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News Media Last Updated: Oct 18th, 2006 - 01:02:50

The message will out
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Oct 18, 2006, 00:58

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It's been almost a year since a Daily Mirror headline read "Bush plot to bomb his Arab ally." The article referred to a leaked "top secret" Number Ten memo that reportedly quoted the US president telling Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, of his desire to bomb Al Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar at a time the broadcaster was covering US activities in Fallujah.

The expos� triggered an initial storm that turned into barely a gust when the British government, fearful that the memo would be published in its entirety, slapped the media with a gag order.

As Britain's networks and papers fell silent on the issue, the White House characterised the story as "outlandish." As for the US media, it reacted predictably by hardly reacting at all.

Naturally, Al Jazeera staff took it seriously, setting up a "Please don't bomb us" blog, while the network asked to see the memo, as did several concerned British parliamentarians, including Boris Johnson who said he'd publish and be damned. Requests denied. So that it seemed was that.

That is until this month when speculation over George W. Bush's intentions once again reared its ugly head due to a secret trial held under the Official Secrets Act of two alleged whistleblowers -- former cabinet official David Keogh and Leo O'Connor, a former parliamentary researcher.

Clandestine trials require authorisation from the British foreign secretary, which Margaret Beckett issued, when she took over from Jack Straw, on the basis that should the memo enter the public domain it could have a "serious negative impact on UK-US relations."

Hot stuff

Supporting the government's case for secrecy, the trial judge took into account terrorist threats and ruled that individuals and states could put different interpretations on the memo, thus reacting "very unfavourably."

In other words, the memo is hot stuff. Bush supporters have attempted to spin the alleged accusation in terms of a snippet of Bush witticism, but if that were the case, why the government cover-up?

If it were a passing comment on the lines of a sick joke, surely the context of the remark would indicate just that, and one might also wonder why Blair allegedly attempted to dissuade his US counterpart from pursuing that path instead of enjoying a conspiratorial giggle.

If it's true that the leader of the free world advocated the bombing of a civilian television network on the soil of one of his country's allies, then Americans need to reevaluate the credentials of a president who thinks nothing of committing a war crime.

Adding grist to the mill is the fact the US bombed Al Jazeera's offices in Kabul and Baghdad, which it deemed accidents despite having been given the coordinates.

A victim of the latter "accident" was Al Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayoub, whose widow was prompted to file a lawsuit against the Bush administration in light of the leaked memo, which, unfortunately, she has been unable to obtain despite requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the US president isn't the only politician who allegedly wanted an end to Al Jazeera's controversial broadcasts. David Blunkett, the twice-sacked Britain's home secretary who recently admitted to being clinically depressed during part of his time in office due to a smutty dalliance with a married woman, is still making waves. During an interview on Channel 4's Dispatches, Blunkett admits encouraging Blair to bomb Al Jazeera's Baghdad transmitter.

When reminded such an act would have contravened international law, Blunkett responds with: "Well, I don't think that there are targets in a war that you can rule out because you don't actually have military personnel inside them if they are attempting to win a propaganda battle on behalf of your enemy."

Begs the question

This begs the question as to whether independent journalists were deliberately targeted in Iraq. The shelling by Marines of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, known to have been home to the international media, is one case in point and the killing of ITN reporter Terry Lloyd, who was shot in the head by US troops, another. Although a British coroner's verdict has described Lloyd's death as "an unlawful killing," the US insists its soldiers adhered to rules of engagement.

Last week, the Independent Federation of Journalists (IFJ) asked the US to "tell the whole truth" concerning Lloyd's demise and that of 19 other journalists who lost their lives at the hands of the US military. That's a fruitless quest, bearing in mind the Bush administration has hired PR firms that pay journalists to write stories favourable to US interests and has launched Al Hurra television and Sawa radio to churn out propaganda on its behalf.

Since the entire Iraq war was launched on a mendacious tissue and mercilessly spun throughout does the IFJ imagine that Bush will suddenly morph into "I cannot tell a lie" George Washington?

Returning to Blunkett, he admits his support for the war was an error of judgment and regrets he didn't ask sufficiently probing questions.

It's a pity he doesn't appear to regret his urging the prime minister to bomb Al Jazeera, which unlike networks whose journalists were embedded with US troops was unafraid to show the ugly reality on the ground. He just doesn't get it. You can shoot the messenger but with over 600,000 dead, the message will out.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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