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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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?
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 email@example.com.