Friday, November 25, 2005

Al-Jazzera Wants Answers Over Memo

The "Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera" story still hasn't gone away despite the administration's best efforts to kill it. Here's Reuters on Al-Jazeera's reaction to the allegation:

LONDON (Reuters) - Arabic news channel Al Jazeera's general manager flew to London on Friday to demand the British government explain a leaked report that President George W. Bush wanted to bomb the TV station.

The Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Tuesday that a secret British government memo said British Prime Minister Tony Blair had talked Bush out of bombing Al Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar in April last year.

"I have come to London in order to reach out to British officials, to investigate about the memo that some claim exists during the past week," Al Jazeera managing director Waddah Khanfar told Reuters by telephone after his arrival in London.

"It is a matter of deep concern for all of us in al Jazeera, and the Arab world and the media."

He said a delegation from the channel would deliver a letter to Blair on Saturday asking for an interview.

The White House has said the allegation that Bush wanted to bomb Jazeera is "so outlandish" it does not merit a response.

Britain, which is prosecuting a civil servant and a parliamentarian's aide for leaking the secret memo, refuses to comment on its contents.

The Daily Mirror quoted one unnamed government official saying Bush's comments may have been a joke, but another unidentified source saying the president appeared to be serious.

Britain's attorney general has warned other media that they can be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if they reveal anything else about the memo.

"It is of very deep concern not only to Al Jazeera journalists, but to people who trust Al Jazeera as the most credible source of information in the Arab world," Khanfar said.

"People should know the facts about it. It is not a matter that can be brushed away or dealt with in very vague statements."

Blair's spokesman said the prime minister's office had not yet received a formal request from Al Jazeera for an interview, but the British government would be willing to talk to Al Jazeera as it would to any other news organization.

"This is the first I suspect that Downing Street has heard of this request. It is somewhat short notice," he said.

"We are quite happy to talk to Al Jazeera just as we are quite happy to talk to other broadcasters and media operations. In terms of who talks to them I think that depends on who is available and how much time he will give us to set up meetings."

Al Jazeera has repeatedly denied U.S. accusations it sides with insurgents in Iraq. Khanfar said it was time the United States stopped accusing it of supporting terrorism.

"We demand to know the facts about this document and we demand a (cessation) of all kinds of accusations from the American administration."

Asked if he thought it was true that Bush wanted to bomb the station, Khanfar said:

"We are going to suspend any judgment until we find out if that document is correct or not. But I can say we were attacked twice, once in Kabul and once in Baghdad, and two of our colleagues were killed."

In 2001, the station's Kabul office was hit by U.S. bombs and in 2003 Al Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a U.S. strike on its Baghdad office. The United States has denied deliberately targeting the station.

The Daily Mirror said Bush told Blair at a White House summit on April 16, 2004 that he wanted to target Al Jazeera.

While White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told the Associated Press in an email that the allegations that Bush said he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar were "outlandish" and "inconceivable," according to Channel 4 in Britain (via, the White House has put pressure on the British to make sure no more details from the memo are published.

Channel 4 concludes White House pressure is one of the main reasons why Tony Blair's government has threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to prosecute anyone else who publishes or reveals any more contents from the top secret memo that details Bush's call for bombing Al-Jazeera.

So my question is, if the allegations that Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera's headquarters before Tony Blair talked him out of it are so "outlandish" and "inconceivable," why doesn't the Bush administration want any more contents from the memo detailing the supposed incident published?

I mean, what are they worried about?

If Bush didn't say he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera at that meeting, the White House should tell us that fact straight out and have the Brits publish the relevant contents of the memo to prove the point.

If Bush did say he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera but he was only joking, then the White House should tell us that too and show us in the memo transcripts where the punchline to the joke was. Perhaps Al-Jazeera, which has already lost two correspondents to American bombs in the last four years, and the Arab world in general will understand why Georgie Boy thought it was funny to bomb the Arab television station.

And if Bush really did want to bomb Al-Jazeera, then the White House should tell us that too. The American people should know if George W. is the craziest motherfucker to inhabit the American Presidency since Richard Nixon was drunkenly wandering the halls of the White House at night talking to the pictures of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and ordering up air strikes against various countries that Henry Kissinger was always putting the kibbosh on.

Regardless, this story doesn't look like it is going to go away until the White House addresses it openly. And an email from Scottie McClellan to the Associated Press isn't what I would call addressing the problem openly.

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