Friday, November 25, 2005

It's Bad in Baghdad

n Baghdad, Capital Vistas Gradually Shrink With Insecurity

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 25, 2005; C01

BAGHDAD -- Five months after the fall of Baghdad, I went to Iraq with Colin Powell. It was the first visit by a secretary of state in half a century, and although he moved under heavy security, there was an optimistic, forward-looking feel to the trip.

Much has changed about Iraq in the intervening two years. And visits by America's secretary of state -- first Powell, then Condoleezza Rice -- have proved to be a microcosm of America's intervention here.

On our first trip, in mid-September 2003, the State Department entourage and diplomatic press corps stayed for two full nights at the legendary al Rashid Hotel, the high-rise once heavily bugged by Saddam Hussein's security goons. Iraqi vendors in the hotel arcade sold military paraphernalia and souvenirs from the old regime. Medals that Hussein once bestowed on his troops went for 10 bucks -- or less, if you bargained enough.

Back then, we could tool around the Iraqi capital. With a New York Times colleague, I walked through the concrete barriers down the lonely lane that linked the protected Green Zone to the rest of Baghdad. U.S. troops stationed along the route didn't stop us.

Much of the downtown commercial area was shuttered. We stopped by the national museum, looted and closed. We drove by the infamous Information Ministry, a bombed-out shell. We saw government buildings stripped in the postwar chaos, leaving not a chair or telephone or filing cabinet, much less government records.

We also wandered freely around Hussein's favorite Republican Palace, the headquarters for the new U.S.-led occupation government. We marveled at the marble halls. We stopped to gawk at Hussein's gilded throne in a hall festooned with frescoes of giant missiles blasting into the sky.

Back then, Powell would leave the Green Zone -- surrounded by a security "bubble" -- for meetings with Shiite, Kurd and Sunni government officials, and then dinner with a prominent Shiite cleric.

At a news conference in the Green Zone's convention center, Powell was upbeat, citing a city council meeting he had just attended where a new generation of Iraqi leaders debated everything from the environment to the role of women in the city's life.

I asked Powell if he had seen a fair representation of what was happening since he had not left the security bubble in Baghdad or met with anyone unhappy with the U.S. presence.

"There is just a great deal that is happening in this country, whether it's the formation of PTAs in local schools, whether it's our brigade commanders giving $500 to each school in their district as long as that school comes up with a PTA, something unheard of here before. . . . That's grass-roots democracy in action."

* * *

My second trip to Baghdad, on July 30, 2004, some 15 months after the fall of the city, was a secret. This time, the press corps traveling with Powell couldn't report it until after we'd landed.

We traveled from the airport to the Green Zone in Black Hawk helicopters, with U.S. troops perched in open windows on both sides manning machine guns that fire as many as 4,000 rounds per minute.

The route was so dangerous that we were all given flak jackets and helmets for the short trip.

This time, we didn't stay even one night. The al Rashid had come under rocket fire in October 2003, when then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was visiting. The attack had killed one American soldier and wounded 15 other people.

The hotel was off-limits even for journalists traveling with Powell. When I pressed the case, a diplomat offered to escort me through a new barricade between the convention center and the hotel, which was just across the street. Unfortunately, she didn't have clearance for the hotel. I didn't get in.

This time, Powell's bubble -- and ours -- was much smaller. America's top diplomat didn't leave the Green Zone and U.S. security wouldn't let the press out, either. I did manage to travel inside the four-square-mile zone with then-Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih to his residence.

We drove down palm-fringed boulevards with ornate villas once home to Hussein's aides, generals and family, and now inhabited by Iraq's new leaders, U.S. contractors and Iraqi squatters. We passed a busy open-air bazaar where gregarious Iraqi vendors hawked trinkets, carpets, T-shirts and techno-gadgets. Complete with parkland, monuments and ministries, the Green Zone is a city within a city. It was only a brief outing, but when I got back, the State Department's security team still read me the riot act for breaking out of the bubble.

Most of the time, the news media waited at the domed and well-guarded convention center as Powell met with Iraqi leaders who had assumed power from the U.S.-led occupation government a month earlier. But there was no connection with ordinary Iraqis or the real Baghdad.

This time, the focus and tone of the secretary of state's news conference at the convention center were notably different.

"We have to make sure that these insurgents understand that we will not be deterred," Powell said. "There can be no other option. The Iraqi people deserve freedom; they deserve democracy. . . . We must not let outsiders or insiders of any kind deny the Iraqi people that which they richly deserve and that which they want."

