WikiLeaked

Is the State Dept. better than Google at not being evil?

The U.S. government has justifiably taken a lot of heat for its relative silence regarding — and occasional complicity in — the human rights abuses committed by Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. But it’s worth highlighting an exception in a recently WikiLeaked November 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, signed by Amb. Margaret ...

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. government has justifiably taken a lot of heat for its relative silence regarding — and occasional complicity in — the human rights abuses committed by Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. But it’s worth highlighting an exception in a recently WikiLeaked November 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, signed by Amb. Margaret Scobey, in which American diplomats did the right thing — while Silicon Valley played it safe.

The cable concerns an Egyptian blogger whose name is redacted in the document, but who CNET thinks is most likely Wael Abbas, a celebrated dissident journalist whose efforts to distribute videos of human rights abuses by Egyptian authorities have in one case led to convictions of the perpetrators (and who, incidentally, was arrested on Friday in Cairo, though according to his Twitter feed he’s since been released):

Prominent Egyptian blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXX, contacted us November 17 to report that YouTube removed from his website two videos exposing police abuses — one of Sinai bedouin allegedly shot by police and thrown in a garbage dump during the past week’s violence (ref A), and the other of a woman being tortured in a police station.  XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us that YouTube is also preventing XXXXXXXXXXXX from posting new videos, and asked us for assistance in urging YouTube to re-post his removed videos and reinstate his access to uploading new material.  XXXXXXXXXXXXX said XXXXXXXXXXXXXX has tried to contact Google, but has not received a response.

The cable notes that the same thing happened to the blogger the previous year — which again suggests that the blogger in question is Abbas, who had his YouTube access restored in December 2007 after getting kicked off for posting videos of Egyptian police brutality. At the time, YouTube explained in a statement that the company’s general policy banned videos depicting graphic violence, but that “Having reviewed the case, we have restored the account of Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas — and if he chooses to upload the video again with sufficient context so that users can understand his important message we will of course leave it on the site.”

While the incident was widely reported at the time, there was no mention of any involvement of the State Department in YouTube’s decision. But the 2008 cable notes:

In December 2007, DRL [State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor] and Embassy Cairo worked to convince Google [which owns YouTube] to restore XXXXXXXXXXXXX’ YouTube access after a similar incident. We believe that a similar Department intervention with Google representatives could help in restoring XXXXXXXXXXXXX’ access again. XXXXXXXXXXXXis an influential blogger and human rights activist, and we want to do everything we can to assist him in exposing police abuse.

A YouTube spokeswoman wouldn’t confirm or deny the cable’s account of the two incidents, saying in an emailed statement that “In order to protect the privacy of our users, we do not comment on actions taken on individual videos or accounts.”

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