access to websites from Defense Department computers, Cunningham explained.


“Websites deemed to be less than official in nature, in keeping with those regulations, may be blocked by systems administrators at the local level,” and not by the Defense Department “at the enterprise level,” Cunningham added.


On deployments, commanders can also decide to allow the use the official government computers “in the interest of morale and welfare” for troops and other Defense Department civilians.


The Pentagon in 2007 blocked several heavy-trafficked sites that were using a lot of bandwidth and were wearing out the networks. Sites impacted included youtube.compandora.comphotobucket.commyspace.comlive365.comhi5.commetacafe.com,mtv.comifilm.comblackplanet.comstupidvideos.com and filecabi.com .


But Courage Campaign’s Jacobs refuted any possible issues with the coding of his organization’s Web site and chalked up the ban on Pentagon censorship. He said that his organization uses the same software provider as Obama’s presidential campaign site in 2008, which was not blocked.


However, there could be other possible explanations for the blocked site, such as an automatic filter that sifts through specific words. The Courage Campaign site uses multiple references to “sex” (as in same-sex marriages) and “gay” (as in anti-gay, or gay rights). The site also contains information and action items on the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members.


Jacobs said he was concerned his group’s site was blocked when other sites that attack President Obama, the commander-in-chief, are not blocked. In the letter, he said his organization is not attacking the president and “reflects the mainstream views of millions of American progressives.”