* * *

My latest trip to Iraq, on Nov. 11, 31 months after the fall of the capital, was kept secret even from some of the people on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's plane. The dozen members of the traveling press were summoned to the State Department the day before we left on a trip to the Middle East and sworn to secrecy after a briefing about the additional stop.

We could tell an editor and a family member, but we were asked not to mention it to anyone else, particularly our bureaus in the Iraqi capital -- and not on the phone or by e-mail to anyone, at all, anywhere. If word got out, the trip would be canceled. A leak had forced the postponement of a similar trip in the spring.

The road between the airport and the Green Zone was officially considered safer, but we still flew in armed Black Hawks moving in diversionary patterns through the sky.

On this latest trip to Baghdad, the bubble shrank even more. No roaming the Green Zone. Not even a stop at the convention center. The press corps, including veteran war correspondents, was sequestered in Hussein's old palace for most of the seven-hour stay. We were discouraged from wandering the palace and were provided escorts to go to the bathroom.

Our one venture out was a short hop to the nearby prime minister's office, also in the Green Zone. All we saw were new barricades trimmed with razor wire, concrete blast walls, roadblocks and time-consuming identity checks. No Iraqis. No vendors. In October 2004, the bazaar had been attacked, one of two almost simultaneous suicide bombings inside the Green Zone that together killed 10, including four Americans.

On this latest trip, Rice's biggest task was to talk to Sunnis -- five leaders who represented groups ranging from Islamist to former Saddamists -- still unhappy with the new Iraq.

At a news conference with the prime minister, America's top diplomat emphasized Iraq's responsibility for its future.

"Any people coming out of a period of tyranny, as the Iraqis have, and now out of a period of violence, have to find a balance between inclusion and reconciliation and justice," Rice said. "And that is a process that I'm sure the Iraqis themselves will lead."

For the first time, we pulled out after dark. As we flew from the Green Zone, the Black Hawk gunners wore night vision scopes, which look like little binoculars on eyeglasses, so they could spot suspicious activity through the night. The pilot of the C-17 military transport that flew us out of Iraq did not turn on the interior lights until we had reached a safe altitude -- and were well out of Baghdad airspace.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company


Deliberately Misled »

Murray Waas, writing in the National Journal, breaks new information regarding the level of knowledge President Bush had prior to the Iraq war about the supposed Iraq/al Qaeda link:

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

The information, which was provided to Bush on September 21, 2001 during the “President’s Daily Brief,” corresponds with the accounts of two former White House counterterrorism advisers:

“One week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no ‘compelling case’ existed for Iraq’s involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government were weak.” [Washington Post, 7/23/04]

According to the 9/11 Commission report, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Richard Clarke’s office sent a memo to the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, at the President’s direction, concluding that “only some anecdotal evidence linked Iraq to al Qaeda…Arguing that the case for links between Iraq and al Qaeda was weak, the memo pointed out that Bin Ladin resented the secularism of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” [9-11 Commission Report, p.334]

This information did not prevent Bush and Cheney from presenting the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda as an undisputed fact

Hobart Rebirth....SIGH......

November 25, 2005
Day Trip
A Visit in the Country: Fresh Air, Old Books
HARD by the half-timbered, half-cultivated slopes of the Catskill foothills, the tiny village of Hobart, N.Y., perches above the ice-edged West Branch of the Delaware River, looking from a distance like a classic sleepy hill town. This part of the state, north of the Catskill Park proper in rural Delaware County, rich in scenic views framed by undulating lines of hill, field and sky, is known more for quiet than for commerce.

But drive down into Hobart on rural Route 10 and you'll find an adventurous group of entrepreneurs who have decided to make Hobart, with its neighboring villages of South Kortright and Stamford, a destination for book lovers.

Exhibiting canniness and humility in equal measure, the owners of five used and antiquarian bookstores have banded together to form the Hobart Book Village. The concept is patterned loosely on the example of Hay-on-Wye, the prototypical and highly successful village in Wales that now has about 40 used bookstores and holds an annual international literary festival.

The Hobart stores, which started operating as a cluster in May, have a long way to go to achieve the mass of Hay-on-Wye, and most still operate only on weekends (though all expect to keep longer hours this holiday season). But already Hobart Book Village visitors not only can shop and have a cup of good coffee in a charming rural setting; they can also choose from tens of thousands of books, from used paperbacks and recent best sellers to, a few weeks ago at one of the stores, a rare first edition of James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."

