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Blunkett Challenges Channel 4 Record
Al Jazeera consults lawyers over former Home Secretary's comments
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2006-10-29 11:38 (KST)   
Britain's Press Gazette has reported a dispute between former Home Secretary David Blunkett and Channel 4 over the transcript of a broadcast in which Blunkett is interviewed about his views on "taking out" Al Jazeera during the invasion of Iraq.

A press release from Al Jazeera states that they "find Mr. Blunkett's allegations and position to be irresponsible and dangerous not only for Al Jazeera but for the freedom of media everywhere in the world. Given the weight of Mr. Blunkett's statements we strongly urge Prime Minister Blair for a clarification of this matter in alignment with the tenants of freedom and democracy which they advocate. Al Jazeera is in consultation with its lawyers and pursuing next steps in the matter."

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After reading Al Jazeera's comments on the Press Gazette Web site, Blunkett's office contacted them to deny the MP had advised Blair to attack the broadcaster's Baghdad office, and said that it was the channel's "job to check, if they are going to accuse people." Furthermore the spokeswoman said that the initial transcript sent to the press was not what was broadcast.

"Channel 4 sent out a transcript when the program hadn't even been finished. They sent out what they wanted to say, and in the end they weren't able to say that because what they wanted to say was not true, which is why it was changed to what I sent out."

A Channel 4 spokesperson said: "We stand fully by our story that David Blunkett expressed a view that an attack on Al Jazeera's Baghdad transmitter during the Iraq war might be justified."

The full text of the Oct. 12 broadcast is worth repeating in order to form a view on whether "taking out" Al Jazeera had been discussed by members of the UK cabinet. The disputed section is about half way through the second program based on a recent book -- "The Blunkett Tapes." A commentary states that "publicly Blunkett had questioned whether Al Jazeera had links with the Iraqi regime. Privately, Blunkett suggested an attack might be justified." There then follows an interview with questions from Isabel Tang.
Question: Did you really want to take out Al Jazeera?

Blunkett: It wasn't really taking out Al Jazeera as a broadcaster, it was taking out the capacity, just as in the Second World War, had we been able to take out Lord Haw-Haw I think people would have been very glad.

Question: Was there any worry that such an attack would have been outside the rules of engagement?

Blunkett: There wasn't a worry from me because I believed that this was a war and in a war you wouldn't allow the broadcast to continue taking place.

Question: But Al Jazeera was a civilian target.

Blunkett: Well, I don't think there are targets in a war that you can rule out because they don't actually have military personnel inside them if they are attempting to win a propaganda battle on behalf of your enemy.

Q: But surely that's against international law?

Blunkett: Well I don't think for a minute in previous wars we'd have thought twice about ensuring that a propaganda mechanism on the soil of the country you were invading would actually be able to continue to propagandize against you.
The commentary then states that "On April 8 (2003) the U.S. controversially bombed the Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad, killing a reporter."

There is then another section of interview.
Q: What was your view of the subsequent bombing by the U.S. of the Al Jazeera offices and the death of one journalist.

Blunkett: I think there's a big difference between taking out the transmission and taking out journalists even if you don't agree with them, and I think most people would agree with that.

Q. Do you think that that was not legitimate, or was legitimate?

Blunkett: I don't know whether it was a mistake or not, but I couldn't accord it legitimacy.
If the bombing was a mistake there is less of an issue about responsibility. Yet it is fairly clear from this interview that "taking out" Al Jazeera had been discussed by members of the UK cabinet.

Both in the program and in the book, Blunkett stands by his support for Tony Blair in the buildup to the war while stating reservations as to how policy was actually carried out. Often he blames the United States, for example in dismantling the Iraq army and creating the task of rebuilding security. "We have paid the price for this ever since."

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His doubts started even as the invasion seemed to be a success. "The euphoria was spoilt a bit by the U.S. troops deciding to drape the Stars and Stripes over the statue before it was pulled down. How crass can you get?"

Blunkett is no longer in office so may be less careful with his words than previously. He was also fairly frank on the extent of UK influence on Bush. "It was pretty clear that whatever Tony was able to do wasn't able to reverse the attitudes and the proposed actions of Donald Rumsfeld. We're punching above our weight and we're trying to influence but we're doing it from the outside because we're not there inside the executive, in the White House or the Pentagon."

The Blunkett statements on Al Jazeera were first reported by the Daily Mirror on Oct. 12. The quotes are very close to the transcript from the broadcast above. The Channel 4 programs were made with full involvement from David Blunkett and there was no public disagreement at the time of broadcast. The complaint through the Press Gazette reported on Oct. 25 followed the Al Jazeera press release on Oct. 18, including the mention of "consulting lawyers."

Other than the Press Gazette this has not been widely reported in the UK media. However there is interest in blogs such as the Kashmiri Nomad who links to two videos on YouTube. One is a report on the death of Tarek Ayub and the other an interview with Ron Siskind who claims to Wolf Blitzer on CNN that U.S. forces had previously deliberately bombed the Al-Jazeera office in Kabul, Afghanistan in late 2001.

The Blunkett evidence could be relevant to several legal cases. Democracy Now has reported that Dima Tahboub, the widow of Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayub is bringing a lawsuit against the Bush administration for her husband's death. The Committee to Protect Journalists has appealed the Pentagon decision not to release more details on the 2003 bombing of Al Jazeera under the Freedom of Information Act.

There are continuing efforts to find out more about a memo reported by the Daily Mirror in 2005 to refer to a discussion between Blair and Bush about bombing Al Jazeera. This has been refused under the U.S. and UK Freedom of Information Acts and is at the centre of a pending UK case under the Official Secrets Act.

In the original Daily Mirror report a government source is quoted as saying that Bush had been "humorous, not serious".

The Washington Post reported that a senior diplomat said the Bush remark as recounted in the Daily Mirror "sounds like one of the president's one-liners that is meant as a joke."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press in a November 2005 e-mail: "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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