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Variations in Reporting Al Jazeera Trial
Meeting attended by Colin Powell attended at center of memo case
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-23 11:58 (KST)   
Reports about a U.K. trial under the Official Secrets Act have varied in the amount of background explanation and in reference to previous stories suggesting that a leaked memo may record discussion about Al Jazeera. The report by David Stringer for Associated Press is headlined "Al-Jazeera Memo Trial Starts in London," (Dispatch Online). David Keogh, aged 50, and Leo O'Connor, 44, are accused of violating secrecy laws by disclosing a document relating to talks between U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair in Washington on April 16, 2004. Stringer cites the earlier report by The Daily Mirror newspaper that Blair had argued during this meeting against Bush's suggestion of bombing Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Reports by the BBC and The Times make no mention of Al Jazeera. Their reports do repeat the prosecution case as made in court. There has been evidence so far from Matthew Rycroft, who wrote the original memo. He has explained that it was distributed to David Hill, Blair's director of communications, and to Tom Kelly, his spokesman, not to use the information in their work briefing the press, but so that they had a more complete knowledge of the policies the Prime Minister was putting forward to Bush. It was reported that the meeting lasted about two hours and was also attended, on the British side, by Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, and Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff. Bush was accompanied by Colin Powell, then U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, then his National Security Adviser, and Dan Freed, special assistant to the president.

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There was concern at the time about the original Daily Mirror report, especially when the Attorney General used the Official Secrets Act to prevent further publication. For example Boris Johnson, now a Conservative shadow minister, announced he would be prepared to publish the memo. He wrote in his blog that "the Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt... we now have allegations of such severity, against the U.S. President and his motives, that we need to clear them up. If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence."

Christopher Hitchens, often a supporter of Bush policy on Iraq, was also concerned about threats to journalism and became involved in the story. Writing in Slate in January 2006 he considered reasons to think the memo may be authentic. These included the strong reaction of the U.K. Attorney General and a quote in the original story from an unnamed spokesman for Blair saying that Bush's remark was "humorous, not serious." Hitchens concluded that "This is as much as to concede that some such conversation did in fact take place." Hitchens also questioned Powell's claim not to remember what was said at the meeting.
쒲 am not the world's greatest fan of Powell or of his secretaryship, but the chief steward of American foreign policy might be expected to remember a proposal to bomb the territory of a friendly neutral that is the site of U.S. Central Command, as well as a sharp dispute about it between his president and his country's chief political and military ally. If he doesn't feel confident enough to say: 'That is too absurdly untrue to deserve even a comment from me,' then he is not doing much better than stalling.
So far there has been no U.K. reporting linking the trial and the public concern at the time of the Daily Mirror publication. The fact that it is now clearly stated that Colin Powell was present at the meeting may have an implication for the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S. Steve Wood has reported on the U.K. Freedom of Information blog about repeated efforts to find out more about the memo in the U.K. In July 2006 he quoted a response from a request to the U.S. State Department, "no records responsive to your request were located." Wood found this surprising as he believed then that Colin Powell had been at the meeting based on statements by Peter Kilfoyle MP, who has seen a copy of the leaked memo.
"The other problem is that if a record is held at the White House, 'the President's immediate personal staff or any part of the Executive Office of the President whose sole function is to advise and assist the President' are not subject to the U.S. FOIA (the reason I directed my request to the State Dept). Requests for records originating from the White House are also subject to special treatment."
So there may be no State Department records of meetings held at the White House.

It has been reported that Peter Kilfoyle may face similar charges, but there has been no update on this. As reported in the Sunday Times, papers were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service last year and senior lawyers were in the final stages of consulting on whether to press charges against Kilfoyle and former MP Tony Clarke . 쏛 decision on Kilfoyle and Clarke is expected soon, a spokesman said. This was in February. A case against Peter Kilfoyle would get more media attention than the current trial. He is already known as a critic of the Iraq war and the Telegraph has reported a recent comment on Gordon Brown's meeting with George Bush. "This is Bush's administration saying it can do business with Gordon, as it could with Tony Blair, and this worries me."

So far there has been no comment on the trial in the U.S. that can be found through Google News. At the time of the Daily Mirror story, there was some questioning in the White House as reported by Dan Froomkin. He was interested in the nature of the denials.

First there was an email from Scott McLellan: "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response." Froomkin suggested that "nothing arouses White House reporters more these days than a non-denial denial," but then added, "I apparently overestimated the mainstream press corps' baloney detectors. By contrast, the corps was downright dogged yesterday when it came to rooting out the details of Bush's summons to jury duty in Crawford. Now there's a big story."

There may be more comment later. The trial is expected to last for two or three weeks.

Al Jazeera have reported the connection with the Daily Mirror report, but have also included statements from the prosecutor, David Perry.

"We live in a democratic society, not the Wild West," Perry told the court. "It is not for people to decide they are going to be the sheriff in town."
There will be updates on the blog http://froomkinfan.blogspot.com
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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