November 23, 2005

Curiouser and curiouser.

Sometimes those stories that we decide not to blog come back and make us reconsider. The one that's doing it to us this time appeared in Tuesday's UK Daily Mirror. The story cited a secret memo from PM Tony Blair's office containing the record of an exchange in which Blair attempted to talk Dubya out of bombing the main offices of Aljazeera in Qatar.

A source said: "There's no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it." Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.

The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation.

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

"He 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."

We passed on the story because, to put it bluntly, the Daily Mirror is not the most reliable source of news in the world. Since the story didn't quote the memo directly, but only talked to anonymous sources who claimed to have seen the memo, the story's credibility was, in our opinion, pretty low.

Come today and it may be another matter. The UK Guardian is reporting that Tony Blair's government is threatening any newspaper that publishes the memo with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror, said last night: "We made No 10 fully aware of the intention to publish [the memo] 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.

According to the Guardian, Dubya's alleged threat to bomb Aljazeera took place during a conversation in which Blair expressed anger over certain aspects of US operations in Iraq — especially the assault on Fallujah, which was going on at the time the memo was written.

So it appears that the story we dismissed yesterday has more to it than we'd thought. We have to wonder:

  • Why did the UK government allow the Mirror story to go to press?
  • Why did it wait 24 hours to threaten newspapers with prosecution?
  • What does the memo contain that the UK government is so anxious to suppress?
  • Who would be damaged by the revelation of that information?
  • Is the UK government suppressing the memo for its own reasons, or is it acting on behalf of Dubya's administration?
Inquiring magpies want to know.

More: Aljazeera has responded to the Daily Mirror report on the Blair-Dubya memo.

"Before making any conclusions Aljazeera needs to be absolutely sure regarding the authenticity of the memo and would hope for a confirmation from Downing Street as soon as possible.

If the report is correct then this would be both shocking and worrisome not only to Aljazeera but to media organisations across the world."

Posted by Magpie at November 23, 2005 12:41 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |

I live in the UK and the Daily Mirror is pretty suspect. Don't forget the Daily Mirror fired its editor over completely hoaxed photos of UK soldier's "abusing" Iraqi prisoners. In fact, the whole thing was staged. It works to sell papers first, and gets facts correct later. London is a cut-throat media market with 4 broadsheets and 5 tabloids (Daily Mirror being one), so facts can be an annoyance. This memo makes great headlines and guarantees a spike in sales. Retractions end up on page A24 three days later.

When The Times or the Guardian publish this memo, then I'll take it serious.

Posted by: Expat Teacher at November 23, 2005 01:39 PM

I did a post on it with a disclaimer on the reliabilty of Mirror. I suspect the entire thing would have just gone away if the UK had not issued the gag order. My gut feeling is it was a poor joke by dubya.

Posted by: Ron In Portland at November 23, 2005 02:47 PM

I almost posted on this yesterday, but then decided to hold off for the same reasons you held off.

The story is just a little too outrageous, but so are many of the things I find the government doing in my name these days.

For now, all I can say is "Free the memo"!

(And Tibet)

Posted by: Darryl at November 23, 2005 09:42 PM

I can't imagine Bush was serious here, but then again, I couldn't imagine that Bush was serious about some other things he said and did.

Posted by: thehim at November 24, 2005 09:37 AM