WikiLeaks website pulled by Amazon after US political pressure

Site hosting leaked US embassy cables is ousted from American servers as senator calls for boycott of WikiLeaks by companies

WikiLeaks's website cablegate.wikileaks.org, which was hosted by Amazon
WikiLeaks's website cablegate.wikileaks.org, which was hosted by Amazon.

The US struck its first blow against WikiLeaks after Amazon.com pulled the plug on hosting the whistleblowing website in reaction to heavy political pressure.

The company announced it was cutting WikiLeaks off yesterday only 24 hours after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate's committee on homeland security.

WikiLeaks expressed disappointment with Amazon, and insisted it was a breach of freedom of speech as enshrined in the US constitution's first amendment. The organisation, in a message sent via Twitter, said if Amazon was "so uncomfortable with the first amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books."

While freedom of speech is a sensitive issue in the US, scope for a full-blown row is limited, given that Democrats and Republicans will largely applaud Amazon's move. Previously a fully fledged Democrat, Lieberman won re-election to the Senate in 2006 as an independent; his status is that of an independent, albeit with continued close associations with the Democratic party's Senate contingent.

The question is whether he was acting on his own or pressed to do so by the Obama administration, and how much pressure was applied to Amazon.

Although there are echoes of the censorship row between Google and China earlier this year, constitutional lawyers insisted it was not a first amendment issue because Amazon is a private company, free to make its own decisions.

The WikiLeaks main website and a sub-site devoted to the diplomatic documents were unavailable from the US and Europe yesterday, as Amazon servers refused to acknowledge requests for data. WikiLeaks switched to a host in Sweden.

Lieberman said: "[Amazon's] decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material. I call on any other company or organisation that is hosting WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them."

The department of homeland security confirmed Amazon's move, referring journalists to Lieberman's statement.

Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supports internet freedom, said it was not a violation of the first amendment but was nevertheless disappointing. "This certainly implicates first amendment rights to the extent that web hosts may, based on direct or informal pressure, limit the materials the American public has a first amendment right to access," Bankston told the website Talking Points Memo.

The development came amid angry and polarised political opinion in America over WikiLeaks, with some conservatives calling for the organisation's founder, Julian Assange, to be executed as a spy.

The fury building up among rightwingers in the US, ranging from the potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to conservative blogsites such as Red State, contrasted with a measured response from the Obama administration. The White House, the state department and the Pentagon continued to denounce the leaks, describing them as "despicable". But senior administration officials, with a sense of weary resignation, also called on people to put the leaks into context and insisted they had not done serious damage to US relations.

The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, shrugged aside as "ridiculous" a call by Assange, interviewed by Time magazine, via Skype from an undisclosed location, for the resignation of the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, over an order to spy on the United Nations. "I'm not entirely sure why we care about the opinion of one guy with one website," Gibbs said. "Our foreign policy and the interests of this country are far stronger than his one website."

John Kerry, the Democratic head of the Senate foreign relations committee, on Sunday denounced the leaks but he sounded more sanguine at an event in Washington on Tuesday night. He said there was a "silver lining" in that it was now clear where everyone stood on Iran. "Things that I have heard from the mouths of King Abdullah [of Saudi Arabia] and Hosni Mubarak [Egyptian president] and others are now quite public," Kerry said. He went on to say there was a "consensus on Iran".

But others, particularly rightwingers, are seeking retribution, with Assange as the prime target. Legal experts in the US were divided over whether the US could successfully prosecute Assange under the 1917 espionage act. Sceptics said the US protections for journalists would make such a prosecution difficult and also cited pragmatic issues, such as the difficulty of extraditing Assange, an Australian.

Huckabee, who was among the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and is likely to stand again in 2012, told the Politico website: "Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason, and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty."

His later comments suggest he had in mind Bradley Manning, the US private in Iraq who is suspected of leaking the information and is under arrest in Virginia, rather than Assange.

Typical of attacks on Assange is a blog by lexington_concord on Red State, a popular rightwing site, in which the writers says Assange is a spy.

"Under the traditional rules of engagement he is thus subject to summary execution and my preferred course of action would [be] for Assange to find a small calibre round in the back of his head."

• This article was amended on 2 December 2010. The original said: Joe Lieberman, though an independent, is a former Republican who switched to the Democrats last year. This has been corrected.


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Comments in chronological order (Total 528 comments)

  • This symbol indicates that that person is The Guardian's staffStaff
  • This symbol indicates that that person is a contributorContributor
  • Gelion

    1 December 2010 8:03PM

    No surprises there - I hope he moves to somewhere neutral and it can carry on.

