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Al-Jazeera Leak Hearing to be Partly Secret
Communication between Bush and Blair remains undocumented
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2006-10-07 04:55 (KST)   
The trial based on the leaked Al Jazeera memo will be held in secret when the memo itself is discussed and when the prosecution explain their case. David Keogh, a former Cabinet Office official, and Leo O'Connor, former parliamentary researcher to the Labour M.P. for Northampton South, Anthony Clarke, are due to face trial at the Old Bailey on Oct. 9. The charges are under the U.K. Official Secrets Act.

In Nov. 2005 the Daily Mirror published a report based on the memo that is now at the center of this case. The content has been widely disputed but the central claim has been repeated in an Early Day Motion (1084) tabled in the House of Commons by Peter Kilfoyle MP and others. The motion proposes "That this House notes recent reports that President Bush discussed with the Prime Minister the bombing of the al-Jazeera television station in Qatar; and calls on the Government to publish the record of this discussion."

Richard Norton-Taylor pointed out in the Guardian that the purported conversation happened in April 2004 when al-Jazeera was covering US military tactics in Falluja.

There have been requests for the memo to be published under the Freedom of Information Acts in both the U.S. and U.K. Steve Wood in the FOIA blog reported on the U.S. response that "no records responsive to your request were located." Apparently White House records may not be subject to the FOI legislation but the request was made to the State Department. According to statements by Peter Kilfoyle MP, the memo shows Colin Powell (then Secretary of State) as present at the meeting.

Al Jazeera also made a request for the publication of the memo but would accept that parts of it be kept secret. Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera Director General, made a full statement through a blog:
The story in the Daily Mirror..... points to a level of threat to our very existence that had never occurred to us or to our viewers before. If it is true that Bush had indeed thought of bombing the al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha, this will undoubtedly constitute a watershed in the relationship between government authorities and the free media. I decided, in view of the great shock and bewilderment felt by many people around the world, to travel to London to look for the truth behind a press report whose reverberations across the Middle East - where reform and democracy have been promised - are far from over. My colleagues have submitted a memorandum to 10 Downing Street, urging the British government to reveal the truth about the alleged document, and stressing that publishing the part within it relating to al-Jazeera is essential to put an end to speculation.

There has been public interest in why Prime Minister Blair has supported President Bush in his policy on Iraq. The publication of this memo would contribute to understanding of how policy has developed.

Speculation in blogs includes a comment by Lawrence R. Velvel as part of a review of Ron Suskind's book "The One Percent Doctrine":
The American shelling of Al Jazeera셲 offices in Baghdad was intentional. (Pp. 137-138.) It was not the accident or mistake we pretended it was. Rather we had deliberately sent Al Jazeera a message. (Recently, I note, an official memo got leaked in Britain which said that Bush had (shockingly) suggested to Tony Blair that Al Jazeera should be bombed. This has not received much attention in the U.S.)

So far the ruling that parts of the trial be held in secret has also not resulted in much press attention. There is a page on the Wikipedia. There was a July report in the International Herald Tribune on the probable defence case. This included a quote from Keogh's lawyer, Stuart Jeffrey, on why the contents of the memo will be relevant for the case - "The prosecution has to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the disclosure they say occurred seriously damaged international relations or defense and national security."

In a related story, the widow of Al Jazeera Reporter Tareq Ayyoub has filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration for her husband's death in 2003 U.S. attack on the Baghdad bureau. As reported by Democracy Now, attorney Hamdi Rifai said at a Washington press conference that "the case was being launched in part because of the disclosure last year in London's Daily Mirror that President Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair of his desire to bomb Al Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar." In an interview with Amy Goodman, Rifai comments that "even if we can't get disclosure of the memo, the American public is entitled to know what happened. Miss Tahboub is entitled to know what happened. And there will be a procedure where all this information comes out, just as in any case. There is eventual accountability in every case."
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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