Kevin Maguire And Andy Lines / The Mirror & Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian – 2005-11-23 09:34:16
Madness of War Memo:
Bush Plan to Bomb Arab Ally
Kevin Maguire And Andy Lines / The Mirror
LONDON (November 22, 2005) — President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a “Top Secret” No 10 memo reveals.
But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.
A source said: “There’s no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.” Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency. The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation.
A source said last night: “The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush. “He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere. Blair replied that would cause a big problem.
“There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do – and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.” A Government official suggested that the Bush threat had been “humorous, not serious”. But another source declared: “Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men.”
Yesterday former Labour Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle challenged Downing Street to publish the five-page transcript of the two leaders’ conversation. He said: “It’s frightening to think that such a powerful man as Bush can propose such cavalier actions. “I hope the Prime Minister insists this memo be published. It gives an insight into the mindset of those who were the architects of war.”
Bush disclosed his plan to target al-Jazeera, a civilian station with a huge Mid-East following, at a White House face-to-face with Mr Blair on April 16 last year.
At the time, the US was launching an all-out assault on insurgents in the Iraqi town of Fallujah.
Al-Jazeera infuriated Washington and London by reporting from behind rebel lines and broadcasting pictures of dead soldiers, private contractors and Iraqi victims. The station, watched by millions, has also been used by bin Laden and al-Qaeda to broadcast atrocities and to threaten the West.
Al-Jazeera’s HQ is in the business district of Qatar’s capital, Doha. Its single-storey buildings would have made an easy target for bombers. As it is sited away from residential areas, and more than 10 miles from the US’s desert base in Qatar, there would have been no danger of “collateral damage”.
Dozens of al-Jazeera staff at the HQ are not, as many believe, Islamic fanatics. Instead, most are respected and highly trained technicians and journalists.
To have wiped them out would have been equivalent to bombing the BBC in London and the most spectacular foreign policy disaster since the Iraq War itself. The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors.
In 2001 the station’s Kabul office was knocked out by two “smart” bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station’s Baghdad centre.
The memo, which also included details of troop deployments, turned up in May last year at the Northampton constituency office of then Labour MP Tony Clarke.
Cabinet Office civil servant David Keogh, 49, is accused under the Official Secrets Act of passing it to Leo O’Connor, 42, who used to work for Mr Clarke. Both are bailed to appear at Bow Street court next week.
Mr Clarke, who lost at the election, returned the memo to No 10. He said Mr O’Connor had behaved “perfectly correctly”. Neither Mr O’Connor or Mr Keogh were available. No 10 did not comment.
British Paper: Blair Talked Bush out of AirStrike on Network
LONDON, England (CNN) — The White House characterized as “outlandish” Tuesday a British newspaper report that President Bush once discussed bombing the headquarters of Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera with Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, called on the British government to confirm or deny the report, which appeared Tuesday in the Daily Mirror, a London tabloid.
The network has been a frequent target of US criticism, and its facilities have been hit by US bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Al-Jazeera said the Daily Mirror report would be “both shocking and worrisome” if true.
“It would cast serious doubts in regard to the US administration’s version of previous incidents involving Al-Jazeera’s journalists and offices,” the network said in a statement.
“It would also constitute a new chapter in the relationship between two of the most powerful governments in the world and media organizations in general,” the statement said.
The Daily Mirror reported that Blair talked Bush out of launching an airstrike against Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar — a U.S. ally — during an April 16, 2004, meeting at the White House.
Citing a top-secret memo from Blair’s office, the tabloid said Bush was angered by the network’s coverage of the uprising in the western Iraqi city of Falluja.
US Marines had been deployed to the city about 35 miles west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River to restore order after four American security guards had been killed and their bodies mutilated by insurgents.
“We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response,” a White House official told CNN. A Pentagon official called the Daily Mirror report “absolutely absurd.”
Al-Jazeera said it wanted to be “absolutely sure” the memo cited in the report is genuine and urged 10 Downing Street to confirm the information if true.
If the memo is accurate, the network’s statement said, “it would be incumbent on them to explain their positions on statements regarding the deliberate targeting of journalists and news organizations.”
Downing Street spokesman Ian Gleeson said Blair’s office would have no comment since the memo the Daily Mirror cited is the subject of court action.
The newspaper reported that two people have been charged with violating British secrecy laws in connection with its release.
Top Bush administration officials, particularly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have been sharply critical of Al-Jazeera in the past.
When U.S. troops went back into Falluja in November 2004, Rumsfeld called the network’s account of civilian casualties during the American push to retake the city “outrageous nonsense” and “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.”
An Al-Jazeera reporter was killed and three other employees were wounded by an American airstrike during the U.S. push into Baghdad in 2003.
American bombs struck the network’s Kabul office during the U.S. assault on Afghanistan in 2001.
During the 1999 air campaign over Kosovo, U.S. warplanes targeted Yugoslavia’s state television network. NATO officials argued it was a legitimate target as the propaganda arm of the Yugoslav government.
Legal Gag on Bush-Blair War Row
Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian
LONDON (November 23, 2005) — The attorney general last night threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed the contents of a document allegedly relating to a dispute between Tony Blair and George Bush over the conduct of military operations in Iraq.
It is believed to be the first time the Blair government has threatened newspapers in this way. 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.
The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, last night referred editors to newspaper reports yesterday that described the contents of a memo purporting to be at the centre of charges against two men under the secrets act.
Under the front-page headline “Bush Plot to Bomb his Ally”, the Daily Mirror reported that the US president last year planned to attack the Arabic television station al-Jazeera, which has its headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where US and British bombers were based.
Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror, said last night: “We made No 10 fully aware of the intention to publish and were given ‘no comment’ officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under section 5 [of the secrets act]”.
Under section 5 it is an offence to have come into the possession of government information, or a document from a crown servant, if that person discloses it without lawful authority. The prosecution has to prove the disclosure was damaging.
The Mirror said the memo turned up in May last year at the constituency office of the former Labour MP for Northampton South, Tony Clarke. Last week, Leo O’Connor, a former researcher for Mr Clarke, was charged with receiving a document under section 5 of the act. David Keogh, a former Foreign Office official seconded to the Cabinet Office, was charged last week with making a “damaging disclosure of a document relating to international relations”. Mr Keogh, 49, is accused of sending the document to Mr O’Connor, 42, between April 16 and May 28 2004.
Mr Clarke said yesterday that Mr O’Connor “did the right thing” by drawing the document to his attention. Mr Clarke, an anti-war MP who lost his seat at the last election, returned the document to the government. “As well as an MP, I am a special constable,” he said.
Both men were released on police bail last Thursday to appear at Bow Street magistrates court on November 29. When they were charged, newspapers reported that the memo contained a transcript of a discussion between Mr Blair and Mr Bush.
The conversation was understood to have taken place during a meeting in the US. It is believed to reveal that Mr Blair disagreed with Mr Bush about aspects of the Iraq war. There was widespread comment at the time that the British government was angry about US military tactics there, particularly in the city of Falluja.
Charges under the secrets act have to have the consent of the attorney-general. His intervention yesterday suggests that the prosecution plans to ask the judge to hold part, if not all of the trial, in camera, with the public and press excluded.
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