Three of the bookstores are in the village center of Hobart itself, on an otherwise down-at-the-heels Main Street (Route 10).

Bill Adams, a retired New York physician, and his wife Diana, a lawyer, exhibit a modesty about their store, Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books, that seems in contradiction to its trim refinement.

"These are just the early days," said Mr. Adams, who hopes eventually to expand to seven-day-a-week operation. Yet their shop, which has a deck where customers can sip coffee and look down on a small waterfall, already spans centuries.

One afternoon in November, Mr. Adams proudly showed a visitor a handsomely rebound copy of a second edition of the works of Hippocrates in Greek and Latin that was published in Geneva in 1657. It is priced at $1,500. Another rare item was a first edition of "Humphrey's Ancient Coins," a work published in 1850 on coins of ancient Greece, Rome and the Middle East.

The Adamses have operated their store since 2002, and both said they loved the give-and-take with a clientele that included university professors who read Latin and Greek, young browsers, local people and New Yorkers with second homes in Delaware County. "Neither one of us knew how much we would learn from our customers," Mr. Adams said. They are sponsoring a winter series of Sunday lectures in which speakers will read from and discuss works about magic, poetry, history and gardening.

Across the street is the Library Shop, a rambling set of rooms with used books for the general reader and the informal atmosphere of a work in progress, and a few doors down is the Hobart Book Mart, a smaller store with a comfortable in-house coffee bar called Cook the Books. The Library Shop and the Book Mart are owned by Don Dales, who also restores furniture, once taught piano at Ulster County Community College and is enthusiastic about connecting people to books in a relaxed setting. "We're offering an experience as much as a used book," he said.

Hop into the car for a 10-minute drive past stately old farmhouses on County Route 18 (known locally as Back River Road) on your way to the Bibliobarn on Roses Brook Road in South Kortright, a converted red and white horse-and-carriage barn that holds 50,000 books. Inside, two floors of pleasantly crowded wooden bookshelves rise to varying heights and a window on the right provides glimpses of fallow winter fields.

Near a stairway is an assortment of printing equipment, including a a wooden sewing frame and a small press with type that is set by hand, that H. L. Wilson, co-owner of the store with his wife, Linda, uses to restore and rebind books by hand. The barn exudes a sense of the past and an appreciation for the tactile pleasures of books.

Linda Wilson, who said she "leads three lives" as a bookseller, an ordained Episcopalian priest and a master's degree candidate in theology, was an early promoter and champion of the book village concept. Shoppers won't necessarily travel to one bookstore, she said, but "people will get off the Thruway when they know there are five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 shops."

It was Bibliobarn, in business since 1996, that had the James Joyce first edition for sale last month for $3,500. The book was published in 1916 in New York after British printers shunned it. Mr. Wilson said the store also had books "from Frank Lloyd Wright to how to build a johnny house; from Aaron Copland to Dolly Parton; from Faulkner to Kinky Friedman."

Scott Quehl, a Philadelphia resident who lives part-time in nearby Delhi, was carrying an armload of books to the counter. For him, Delaware County is "a place of peace and reflection," he said, that is only enhanced by being able "to get two or three boxes of books and just read."

ON the way to the last book stop, take a break for dinner at the Hidden Inn in South Kortright, built as a hotel in 1893 and now a popular restaurant with spacious dining rooms and a cozy bar. The pub-style menu offers good burgers and fajitas; more formal dinner fare includes dishes like a well-prepared rack of lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic ($17).

Fortified, drive on to Blenheim Hill Books, at the northern edge of Stamford, a vacation destination from the 1880's to the 1940's and home to rambling old hotel buildings and houses dripping with Victorian gingerbread. Blenheim Hill's owner, Pat Parks, said she bought 25,000 books from the Wilsons over a three-day period to start her business in 1998.

Like some of the other booksellers, she now goes on what she called "book buying expeditions" to private collections, moving sales, estate sales, library sales and even thrift shops.

The Adamses, who have bought books in Hay-on-Wye and elsewhere in Europe, have made some unexpected acquisitions. Ms. Adams tells of unpacking books purchased from an antiques dealer for five dollars a box; the first book she pulled out was a first edition of Raymond Chandler's classic "The Big Sleep." Mr. Wilson, searching an old attic, came upon a collection of letters exchanged by the anarchist Emma Goldman and her lover, Alexander Berkman.

