Attorney General Holder Blasted for Being Soft on Porn

Apr 18, 2011 8:00 AM PST

WASHINGTON — The recent move by Attorney General Eric Holder to shut down the Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force set up during the Bush administration is causing conservatives in Congress to come out swinging.

According to reports, right-wing activists and anti-porn supporters in government led by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch are claiming that Holder and the Obama administration are soft on porn and are calling for a new crackdown on hardcore material.

The Obama team stopped any new obscenity prosecutions when it took over but allowed ongoing cases to continue even though the task force was officially but quietly disbanded earlier this year.

The final blow for dissolving the unit likely came after last July’s trial of John Stagliano when he was acquitted on all obscenity charges for lack of evidence. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon told the Washington Post at that time, “I hope the government will learn a lesson from its experience.”

Commenting on the task force's demise, Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Diane Duke told Politico, “It’s a very smart and pragmatic move on the part of the administration, It was a witch hunt against folks in the industry, and it wasn’t one that was particularly successful. … It just seems like, finally, the Department of Justice has caught up with the rest of the nation.”

But the dissolution of the DOJ's porn police is causing a stir on Capitol Hill.

Hatch's resurrected fight against adult began earlier this month when he and 41 other senators — that included some democrats —  sent a letter to Holder pushing for criminal cases against “all major distributors of adult obscenity.”

Hatch told Politico in a statement, “Rather than initiate a single new case since President Obama took office, however, the only development in this area has been the dismantling of the task force. As the toxic waste of obscenity continues to spread and harm everyone it touches, it appears the Obama administration is giving up without a fight.

“We write to urge the Department of Justice vigorously to enforce federal obscenity laws against major commercial distributors of hardcore adult pornography. We know more than ever how illegal adult obscenity contributes to violence against women, addiction, harm to children, and sex trafficking. This material harms individuals, families and communities and the problems are only getting worse.”

But despite the knocks against its effectiveness, the government said it is not giving up the fight against porn but instead wants local U.S. attorneys and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Criminal Division to handle porn cases.

Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said that the decision to discontinue the task force was made by the department’s Criminal Division, which is headed by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

 “Re-incorporating the prosecution of obscenity violations into the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, as opposed to having a separate task force, provides for increased collaboration among experienced attorneys and agents, and gives our prosecutors the most solid foundation possible for pursuing their mission,” Sweeney said.

And the Justice Department didn't take Hatch’s letter lying down. In a response it said it “has charged violations of the federal obscenity laws over 150 times since October 2008, and has recently secured guilty pleas from defendants in several cases involving adult obscenity.”

The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section took over obscenity cases in January but has a carryover pending case against producer Ira Isaacs scheduled for May 17 in Los Angeles. But the Feds said the unit's greater priority is now focusing on the exploitation of children, child porn and obscene depictions of child rape.

However, Morality in Media’s Patrick Trueman — a former obscenity prosecutor — disputes the DOJ’s claim of 150 recent obscenity prosecutions and said no adult obscenity prosecutions have been initiated under Obama.

“In various administrations — not just this one — DOJ has tried to sell the notion that it has a vigorous enforcement of obscenity laws underway.  A look at the cases, however, reveals that what are counted as ‘obscenity cases’ are in fact child pornography cases where the defendant is allowed to plead down to an obscenity charge. … To suggest that such cases are adult porn cases is just wrong,” Trueman said.

One of the signers of Hatch’s letter was democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California whose constituents make up the bulk of adult production in the country.

In response to Feinstein’s surprising support of Hatch, Duke told Politico, “I have a feeling she’s going to be getting a lot of letters from our area. It’s political season and we’re an easy dog to kick, but Dianne Feinstein needs to understand that a good portion of the economy in California comes from our industry, and we pay taxes and we’re voting members of the community.”

When asked about her interest in the obscenity issue, a spokesman for Feinstein pointed to her support for several measures targeting child porn in recent years.

The recently disbanded task force unit was created by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2005 amid complaints from social conservatives that the DOJ was almost never pursuing adult obscenity cases.

Gonzales told Politico that he always considered child porn to be a bigger priority than adult porn and it made sense to have a multi-talented task force. However, he called the prosecution of obscenity cases “difficult” and said it was not surprising that most prosecutors were more concerned with matters such as terrorism and antitrust prosecutions.

The former Attorney General wouldn't comment on the disbanding of the task force but said, “There are always competing priorities and objectives, and they may have felt that there was perhaps today a more effective way in dealing with this issue. I don’t want to second-guess it or want to be critical of it. I have to believe they believe as strongly as I do that crimes against children and obscenity should be addressed — one way or another.”



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