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22/11/05

EXCLUSIVE: BUSH PLOT TO BOMB HIS ARAB ALLY - Madness of war memo By Kevin Maguire And Andy Lines

   

22 November 2005

PRESIDENT Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a “Top Secret” No 10 memo reveals.

But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

A source said: “There’s no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.” Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.

The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation.

A source said last night: “The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush.

“He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere. Blair replied that would cause a big problem.

“There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do – and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.”

A Government official suggested that the Bush threat had been “humorous, not serious”.

But another source declared: “Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men.”

Yesterday former Labour Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle challenged Downing Street to publish the five-page transcript of the two leaders’ conversation. He said: “It’s frightening to think that such a powerful man as Bush can propose such cavalier actions.

“I hope the Prime Minister insists this memo be published. It gives an insight into the mindset of those who were the architects of war.”

Bush disclosed his plan to target al-Jazeera, a civilian station with a huge Mid-East following, at a White House face-to-face with Mr Blair on April 16 last year.

At the time, the US was launching an all-out assault on insurgents in the Iraqi town of Fallujah.

Al-Jazeera infuriated Washington and London by reporting from behind rebel lines and broadcasting pictures of dead soldiers, private contractors and Iraqi victims.

The station, watched by millions, has also been used by bin Laden and al-Qaeda to broadcast atrocities and to threaten the West.

Al-Jazeera’s HQ is in the business district of Qatar’s capital, Doha.

Its single-storey buildings would have made an easy target for bombers. As it is sited away from residential areas, and more than 10 miles from the US’s desert base in Qatar, there would have been no danger of “collateral damage”.

Dozens of al-Jazeera staff at the HQ are not, as many believe, Islamic fanatics. Instead, most are respected and highly trained technicians and journalists.

To have wiped them out would have been equivalent to bombing the BBC in London and the most spectacular foreign policy disaster since the Iraq War itself.

The No 10 memo now raises fresh doubts over US claims that previous attacks against al-Jazeera staff were military errors.

In 2001 the station’s Kabul office was knocked out by two “smart” bombs. In 2003, al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a US missile strike on the station’s Baghdad centre.

The memo, which also included details of troop deployments, turned up in May last year at the Northampton constituency office of then Labour MP Tony Clarke.

Cabinet Office civil servant David Keogh, 49, is accused under the Official Secrets Act of passing it to Leo O’Connor, 42, who used to work for Mr Clarke. Both are bailed to appear at Bow Street court next week.

Mr Clarke, who lost at the election, returned the memo to No 10.

He said Mr O’Connor had behaved “perfectly correctly”.

Neither Mr O’Connor or Mr Keogh were available. No 10 did not comment.

tinyurl.com/9lhqs

Editors are threatened over TV station bombing claim By Rosemary Bennett and Tim Reid

The Times November 23, 2005

NEWSPAPERS editors were threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act last night if they published details of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in which the President is alleged to have suggested bombing al-Jazeera, the Arab news network. Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, informed newspapers editors including that of The Times that “publication of a document that has been unlawfully disclosed by a Crown servant could be in breach of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act.”

The Blair Government has obtained court injunctions against newspapers before but it has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents.

Under a front-page headline “Bush plot to bomb his ally” in the Daily Mirror yesterday, a secret minute of the conversation in April 2004 records the President allegedly suggesting that he would like to bomb the channel’s studios in Doha, capital of Qatar. Richard Wallace, the Editor of the Daily Mirror, said last night: “We made No 10 fully aware of the intention to publish and were given ‘no comment’ officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under Section 5.”

According to the Mirror, the transcript turned up in the office of former Labour MP Tony Clarke, who lost his Northampton South seat in May.

His former researcher and a Cabinet Office official, accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act, will appear at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court.

Downing Street refused to comment on the matter yesterday, saying that it was sub judice.

Last night Peter Kilfoyle, the Labour MP for Liverpool Walton and a former Defence Minister, tabled an early day motion urging Mr Blair to publish the conversation. He said that what Mr Bush said was a “matter of great interest” to MPs and the public.

Al-Jazeera has angered the US Administration by broadcasting video messages from Osama bin Laden and footage of dead and injured Iraqi civilians.

The White House called the reports “outlandish”. “We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response,” an administration official said.

But Mr Kilfoyle said that if there was a record of a conversation where an attack on al-Jazeera’s headquarters was mentioned, MPs should know about it.

He also dismissed comments by Whitehall officials that any suggestion of an attack would have been in jest.

“This is a matter of great interest. There was an attack on the hotel in Baghdad used by al-Jazeera journalists which caused great controversy. The US also attacked a Serbian TV station (during the Kosovo war). It is easy to dismiss this as a glib comment, but I don’t find it very funny at all,” he said.

Mr Clarke, who was against the war in Iraq and lost his seat at the last election, returned the document to the Government. “As well as an MP, I am a special constable,” he said.

Charges under the Official Secrets Act have to be approved by the Attorney-General. His involvement suggests the prosecution intends to hold part, if not all, of the trial, behind closed doors.

On Newsnight last night, a spokesman for al-Jazeera defended the channel’s output.

www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1885279,00.html

  
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