The Wilsons find good book hunting in Delaware County itself. "There are a lot of books in these hills," Ms. Wilson said.

In a time when substantial book business has moved to the Internet, the Hobart village dealers seem defiantly confident that they can still lure patrons to their hills. "There is a certain segment of the population," Mr. Dales said, "that likes to handle and touch books."

If You Go

Hobart is located on New York Route 10, which can be reached from the south and east via state Routes 28, 23 and 42, and from the north and west via Interstate 88 and Route 10. Three of the bookshops in the Hobart Book Village group are on Route 10, which is Main Street in Hobart; two others are a short drive away.

All bookshops will be open every day for holiday shopping Dec. 17 to 24.

Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books (Main Street and Maple Avenue, Hobart; 607-538-9080; is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday. The next lecturer in its Winter Respite Series, on selected Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m., will be Gene Doane, a magician, on Dec. 18.

The Library Shop (607 Main Street, Hobart; 607- 538-9788) is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday holidays. Hobart Book Mart/Cook the Books (Main Street, Hobart; 607- 538-9788) opens one hour earlier. Pastries and coffee or tea may be consumed in a charming reading room with a river view.

Bibliobarn (627 Roses Brook Road, South Kortright; 607- 538-1555) is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Blenheim Hill Books (290 Steiber Road, Stamford; 607- 652-4093) is open at irregular hours and by appointment.

Dinner entrees at the Hidden Inn (Delaware County Route 18, South Kortright; 607- 538-9259) are $10 to $20; there is also a pub menu.

The Catskill Scenic Trail, a 26-mile scenic trail for walking, biking or cross-country skiing, is about 100 yards from Hobart's village center..

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Embedded or Dead? Journalists DIE in "Friendly Fire"

With the news that George Bush had intended to blow up the offices of Al-Jazeera in Qutar (see below), this old item becomes more and more important.

April 8th 2003 is a date that haunts the world of journalism. It was a year ago that more than 150 journalists at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad came under fire from US forces. Two journalists were killed and three others wounded. To this day there has been no satisfactory explanation about why that attack took place. The US authorities have issued a whitewash report clearing their military of any responsibility – but they steadfastly refuse to make the report public.

In all, seven journalists perished in four separate incidents of so-called “friendly fire” by US troops in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003. Two journalists, Taras Protsiuk working for Reuters and José Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish network Telecinco, were killed in the Palestine Hotel, which was hit the day before Baghdad fell.

The attack provoked outrage among journalists and media groups when the US falsely claimed that troops had been fired on from the hotel. Besides the Palestine Hotel deaths, journalists are raising questions about the deaths of Tareq Ayyoub, a journalist killed during a US air-strike on the offices of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad; the deaths of British ITN reporter Terry Lloyd and his colleagues Fred Nérac and Hussein Osman, whose bodies are still missing, in a fire fight between US and Iraqi troops near Basra, and the shooting by US soldiers of Reuters cameramen Mazen Dana in August.

But it is the attack on the Palestine Hotel, a shameful incident made worse by US misinformation circulated after the event, that has caused widespread anger and come to symbolise the notion of impunity that characterize official treatment of journalists in Iraq.

Earlier this year Reuters news agency criticised the US military's investigation into the detention and treatment of its staff in Iraq in January this year, and the journalists are strongly backing the agency call for the US to withdraw statements suggesting, without evidence, that combatants posing as journalists had fired on US forces.

In addition the television news station Al-Jazeera presented an IFJ-FAJ mission to Baghdad in January (IFJ-FAJ Iraq Mission Report Jan 2004) with a list of a dozen instances of harassment of its staff by the military.

The IFJ has published a detailed report – Justice Denied on the Road to Baghdad – outlining dissatisfaction within journalism about the failure of the US to properly investigate incidents in which seven journalists died during the war.

We are asking all member unions on April 8th to send letters of protest to the US embassy and to support the enclosed petition at national level. We ask you also to send copies of this protest to your national government and to seek national support for the IFJ’s call for stronger action to enhance the safety of journalists with the United Nations and to seek for changes in international law to strengthen the rights of journalists in times of conflict.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005
"If Bush is ever impeached, this charge [threatening to bomb Aljazeera] will certainly figure in the trial."

juan cole shares his insights into the lastest ugly revelation about our president...

