Rene — Man whose Web site shows pictures of war dead is arrested

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Man whose Web site shows pictures of war dead is arrested
Saturday, October 8, 2005
ORLANDO, Fla. — Authorities have arrested a Lakeland, Fla., man 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 against Christopher M. Wilson, a former police officer, are likely to reignite the debate about obscene material in the Internet age. They also raise questions about whether the federal government played a part in motivating the prosecution.
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.
“It is the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct,” Judd said. “It is as vile, as perverted, as non-normal sexual conduct — which rises to the level of obscenity — as we’ve ever investigated.”
Judd, however, said he could not describe the sex acts because “they really can’t be printed in the newspaper.”
Army officials said they could not confirm whether photographs on Wilson’s site, some of mutilated corpses, were actually posted by U.S. soldiers. Police investigators obtained a search warrant and removed computers from Wilson’s home.
An Islamic civil-rights group was disappointed that the Army did not pursue criminal charges. Last week, Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “For this to be treated in a manner that suggests the Army does not take this seriously is only going to further harm our nation’s image and interests around the world, particularly in the Muslim world.”
Wilson, 27, was said to be allowing soldiers access to portions of his Web site in exchange for the graphic war-scene shots or proof that they were fighting in the Middle East.
Late Friday, the site — which the Orlando Sentinel will not name — still had grisly images of war dead.
Judd said none of the 20 films and 80 photographs that brought about the charges involve pictures of the war dead. But Judd confirmed that his detectives did speak with officials in the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division before arresting Wilson on Friday.
Wilson’s Web site and his deal with U.S. soldiers have been the subject of many recent news articles.
“Obviously, we knew the military had an interest in this,” Judd said.
Judd said that his obscenity charges have nothing to do with the Army’s interest in the case, and he maintained that he was not pressured to investigate Wilson.
“We unilaterally initiated the investigation without any support, help or encouragement from the federal government,” Judd said.
But Wilson’s lawyer, Larry Walters, questioned the motivations behind the prosecution, noting that there may be hundreds of thousands of Internet sites with explicit material.
“Why are they getting into this battle now, and why Chris Wilson?” Walters asked. “It’s the military that potentially stands to have the greatest gripe.”
Walters argued that local community standards, the guiding principle behind the implementation of obscenity laws, cannot be applied to the Internet, a global venue.
“Any obscenity charge against any Web site content or Internet content is unconstitutional,” said Walters, who specializes in First Amendment law. “There is no commonality based on just geography anymore. It’s not the 1800s anymore, not here. But I don’t know about Polk County.”
He said part of Wilson’s mission “is telling the truth about the war going on in Iraq.”
As of Saturday, at least 1,952 members of the U.S. military had died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to the Associated Press.
Wilson was being held in the Polk County Jail, with bail set at $151,000.
Free Press news services contributed to this report.