David Keogh and Leo O’Connor go on trial in London on January 24th. Their crime? Violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act by passing around a top secret memo about a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush.
This is a story that has received very little traction in the American press–first, because the story originally broke over the Thanksgiving holiday; and second, because the only journalists really following the story are based in the United Kingdom, where the story broke, and are encumbered by the Official Secrets Act. The new of a trial date for the two British government employees is, at least on this side of the Atlantic, overshadowed by the Samual Alito hearings. Quite simply, this is a story that’s out there, but not one that people are hearing.
So, what’s the story?
In a nutshell, it’s this. On April 16, 2004, in the course a meeting with Prime Minister Blair, President Bush called for the bombing of al-Jazeera’s offices in Qatar, a nation friendly to the United States and an important base for the American military in the Persian Gulf region. Christopher Hitchens explains in his article at Slate:
The state of Qatar, which though a Wahabbi kingdom has a free press and allows women to run and to vote in elections, has not been the host of just Al Jazeera since the network’s predecessor was kicked out of Saudi Arabia. It has also been the host of United States Central Command, and of many American civilians. It is the site each year of a highly interesting and useful conference, co-sponsored by the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, where American and Middle Eastern academics and journalists and others meet in conditions of informality. Its emir has been a positive help and supporter to many democrats in the region. Bombing or blowing up the Al Jazeera office would involve hitting the downtown section of Doha, the capital city of a friendly power. It’s difficult to think of any policy that would have been more calamitous.
While the White House has denied the claim, the British response to the original story by invoking the Official Secrets Act and stating that leaking the memorandum damages international relations has confirmed the essential points of the top-secret memo. In other words, we know that Bush said, whether in all seriousness or in mock jest, that the United States should bomb an allied power. But why would Bush say such a thing? As Hitchens writes, this would be a calamitous policy. Quite simply, we don’t know. I could speculate–Bush has problems with the media anyway, Bush may have felt that al-Jazeera was providing aid or moral support to al-Qaida. Or it could be a case of Bush not thinking through the larger implications of his ideas, something that has plagued him since before he took office.
That’s the story. This is a story that needs traction. This is a story that needs to be heard.