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Undernews Extract: Bush Al Jazeera Bombing Leak

Undernews Extract: Bush Al Jazeera Bombing Leak

Compiled by Editor Sam Smith



MEDIA CHANNEL - Howard Kurtz, America’s official media critic, devoted about 20 seconds to the story reported in England about the threat to bomb Al Jazeera. Here’s the trivialization as performed by Kurtz and former CBS correspondent turned CNN correspondent Bruce Morton on CNN’s Reliable Sources program:

KURTZ: Bruce, this British tabloid report in "The Mirror" relying on one unnamed source that said that the Bush -- that President Bush considered bombing Al-Jazeera's offices but Tony Blair talked him out of it. The White House says us that ludicrous.

Should CNN and lots of newspapers and other news organizes have reported that?

MORTON: I don't know that there is any evidence of that. "The Mirror" -- the British tabloids are famous -- and "The Mirror," to be fair, is not known for reliability. It ain't "The New York Times." You know.

KURTZ: Yet just about everybody picked it up, with the White House denials, of course.

MORTON: I think we could have laid off that probably.

KURTZ: All right.

[The problem with Kurtz's dismissal of the supposedly nonexistent story is that British government has charged two, apparently in connection with releasing it. – Sam Smith]

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CBC, CANADA - Two British men have been charged with leaking a top secret government document to a backbench MP, but no one, not even their lawyers, is being allowed to see what is in the document. Civil servant David Keogh, 49, and former legislative researcher Leo O'Connor, 42, appeared in court on Tuesday to face charges under the Official Secrets Act. . . Many people in Britain know, or think they know, what the secret document is. They believe it's a British government memo on a conversation between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in April 2004. It is suspected that the document led to a front-page scoop in a London tabloid accusing Bush of apparently raising the possibility of bombing the headquarters in Qatar of Al-Jazeera, the Arabic all-news network. According to the report Blair talked him out of it. . .

The government retaliated with a threat to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act if anything further was published. "The government is very keen to keep this memo under wraps, they don't want to see it published," said Maguire.

JUAN COLE, SALON - The report kicked off a furor in Europe and the Middle East. It was, predictably, virtually ignored by the American press. It would be premature to claim that the Mirror's report, based on anonymous sources and a document that has not been made public, proves that Bush intended to bomb Al-Jazeera. But the frightening truth is that it is only too possible that the Mirror's report is accurate. Bush and his inner circle, in particular Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had long demonized the channel as "vicious," "inexcusably biased" and abetting terrorists. Considering the administration's no-holds-barred approach to the "war on terror," the closed circle of ideologues that surround Bush, and his own messianic certainty about his divine mission to rid the world of "evil," the idea that he seriously considered bombing what he perceived as a nest of terrorist sympathizers simply cannot be ruled out. Add in the fact that the U.S. military had previously bombed Al-Jazeera's Kabul, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq, offices (the U.S. pleaded ignorance in the Kabul case, and claimed the Baghdad bombing was a mistake), and the case becomes stronger still. . .

Ironically, Rumsfeld himself had telegraphed the strategy during an interview in 2001 on . . . Al-Jazeera. On Oct. 16, 2001, Rumsfeld talked to the channel's Washington anchor Hafez Mirazi (who once worked for the Voice of America but left in disgust at the level of censorship he faced there). Although most such interviews are archived at the Department of Defense, this one appears to be absent. Mirazi showed it again on Monday, and it contained a segment in which Rumsfeld defended the targeting of radio stations that supported the Taliban. He made it clear right then that he believed in total war, and made no distinction between civilian and military targets. The radio stations, he said, were part of the Taliban war effort. In fact, Al-Jazeera bears no resemblance to the pro-Taliban radio stations that Rumsfeld defended attacking. . .

Al-Jazeera was founded in the 1990s by disgruntled Arab journalists, many of whom had worked for the BBC Arabic service, though a few came from the Voice of America. The station was a breath of fresh air in the stultified world of Arab news broadcasting, where news producers' idea of an exciting segment is a stationary camera on two Arab leaders sitting ceremonially on a Louis XIV sofa while martial music plays for several minutes. In contrast, Al-Jazeera anchors host live debates that often turn heated, and do not hesitate to ask sharp questions.

Despite the false stereotypes that circulate in the United States among pundits and politicians who have never watched the station, most of Al-Jazeera's programming is not Muslim fundamentalist in orientation. The rhetoric is that of Arab nationalism, and the reporters are only interested in fundamentalism to the extent that it is anti-imperialist in tone. This slant gives many of the programs the musty, antiquated feel of an old Gamal Abdul Nasser speech from the 1960s. In the Arab world, clothes speak to politics. The male anchors and reporters usually sport business suits, and the mostly unveiled women might as well be on the runway of a European fashion show. . .

CBS NEWS - Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that he had received no information suggesting the United States planned to bomb the al Jazeera television network. . . Lawmaker Adam Price asked Blair in a written parliamentary question made public Monday "what information you received on action that the United States administration proposed to take against the al Jazeera television channel." Blair replied with a one-word answer: "None."

EDWARD M. GOMEZ, SF CHRONICLE - After the British tabloid the Mirror reported this news, gleaned from a leaked top-secret British-government memo, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, warned that anyone who dared to publish the actual contents of the document would be prosecuted under the provisions of the country's long-standing Official Secrets Act. . .

The British weekly the Observer reported: "Government officials suggested Bush's comments were nothing more than a joke...[and] the White House described the allegations as 'unfathomable,' although, according to those who have seen the memo, 'there is no question Bush was serious.' ... [O]ne indisputable fact, though, is that part of the memo -- 10 lines to be precise -- concerns a conversation between Bush and Blair regarding Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite-television station that the U.S. accuses of being a mouthpiece for Al-Qaeda."

After all, "most gallingly" for the Bush administration, Al-Jazeera's "reporters have told a story that Washington either disagrees with or would rather remain untold: that the kind of war America is prosecuting in Iraq is messy and heavy-handed; that civilians are too often the victims, and that the insurgents are not shadowy, sinister figures but ordinary men with more support than politicians would like to acknowledge."

Worth keeping in mind, too, is that, at the time of Bush and Blair's April 2004 meeting, Bush's war making in Iraq wasn't going well and Al-Jazeera was dutifully reporting the bad news that "the Americans were fighting in Falluja against Sunnis backed by foreign fighters linked to the Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," and that "[m]ore than 600 Iraqi civilians were reported to have been killed in the offensive." (Times)

In a radio interview, Lord Goldsmith tried to play down his threat to invoke the Official Secrets Act against anyone who dared to publish the contents of the memo about the April 2004 Bush-Blair powwow. "I wasn't seeking to gag newspapers; what I said to newspapers was you need to take legal advice," Goldsmith told a radio interviewer who accused him "of trying to silence the media for political expediency." . . .

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, a member of Parliament and the publisher of the British magazine the Spectator, wrote in a commentary in the Telegraph: "If someone passes me the document [the leaked government memo] within the next few days, I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies."

Or as the headline of a news story about the leaked memo in the Observer put it, referring to Bush's urge to drop bombs: "Why is the world's most powerful man so worried about a TV station?"


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