Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

  British court confirms that Bush is a warmonger

You could read the news from Britain that way. In 2004 David Keogh, a British civil servant, leaked a top secret memo to an aide for a Labour MP. The memo recorded the substance of talks in April 2004 between Tony Blair and George Bush at meetings which Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also attended. Keogh says that he leaked the memo because it shows Bush to be a "madman", and he hoped it would get into the hands of John Kerry.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usIn 2005, The Daily Mirror published details of the memo. It records Bush telling Blair that he wanted to bomb the headquarters of Al-Jazeera in Qatar, an ally of the U.S. The memo also depicts Blair urging Bush not to do so because it would cause an international backlash.

Today, a British court convicted Keogh and his accomplice of violating the Official Secrets Act. The prosecution and even more the conviction seem to confirm that the memo is indeed authentic. In court, the British government did not challenge Keogh's account of the contents of the memo. Tony Blair once dismissed press reports about this memo as "conspiracy theories". That stands exposed as another of his lies.

To back up to the beginning of the story. The meeting at the White House on April 16, 2004 occurred during the assault on Fallujah. Al-Jazeerah was infuriating Bush by broadcasting from inside the city and showing pictures of devastation and death. The Abu Ghraib scandal became public that month as well.

At this meeting, Bush pressed the case for bombing the network's headquarters in Doha, Qatar. We're not told that Rice or Powell objected. Blair, however, did for once in his life stand up to Bush and may have convinced him to abandon the crazy scheme.

Blair's aide Matthew Rycroft (who also wrote up the Downing Street Memo) took notes on the meeting and sent copies stamped "secret" and "extremely sensitive" to 33 government officials as well as to MI6. David Keogh, a civil servant working in the British communications office ("Pindar"), took a copy of the memo because the discussions at the meeting seemed to him "utterly wrong". The following month Keogh gave a copy of the memo to Leo O'Connor, an aide to anti-war MP Anthony Clarke. Keogh saw himself as a whistleblower.

He hoped the document would find its way into the public domain and expose the US president as a "madman"...

Keogh told the jury he wanted it to be used by MPs to ask questions in the House of Commons and also be seen by the 2004 US Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry...

Keogh said he did not believe the publication of the document's contents would harm Britain or its troops abroad, although it would cause embarrassment to Mr Bush.

He told the court at his trial:

"It was to help my country."

O'Connor gave the memo to his boss, but instead of publicizing it Clarke returned the memo to Blair. The government investigated and eventually charged Keogh and O'Connor with violating the Official Secrets Act. As they were about to appear in court, in November 2005, the Daily Mirror revealed the contents of the secret memo:

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

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.

Instead of publishing the memo, however, the Blair government invoked the Official Secrets Act and prohibited journalists from saying anything further about the memo.

In the U.S., the Bush administration officially refused to comment, but at the same time tried to portray the allegation as a misunderstanding.

In Washington, a senior diplomat said the Bush remark as recounted in the newspaper "sounds like one of the president's one-liners that is meant as a joke." But, the diplomat said, "it was foolish for someone to write it down, and now it will be a story for days."

"We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press in an e-mail.

"Outlandish and inconceivable". Perhaps not entirely true, to judge by this nugget in Walter Pincus' report:

A former senior U.S. intelligence official said that it was clear the White House saw al-Jazeera as a problem, but that although the CIA's clandestine service came up with plans to counteract it, such as planting people on its staff, it never received permission to proceed. "Bombing in Qatar was never contemplated," the former official said.

The fact that the CIA was exploring options to infiltrate Al-Jazeera shows how obsessed the WH was with the network. The plan has a Nixonian ring to it. The former official here sounds a lot like Colin Powell, so you need to take the assertion that bombing Qatar "was never contemplated" with an especially large grain of salt.

Through a spokesman, Blair at first tried to convince the world that Bush had merely been joking. A prominent Labour MP challenged Blair publicly.

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...

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.

A week afterwards, when nobody seemed to buy that it had been a joke, Blair tried a different tack:

The Prime Minister broke his silence on the issue as fresh concerns surfaced over the use of the Official Secrets Act to suppress the memo...

Mr Blair sought to play down the memo yesterday, despite the fact that two men, accused over its leaking, are to appear in court this week facing charges under the Official Secrets Act. He also shrugged off a request from the managing director of al-Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, for a meeting...

Looking tired, he appeared to lose his cool when asked about reports claiming that the memo showed him talking Mr Bush out of mounting an air raid on al-Jazeera. "Look, there's a limit to what I can say - it's all sub judice," he said. "But honestly, I mean, conspiracy theories…"

Mr Blair's comments came as Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, came under fresh pressure to justify the Government's heavy-handed use of the Official Secrets Act in stating that anyone who published the memo risked court action. He denied the Act was being used in an attempt to protect Mr Blair or Mr Bush.

There's pretty good independent evidence that, at the time, Blair did not treat Bush's comments as a jest (or a conspiracy theory). For a copy of the memo was forwarded to MI6. Matthew Rycroft was asked in court why that was so, and he seemed to have difficulty coming up with an answer.

Asked why the memo was also copied to MI6, he paused for a moment, before saying: "It was relevant to their function in and about Iraq."

I think a more credible answer, the one Rycroft struggled in court to circumvent, is that Blair feared Bush really was going to bomb Qatar. MI6 definitely would have needed to be alerted to that possiblity.

Neither Bush nor Blair has ever come clean about the meeting. At the trial of Keogh and O'Connor, which ended today with convictions for violating the Official Secrets Act, prosecutors argued that the memo also contained sensitive information about British military operations that could not be disclosed without risk to the military.

It was claimed in court that publication of the document could have cost British lives.

According to the Times

...the prosecution alleged that British service personnel in Iraq could have faced attacks and increased danger had the document been made public, and the country's position could have been seriously damaged if it had been exposed.

But at the same time, the prosecutors essentially confirmed that the memo contained embarrassing information about U.S./U.K. diplomacy:

The chief prosecutor, David Perry, cast Keogh as a rogue who had jeopardised Britain's national interests.

"Diplomacy is a delicate and sensitive act and it cannot be properly carried out in our interest when what one government says to another can't be kept secret or confidential," he said.

The defense counsel put his finger on what this prosecution was all about:

Rex Tedd QC, for Keogh, told the court: "The real position, I suggest, is that central to any principle of confidentiality is protecting any American leader from public embarrassment by the disclosure of what is said."

crossposted from Unbossed

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