The Mirror broke the story on Tuesday that a secret British memo demonstrates that George W. Bush wanted to bomb Aljazeera's offices in Doha, Qatar, in spring of 2004. The subject came up with Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK, and Blair is said to have argued Bush out of it.

Despite attempts of British officials to muddy the waters by suggesting that Bush was joking, another official who had seen the memo insisted, "Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men."

The US military bombed the Kabul offices of Aljazeera in mid-November, 2001.

The US military hit the Aljazeerah offices in Baghdad on the 9th of April, 2004, not so long before Bush's conversation with Blair. That attack killed journalist Tarek Ayoub, who had a 3 year old daughter. He had said earlier, "We've told the Pentagon where all our offices are in Iraq and hung giant banners outside them saying `TV.''' Given what we now know about Bush's intentions, that may have been a mistake.

When the US and the UN shoe-horned old-time CIA asset Iyad Allawi into power as transitional prime minister, he promptly banned Aljazeera in Iraq. The channel still did fair reporting on Iraq, finding ways of buying video film and doing enlightening telephone interviews.

There have long been rumors that the Bush administration has pressured the government of Qatar to close the channel down.

so, it's not like there weren't precedents that tend to substantiate the charge that the administration has labeled absurd...just add it to the lengthy list of exhibits...

Plotting to assassinate civilian journalists in a friendly country is certainly against the law, and if Bush is ever impeached, this charge will certainly figure in the trial.

Newspaper Guild - CWA Petition

IFJ Iraq Report on Safety of Journalists and Killing of Media Staff During the Iraq War + Press Statement on Report

Global Journalists Protest At “Denial of Justice” By US on Anniversary of Media Killings in Iraq

United Nations Backs IFJ Efforts to Protect Journalists in War Zones

IFJ Accuses US Authorities of Attempting to “Control and Intimidate” the Media in Iraq

Make Media Safety “Top Priority”, says IFJ After New Iraq Killings

International News Safety Institute

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And there's more from the BBC...

The Kabul offices of the Arab satellite al-Jazeera channel have been destroyed by a US missile.

This office has been known by everybody, the American airplanes know the location of the office, they know we are broadcasting from there

Al-Jazeera Managing Director Mohammed Jasim al-Ali
The Qatar-based satellite channel, which gained global fame for its exclusive access to Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban, announced that none of its staff had been wounded.

But al-Jazeera's managing director Mohammed Jasim al-Ali, told BBC News Online that the channel's 12 employees in Kabul were out of contact.

Mr Jasim would not speculate as to whether the offices were deliberately targeted, but said the location of the bureau was widely known by everyone, including the Americans.

He also expressed concern at reports that Northern Alliance fighters were singling out Arabs in the city since they took over early on Tuesday.

Critical situation

The station said in an earlier report the bureau had been hit by shells when the Afghan opposition forces entered the capital.

Al-Jazeera confirmed later that it was a US missile that destroyed the building and damaged the homes of some employees.

Al-Jazeera presenter
The station has been viewed with suspicion in the West for its access to the Taleban
"The situation is very critical," Mr Jasim told the BBC from the channel's offices in Doha.

"This office has been known by everybody, the American airplanes know the location of the office, they know we are broadcasting from there," he said.

He said there had been no contact with Kabul correspondent Taysir Alluni because all their equipment had been destroyed.

The Northern Alliance has reportedly ordered most reporters in Kabul to gather at the Inter-Continental Hotel.

"Now that the Northern Alliance has taken over, it is too dangerous," Mr Jasim said, adding that he had heard that some Arabs had been killed.

Taleban withdrawal

Earlier, al-Jazeera correspondent Yusuf al-Shuli quoted Taleban officials in their southern stronghold of Kandahar as saying they had withdrawn from the cities to spare the civilians air bombardment and acts of vengeance by the Northern Alliance.

Al-Jazeera footage of three boys reported to be Bin Laden's sons
Al-Jazeera said these three boys are Bin Laden's sons
"They told us that reoccupying these cities will not take long once the air cover that supports the Northern Alliance is over," he said.

He said there was a "mixture of anger, despair, and disappointment among most people" in Kandahar at the fall of Kabul, but the situation there was calm.

Al-Jazeera has a reputation for outspoken, independent reporting - in stark contrast to the Taleban's views of the media as a propaganda and religious tool.

But the channel has been viewed with suspicion by politicians in the West and envy by media organisations ever since the start of the US-led military action in Afghanistan.

