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British paper: Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera
The Christian Science Monito
Tom Regan
November 23, 2005

A leaked memo in Britain has once again caused an uproar. This time, the British government has acted to prevent any further publication.

The Times of London reports that the attorney general of Britain has warned British papers that they will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if they publish details of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in which Mr. Bush is alleged to have suggested bombing Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV channel based in Qatar.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, informed ... editors including that of The Times that "publication of a document that has been unlawfully disclosed by a Crown servant could be in breach of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act.'

The Guardian reports that this is the first time the British government has threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to prevent publication of the details of a leaked document. "Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq."

On Tuesday, the British paper the Daily Mirror published the details of a government memo, marked Top Secret, that recorded a conversation between Bush and Mr. Blair that took place in the White House last April 16. The Daily Mirror's editor said he informed Downing Street that he was going to print details of the memo, but was not told at the time to stop. That order did not come until the day after the first story appeared in the paper.

The Evening Standard reports that the unnamed sources who leaked the memo to the Mirror say it records "Bush suggesting that he might order the bombing of Al-Jazeera's studios in Qatar."

And it allegedly details how Blair argued against an attack on the station's buildings in the business district of Doha, the capital city of Qatar, which is a key ally of the West in the Persian Gulf.

Al-Jazeera had sparked the anger of the US administration by broadcasting video messages from Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden and leaders of the insurgency in Iraq, as well as showing footage of the bodies of US servicemen and Iraqi civilians killed in fighting.

The Associated Press reports that the two unnamed sources cited by the Mirror story had different impressions of Bush's alleged remarks.

One source, said to be in the government, was quoted as saying that the alleged threat was "humorous, not serious,' but the newspaper quoted another source as saying that "Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair.'

BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds also believes that Bush's comments were in jest.

"An attack on al-Jazeera would also have been an attack on Qatar, where the US military has its Middle East headquarters. So the possibility has to be considered that Bush was in fact making some kind of joke and that this was not a serious proposition."

The Blair government did not deny the report, citing legal action against two people believed to have leaked the memo and saying it never comments on leaked documents. AP reports that David Keogh, a Cabinet Office civil servant, and Leo O'Connor, who worked as a researcher in the office of Tony Clarke, a former member of Parliament, would appear in court next week to face charges under the Official Secrets Act in relation to the memo.

Mr. Clarke returned the five-page transcript to Blair's office.

The Washington Post, however, said that White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press in an e-mail, "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response." The Post also quotes a senior diplomat in Washington who said the Bush remark as recounted in the newspaper "sounds like one of the president's one-liners that is meant as a joke." But, the diplomat said, "it was foolish for someone to write it down, and now it will be a story for days."

The Post also reports:

A former senior U.S. intelligence official said that it was clear the White House saw al-Jazeera as a problem, but that although the CIA's clandestine service came up with plans to counteract it, such as planting people on its staff, it never received permission to proceed. "Bombing in Qatar was never contemplated," the former official said.

For its part, Al Jazeera released a statement Tuesday night saying that it was trying to verify the Mirror's story about the memo, and it called on Blair's office to "clear up the issue."

"If the report is correct, then this would be both shocking and worrisome not only to al-Jazeera but to media organizations across the world," the statement said. "It would cast serious doubts in regard to the US administration's version of previous incidents involving Al Jazeera's journalists and offices."

In April 2003, an Al Jazeera journalist died when its Baghdad office was struck during a US bombing campaign. In November 2001, Al Jazeera's office in Kabul, Afghanistan, was destroyed by a US missile, although no staff were in the office at the time. US officials said they believed the target was a "terrorist" site and did not know it was Al Jazeera's office.

The US government has said each of the above incidents was unintentional. The Evening Standard reports that former defense minister Peter Kilfoyle – a leading Labour opponent of the Iraq war – called for the leaked document to be made public.

"I believe that Downing Street ought to publish this memo in the interests of transparency, given that much of the detail appears to be in the public domain," he told the Press Association.

"I think they ought to clarify what exactly happened on this occasion. If it was the case that President Bush wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in what is after all a friendly country, it speaks volumes and it raises questions about subsequent attacks that took place on the press that wasn't embedded with coalition forces."

CNN reports that during the 1999 air campaign over Kosovo, "US warplanes targeted Yugoslavia's state television network. NATO officials argued it was a legitimate target as the propaganda arm of the Yugoslav government." The Chinese embassy in Belgrade was also hit during the same air campaign, which killed three Chinese journalists. NATO later said the bombing was due to faulty intelligence given to it by allies.

The Geneva Contention forbid militaries from hitting civilian targets. Doing so is called "terrorism." The sad part is the military would have followed Bush's illegal orders if Blair hadn't talked him out of it. The entire military chain of command needs to be fixed (read: fired).

I'm listing this as a possible impeachable offense because it shows Bush's thought process in that he wanted to violate the Geneva Conventions (and clearly did - but not necessarily in this example). Planning to commit war crimes (and then committing them) shows intent.

FYI, Al Jazeera is not based in Iraq.