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Jail for Al Jazeera Leak Civil Servants
Six months for David Keogh, three months for Leo O'Connor
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2007-05-12 13:01 (KST)   
David Keogh, a Whitehall communications officer, and Leo O'Connor, formerly a researcher for Member of Parliament Anthony Clarke, were found guilty of charges under the U.K. Official Secrets Act for revealing a memo of a discussion between George Bush and Tony Blair. Keogh was sentenced to six months in jail, O'Connor to three months. The memo was reported in 2005 by the Daily Mirror. However, U.K. media have been forbidden to report what has already been published in the context of reporting the trial.

Justice Aikens, the judge at the Old Bailey, specifically instructed journalists not to report a comment by Keogh on what the minutes revealed, even though it was said in open court. As reported in the Guardian by Richard Norton-Taylor, "he also said that allegations already in the public domain could not be repeated if there was any suggestion they related to the contents of the document."

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It is understood that previous reports can be repeated but only as a distinct story, not with any link to the trial. Media outside the U.K. are not bound by the contempt orders. This has the strange result that although it is claimed that the U.K. Foreign Office supported the case to avoid embarrassment for an ally, media based in the U.S. show no reluctance to making the link with the Daily Mirror report or the alleged reference to Al Jazeera. CNN for example includes this paragraph in a report from the Associated Press:

"The Daily Mirror newspaper previously reported that the memo showed Blair arguing against Bush's suggestion of bombing Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar. The Daily Mirror said its sources disagreed on whether Bush's suggestion was serious."

During the recent court hearing Anthony Hudson, counsel for the Guardian, Times and BBC, said the media would be in a "ridiculous" situation. He said the judge was making a "serious intrusion" into the media's rights of freedom of expression.

The Daily Mirror reported that much of the trial was held behind closed doors after the judge said that "some individuals or groups in the Middle East might react very unfavorably to the contents of the letter."

However it is probable that groups in the Middle East are now better informed about this case than most people in the U.K. Searching on Google News shows that the Daily Mirror report is widely mentioned, except by U.K. news organizations.

After the sentencing, Keogh's solicitor Stuart Jeffery said: "He took a moral stance on something that he found shocking and has to accept the decision of the court as far as his guilt is concerned. It was never his intention to put lives at risk. He would state rather that it was his intention to save innocent lives." Mr Jeffery said he would be looking at avenues of appeal.

A spokesman for the Stop the War Coalition condemned the prison sentences, adding: "While not a single government minister has been held to account for the disastrous policy of war in Iraq, two men are imprisoned for trying simply to shed some light on Tony Blair's relationship with George Bush."

He added: "The prison sentences are another sign of the double standards perpetrated in relation to the war."

In a related story following the planned resignation of Tony Blair as prime minister there have been a series of statements about relations between Bush and Blair. So far there has not been detailed documentary evidence for the claims made, but there appears to be a change of direction on avoiding embarrassment for allies.

Andrew Grice reports in the New Zealand Herald that "loyal Blairites have launched a campaign to pin the blame for the mistakes made after the conflict on the Bush administration."

Lady Morgan, the former director of government relations, said: "The fundamental problem is it [Iraq] has become a place where terrorists from every group are now operating. The operation of the war and post-war planning was Donald Rumsfeld and I don't think President George Bush was running Donald Rumsfeld in the end. Operationally, I think [Blair] was frustrated that things didn't always happen in the way that he'd hoped or expected would take place."

A second article by Patrick Wintour includes another quote from Lady Morgan about planning for after the Iraq invasion:

"Tony gripped himself about this. He had a feel for it," she said. "I think he thought that ... if he had been in charge, we would not have been in this mess. He could see what needed to be done but he did not have the levers."

Wintour points out that "Mr Blair's officials have previously been reticent about discussing disputes between him and Mr Bush over the war."

Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader, said that he could not understand "the nature of the association with George Bush, particularly when it was evident that the Americans had made no effective preparation for conditions after the war."

There is a disturbing observation in another report on views about the U.K. role, apparently from "a British official:"

"I think we had no idea just how dysfunctional the U.S. administration was ... You have to assume that when you are dealing with the world's only superpower they have a plan, that they have got it all tied up, but they did not. It was just incredibly thin, misanalysed and ill-conceived. One of our many difficulties is that we were talking to George Bush, and it emerged he was not in charge of either the strategic and tactical decisions."

"Labour officials in Downing Street" are quoted as saying that "Bush was straight to deal with and did not play games, but it was up to him to make the right decisions. In the end he didn't."

There will be continuing public interest in the record of communications between Bush and Blair.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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