    Lots of embarrassing stuff for everyone. It's most hilarious.

  • BitterBunny

    1 December 2010 8:06PM

    There is a piece of minor irony here re: Amazon - this is the company that yanked 1984 off their customers kindles and had all kinds of fun trying to spin its way out of that one.

  • dermoth

    1 December 2010 8:07PM

    Ah, there's nothing quite as cathartic as some futile censorship, is there?

  • mswinkle

    1 December 2010 8:07PM

    "Amazon.co m ceases hosting services for WikiLeaks website -Senator Lieberman" and "DHS says Amazon has agreed to stop hosting WikiLeaks. " Game Over They will start shutting down any site that speaks up against them.

    email/writ e to amazon tell them you will stop using their site. HIt them HARD in their pockets and let's see if they will defy Big Sis. Come on we can do it. let Amazon know they will LOSE LOTS OF MONEY. If we don't do this now they will be shutting down so many sites we will no longer have the POWER They will start shutting down any site that speaks up against them. If we do NOT stand up and FIGHT back now TPTB will have won.

  • Contributor
    teaandchocolate

    1 December 2010 8:07PM

    Another potential Republican candidate for the presidency, Sarah Palin, had earlier called for Assange to be hunted down.

    The fury building up among rightwingers in the US, ranging from the potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee

    For the those quotes only, it would be worth keeping Wikileaks online. Hoppin' mad yankees, it can only be good. Anyone offering?

    For goodness sake America, in Hollywood America saves the world single handed, stops bombs with its teeth and fights aliens. Surely you aren't scared of an Australian with white(ish) hair?

  • amnesiac88

    1 December 2010 8:08PM

    This is getting silly now. School yard tactics courtesy of the land of the free.

  • nadirnwo

    1 December 2010 8:09PM

    Great! Another example offered to China, Mayanmar, Pakistan, Gulf States and the likes on a silver platter of western governments in regards to free speech. The next time a third world country gets lectured on allowing free speech, guess what they will retaliate with - See above

  • Ashkan2

    1 December 2010 8:10PM

    Ah that's the breaking point. Now we can see how far US democracy can be stretched.

  • Dreagon

    1 December 2010 8:10PM

    Actually, Assunge is providing one useful lesson. That it really doesn't matter who is in office as far as foreign policy is concerned, as they have to deal with the same realities that faced their predecessors. Whether it's Bush or Obama, both were elected to act in the interests of the superpower they nominally run.

  • tigi

    1 December 2010 8:10PM

    History will show this to be a benign event. Julian is not exposing sensitive material, he's simply letting light shine on the crap that all governments engage in.

  • ForgetfulCat

    1 December 2010 8:11PM

    It does look like boycott Amazon time, much as it breaks my heart to say so, especially with Xmas so near...

  • vertical

    1 December 2010 8:11PM

    Amazon lose nerve, will lose (if not haemorrhage) customers over this.

    Let's hope Jobs takes time off from his deal with, er, Murdoch to support this humanitarian movement. Or Google? Or the Chinese government?

    Enlightenment - a breeding ground for terrorism, obviously. Let's fight it.

  • legaff

    1 December 2010 8:11PM

    Julian Assange must be protected at all costs.
    Sites like wikileaks are the reason why the internet and technology must be embraced.

    Once again, The United States of America show that the world they can't play fair.

  • Westmorlandia

    1 December 2010 8:11PM

    Not 100% convinced by the Wikileaks philosophy (broadly, that all secrets are bad). But I don't see how this is a principled response from a democratic government.

  • TeaJunkie

    1 December 2010 8:11PM

    The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, interviewed on television, shrugged aside as "ridiculous" a call by Assange, interviewed by Time magazine, via Skype from an undisclosed location, for the resignation of the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, over an order to spy on the United Nations.
    "I'm not entirely sure why we care about the opinion of one guy with one website," Gibbs said. "Our foreign policy and the interests of this country are far stronger than his one website."


    Gibbs could do well to remember that 'pride comes before a fall'.

  • marktastic

    1 December 2010 8:11PM

    that's crazy. Are they going to censor all the other media outlets that are publishing this material?

  • ifshespins

    1 December 2010 8:12PM

    Typical is a blog by lexington_concord on Red State, a popular rightwing site, in which the writers says Assange is a spy.