Exclusive access

For a time it was the only media outlet with any access to Taleban-held territory and the Islamic militia itself.

It broadcast the only video pictures of Afghan demonstrators attacking and setting fire to the US embassy in Kabul on 26 September.

The banner of al-Jazeera
The channel says its guiding principles are "diversity of viewpoints and real-time news coverage"
Most controversially, it was the first channel to air video tapes of Osama Bin Laden urging Muslims to rise up against the West in a holy war.

Last week it showed footage of three young boys reported to be Bin Laden's sons.

Western governments at one stage warned that the channel was being used by the al-Qaeda network to pass on coded messages to supporters around the world.

The BBC's William Reeve in Kabul
"The building took a direct hit"
See also:

.23 November 2005
By Kevin Maguire

THE Daily Mirror was yesterday told not to publish further details from a top secret memo, which revealed that President Bush wanted to bomb an Arab TV station.

The gag by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith came nearly 24 hours after the Mirror informed Downing Street of its intention to reveal how Tony Blair talked Bush out of attacking satellite station al-Jazeera's HQ in friendly Qatar.


No 10 did nothing to stop us publishing our front page exclusive yesterday.

But the Attorney General warned that publication of any further details from the document would be a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

He threatened an immediate High Court injunction unless the Mirror confirmed it would not publish further details. We have essentially agreed to comply.

The five-page memo - stamped "Top Secret" - records a threat by Bush to unleash "military action" against the TV station, which America accuses of being a mouthpiece for anti-US sentiments.

Front Page November 22 2005

STORY: Mirror yesterday

Following the Mirror's revelations, there were calls for the transcript of the memo to be released.

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said: "If true, then this underlines the desperation of the Bush administration.

"On this occasion, the Prime Minister may have been successful in averting political disaster, but it shows how dangerous his relationship with President Bush has been."

The White House yesterday said of the Mirror's report: "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response."

Downing Street said: "We don't comment on leaked documents."

The memo turned up last year at the Northampton office of then-Labour MP Tony Clarke.

Civil servant David Keogh, 49, is now accused of passing the memo to Leo O'Connor, who once worked for Mr Clarke.

Both Mr Keogh and Mr O'Connor are due to appear in court next week on charges under the Official Secrets Act.

Mr Clarke returned the memo to Downing Street.

Legal gag on Bush-Blair war row

Richard Norton-Taylor
Wednesday November 23, 2005
The Guardian

The attorney general last night threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed the contents of a document allegedly relating to a dispute between Tony Blair and George Bush over the conduct of military operations in Iraq.

It is believed to be the first time the Blair government has threatened newspapers in this way. Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, last night referred editors to newspaper reports yesterday that described the contents of a memo purporting to be at the centre of charges against two men under the secrets act.

Under the front-page headline "Bush plot to bomb his ally", the Daily Mirror reported that the US president last year planned to attack the Arabic television station al-Jazeera, which has its headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where US and British bombers were based.

Richard Wallace, 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 [of the secrets act]".

Under section 5 it is an offence to have come into the possession of government information, or a document from a crown servant, if that person discloses it without lawful authority. The prosecution has to prove the disclosure was damaging.

The Mirror said the memo turned up in May last year at the constituency office of the former Labour MP for Northampton South, Tony Clarke. Last week, Leo O'Connor, a former researcher for Mr Clarke, was charged with receiving a document under section 5 of the act. David Keogh, a former Foreign Office official seconded to the Cabinet Office, was charged last week with making a "damaging disclosure of a document relating to international relations". Mr Keogh, 49, is accused of sending the document to Mr O'Connor, 42, between April 16 and May 28 2004.

Mr Clarke said yesterday that Mr O'Connor "did the right thing" by drawing the document to his attention. Mr Clarke, an anti-war MP who 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.

Both men were released on police bail last Thursday to appear at Bow Street magistrates court on November 29. When they were charged, newspapers reported that the memo contained a transcript of a discussion between Mr Blair and Mr Bush.

The conversation was understood to have taken place during a meeting in the US. It is believed to reveal that Mr Blair disagreed with Mr Bush about aspects of the Iraq war. There was widespread comment at the time that the British government was angry about US military tactics there, particularly in the city of Falluja.

Charges under the secrets act have to have the consent of the attorney-general. His intervention yesterday suggests that the prosecution plans to ask the judge to hold part, if not all of the trial, in camera, with the public and press excluded.