Thursday, November 02, 2006

State Department Using Ideological Litmus Tests to Screen Speakers

Read the full article by Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay in December 3, 2005 by Knight Ridder via the Common Dreams News Center

"The State Department has been using political litmus tests to screen private American citizens before they can be sent overseas to represent the United States, weeding out critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, according to department officials and internal e-mails.

In one recent case, a leading expert on conflict resolution who's a former senior State Department adviser was scheduled to participate in a U.S. Embassy-sponsored videoconference in Jerusalem last month, but at the last minute he was told that his participation no longer was required.

State Department officials explained the cancellation as a scheduling matter. But internal department e-mails show that officials in Washington pressed to have other scholars replace the expert, David L. Phillips, who wrote a book, Losing Iraq, that's critical of President Bush's handling of Iraqi reconstruction.

"I was told by a senior U.S. official that the State Department was conducting a screening process on intellectuals, and those who were against the Bush administration's Iraq policy were not welcomed to participate in U.S. government-sponsored programs," Phillips said."

A comparable story appears in today's Washington Post, but seems not to be on the WP website. I wonder why?

Comment: Democracy in the United States has been based on freedom of expression, and the belief of our founding fathers that truth would best be made evident by an open market place of ideas. Smart men those founding fathers! The State Department is supposed to represent all the people of the United States, not just those who support the political party, or more exactly the faction of the political party in power. If the State Department, or some people in the State Department, are applying a political litmus test to speakers, it is wrong for them to do so, other than in the context of assuring that the full range of thought in the United States is represented in our public diplomacy. It is also in the long run ineffective public diplomacy. Foreigners are not stupid, and they will quickly detect what is being done. Censoring opinion will convince others that the United States is not serious about allowing freedom of expression. It will also lead to people ignoring U.S. speakers sent by the State Department because they will be seen as presenting no more than the party line of the group in the White House. JAD

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