    "Under the traditional rules of engagement he is thus subject to summary execution and my preferred course of action would [be] for Assange to find a small calibre round in the back of his head."

    At first I thought this was a joke.. Sadly mistaken.

  • Ind3pendant

    1 December 2010 8:12PM

    What happens now then?

    Anyone have any ideas as to how we will get access to the files again?

    Is it time for the Insurance Torrent password to go live?

  • Expialadocious

    1 December 2010 8:12PM

    Sarah Palin said Julian Assange should be hunted down like Osama Bin Laden.

    Good, that means Assange is safe for at least another decade.

    Long live the Wikileaks!

  • MartynInEurope

    1 December 2010 8:12PM

    No surprise there. This is how liberal societies operate. When push comes to shove, they are sometimes worse than dictatorships.

  • Gelion

    1 December 2010 8:12PM

    @amnesiac88

    "This is getting silly now. School yard tactics courtesy of the land of the free."

    Disregarding my comment at the top of the page, I want to point out @amnesiac88 that the US is in NO WAY the Land of the Free - what it is is the "Land of the Corporation influencing laws and military industrial complex" - free speech in the US may part of the constitution but it is not effective and it is also prone to revision by the right wing Republicans to control society.

    We probably have more "Freedom of speech" in post 1980s Thatcherite UK, over the last 30 years. Which considering her assault on the unions, etc, is surprising.

    There are no surprises that this has happened - and I hope that the Guardian can still publish.

  • BobHughes

    1 December 2010 8:12PM

    This is hardly going to be an issue for Wikileaks. If recent history is anything to go by, I would imagine that the database will be mirrored on a number of sites within 24 hours.

  • timjsharpe

    1 December 2010 8:13PM

    Not surprised. Amazon must have been under immense pressure, though it may influence those seeking to use a cloud hosting provider in the future as they might like their web presence not to be subject to the US government's opinion on their right to operate.

    More concerning is the right wing vitriol, particularly those calling for execution of either Assange or Manning. I can't see the Obama administration indulging these calls but it really does weaken any attempts to reason with states that use execution more routinely.

  • mcyigra3

    1 December 2010 8:13PM

    what you thought you lived in a democracy?

    what you thought you could say what you liked?

    what you thought you could do what you liked?

    what you think we dont control you?

    what you think we dont tell you what you should think, do, and how you should live?

    what you think we will not kill you if we want?

    what the hell do you think is going on?

    what no suprise?

  • MidEnglandAce

    1 December 2010 8:13PM

    Democracy, freedom, liberty & transparency, US dominated west style.
    Life, under the liberal democracy's of the west, seems to be becoming less democratic and more authoritarian by the day.

  • redandblue

    1 December 2010 8:13PM

    Good thing it didn't happen in Iran, it'd be given as a reason(excuse) to invade!

  • BlairM

    1 December 2010 8:14PM

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards. Replies may also be deleted. For more detail see our FAQs.

  • bellthecat2

    1 December 2010 8:14PM

    so the USA joins China and Iran in restricting access to web content for its citizens . . .

  • Arveyate

    1 December 2010 8:14PM

    Land of the free: free to torture, free to limit access to websites.

    It is odd, isn't it. As our freedoms are restricted we are told that if we haven't got anything to hide, what have we got to worry about.

    They don't like it up 'em, do they.

  • Salongvaenster

    1 December 2010 8:14PM

    No more shopping from Amazon for me then!

    If you care about freedom and the right to expose wrongdoing, wherever it is carried out, you too should boycott Amazon - one thing capitalists do care about is a drop in their profits.

  • RiotCitizen

    1 December 2010 8:15PM

    we'll have really made it as a civilisation when we have no need for locks, keys.
    and secrets.

    incidentaly where do the other publishers such as the nyt and guardian stand in the eyes of frightening america?

  • julianps

    1 December 2010 8:16PM

    Are we all enjoying the death of the internet as we knew it?

    Coming up soon, a version that'll make the AOL of old, seems new.

  • bbmatt

    1 December 2010 8:17PM

    Another blow for De"mock"racy.

    Yep, freedom of speech, but only if we agree with the content - America, where have you gone?

    What a mess.

  • BlairM

    1 December 2010 8:17PM

    Amazon is a private company and can remove hosted sites at will. That's not censorship. Assange is welcome to use another ISP and people will no doubt be able to continue to access confidential and life-destroying information. But what Amazon did was neither censorship nor fascism, in fact, it would be fascist to force Amazon to continue to host it.

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