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Sunday, October 09, 2005

No Photos Please!

We can thank Christopher M. Wilson for this latest controversy which also revisits the abuses at Abu Ghraib. No doubt you've read or heard about the former Florida police officer. His story has received coverage from nearly two dozen newspapers, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Orlando Sentinel. Wilson's porno web site was offered to American fighting men in Iraq at no charge if they could prove they were actually deployed in the Middle East conflict. As proof of their assigned tour of duty some soldiers allegedly posted explicit pictures of corpses.

On Saturday authorities arrested Wilson of Lakeland, Florida on obscenity charges after investigating his adult Web site, which has gained international attention for allegedly allowing U.S. soldiers to post pictures of war dead on the Internet.

The charges lodged against Wilson are likely to reopen the debate about obscene material on the Internet. The questions about whether the federal government played a part in motivating the prosecution are raised along with whether or not US soldiers actually posted some of the photos on the site. Army officials say they can not confirm if photographs on Wilson's site, some of mutilated corpses, were actually posted by U.S. military personnel. Police investigators obtained a search warrant and removed computers from Wilson's home. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said late Friday that the 300 obscenity-related charges against Wilson -- which include counts of distribution of obscene material, offering to distribute obscene material and possession of obscene material with intent to distribute -- involve sexual content posted on his Web site, and not graphic war-scene images posted by soldiers.

Larry Walters of Altamonte Springs, a First Amendment specialist, who is Wilson's attorney said Wilson was merely operating a site where people could send revealing pictures of wives and girlfriends. "He wanted to do his part to entertain soldiers, so he said if they would send him pictures proving they were in Iraq, he would give them free access to the site," the lawyer said. "They certainly did prove they were in Iraq." Wilson posted a quote on the site which he attributed to Time magazine when it published the first images of wartime casualties in New Guinea during World War II: "Dead men have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them." Wilson separates the "gory" pictures on his site from the casual so that people who don't want to see "that kind of stuff," as he put it, don't have to. Attorney Wison say there is a "reasonable suspicion" his client's arrest is political. "The site existed for a long time. Shortly after he's been catapulted into the limelight, he's in jail."

You may ask the question as does Wilson and his lawyer, Why is he being singled out now? Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, whose agency arrested Wilson and confiscated his computer equipment and tapes says Wilson has come under law-enforcement scrutiny in the past. A recent newspaper story in The Ledger of Lakeland featured Wilson and his Internet site's graphic photos of war dead from Afghanistan and Iraq is what reminded the sherff's department they needed to arrest Wilson for violating Florida and federal porno laws.

"The Supreme Court has said for something to be obscene, it must shock the sensibilities of the community," the sherff said. "I can't imagine a normal person not being shocked" by Wilson's material. Judd said sheriff's investigators who tapped into the site found 20 videos and 80 photos of pornography he termed "horrific."

Wilson' attorney, Walters, is a First Amendment specialist. Walters says the sheriff's office has no business prosecuting material published on web servers overseas. The servers that run the site are in the Netherlands, he said.

"They say community standards are different" in Polk County. "Merely because it is accessible there, they can't apply their standards on what people can see" globally.

Next Post: A Feminist's Take on What is Obscene About This Story.

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