Monday, November 28, 2005

Did Bush Want To Bomb Qatar?

From the BBC on Saturday, following up on a story in England's Daily Mirror newspaper:

Al-Jazeera calls for No 10 talks

The head of al-Jazeera is delivering a letter to Tony Blair demanding the facts on reports that President Bush suggested bombing the Arab TV station. He wants a memo published which is alleged to show Tony Blair dissuaded President Bush from bombing its HQ.

Last week the Daily Mirror reported what it said was the contents of a memo showing Mr Blair had talked the US President out of the attack last year. Wadah Khanfar is calling for the facts to be made public and urgent talks. Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has warned newspaper editors against publication, citing the Official Secrets Act.

According to press reports, the memo includes a transcript record of Mr Blair attempting in April 2004 to persuade Mr Bush not to bomb al-Jazeera's HQ in Qatar. Qatar is an ally of the US and was the location of US military headquarters during the Iraq war. The White House dismissed reports of the conversation as "outlandish", but US officials have openly accused al-Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Mr Khanfar said: "Al- Jazeera is in the foremost of free form and democracy in the Arab world and therefore this news that we have heard is very concerning. So we demand a proper explanation and we would like to know the facts about this letter." He said the matter was very important and that it concerned not only al-Jazeera but journalists across the world. "We need to know if this discussion has taken place or not...if this document exists or not. By banning this document from being published it does cast a lot of concerns about this issue."

He said al-Jazeera had also asked the White House for an explanation. Downing Street said on Friday that it was quite happy to talk to al-Jazeera as it was to other broadcasters.

Clarifying his position, Lord Goldsmith said he had not been seeking to gag newspapers and had instead been urging them to take legal advice. Cabinet Office civil servant David Keogh has been charged under the Official Secrets Act of passing the memo to former Labour MP Tony Clarke's researcher Leo O'Connor. Both men are due to appear at Bow Street Magistrates Court next week.

Last week Labour MP and former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle tabled a Commons motion calling for the memo to be made public. He accused ministers of using the Official Secrets Act to save political embarrassment rather than protect national security as it is intended.

Lord Goldsmith also denied the Act was being used to prevent political embarrassment. He also refused to confirm the contents of the memo.

Many of al-Jazeera's employees have long been privately convinced that their offices in Kabul and Baghdad were deliberately targeted by the Pentagon in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

Hmmm. The Mirror has been undone by its desire to punish the pro-war camp before with eagerness superceding good reporting on more than one occasion (most notably publishing forged photos of British soldiers abusing Iraqis; a 'scoop' that lead to the resignation of editor Piers Morgan. There is quite enough of that sort of thing going on without the need for forgeries). The idea of bombing a private business in a friendly country because you don't agree with them is perhaps too insane even for this president (and too akin to, say, Libya blowing up a Pan Am airliner over Scotland due to ideological differences with the States. That was rightly called terrorism).

However, this row highlights the lack of trust in statements related to the war on terror issued by either Downing Street or the White House. Gone are the days when the simple denial of such a seemingly outlandish story would suffice. Our trust has been abused by too many misleading reports, incomplete briefings, or polished turds issuing forth from the centers of power. The very fact that this story is seen in some quarters as eminently plausible shows just how far the stock of our leaders has sunk in the eyes of the world.

I plan to try and keep an eye on this story (and the associated story of the incompentent mishandling of public sentiment and the Arab Street) as best I can. I've been out of the loop and don't know if the American mainstream TV outlets gave this any air between the endless "Black Friday" drivel (today is apparently "Black Monday", the online shopping equivalent- yawn); it does show up on the ABC, CBS, and MSNBC websites when you search "al Jazeera", but its not on the homepages or headlines.

However much I disagree with his policies and find his administration's tactical approach to the Middle East incompetent, counterproductive and dangerous I sincerely hope for his sake that President Bush did not seriously contemplate dropping bombs without warning on a civillian building in an allied country in an attempt to silence adverse opinion. For a "Culture of Life" president, that would be tantamount to murder.

No comments: