Blair denies Bush conversation on bombing al-Jazeera offices 16 December 2007Posted by foray in al-jazeera, al-jazeera english, al-jazeera memo, Blair, media, qatar, UK, US.
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Confronted for the first time publicly about a purported phone conversation with US president George Bush in 2004 concerning a plan to bomb al-Jazeera headquarters in Qatar, former British PM Tony Blair has denied it ever happened.
The question was put to Blair this week during an interview with al-Jazeera, which largely focused on his current role as special envoy to the Middle East for the Quartet.
Two men have been jailed in the UK for breaching the Official Secrets Act by attempting to leak a memo describing details of a conversation in April 2004 between British PM Tony Blair and US president George Bush.
David Keogh, a communications officer at the Cabinet Office, was given six months while Leo O’Connor, a researcher for anti-war Labour MP Anthony Clarke, received three months
As The Independent noted:
Throughout the trial, the public and press were excluded from parts of the hearing which referred to the contents of the highly sensitive memo. It is a contempt of court to publish details of the memo.
What is known is that The Daily Mirror reported on the particular memo on 22 November 2005 in a front-page story. The original article (full text still available on the Mirror site here) stated that the memo indicated that Bush “planned to bomb” the Doha headquarters of al-Jazeera. One source told the newspaper the president’s reference to bombing the Qatari capital was in jest. Another source claimed the conversation was serious. The memo also allegedly “included details of troop deployments”.
Several British newspapers are now appealing to be allowed to report on more details of the case – including the information in the above paragraph. Justice Richard Aikens said the British press could reveal some of the background, provided they did it in a remarkably contorted manner, as The Guardian explained:
The judge suggested that the allegations could be “recycled,” but only if they were published on a separate page of a newspaper from that containing references to the trial.
The Mirror today could only hint at what their previous story had said:
Much of the trial was held behind closed doors after the judge said that “some individuals or groups in the Middle East might react very unfavourably to the contents of the letter”.
Details of the memo had already been revealed exclusively by the Daily Mirror and are therefore in the public domain.
But although our story was flashed around the world and is freely available on the internet, the judge ruled it could not be repeated in reports of the trial.
The original Mirror story prompted some al-Jazeera staffers to set up the “Don’t Bomb Us” blog. A flotilla of bloggers subsequently stepped forward – under the motto “I’ll publish the al-Jazeera memo” – to proclaim they would risk jail to release the contents of the letter.