UK Press Gagged by Attorney General over Reported Bush Plan to Bomb News Outlet

Larisa Alexandrovna

The Mirror, a UK publication which reported Tuesday on an alleged US plan to bomb an Arab TV station seen as anti-US, has been gagged from reporting any further on the memo and its contents by Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, Raw Story has learned.

The publication reported on the contents of a five page memo, stamped Top Secret, alleging that President Bush had threatened to undertake military action against al-Jazeera, a TV station located in the country of Qatar. While al-Jazeera is seen by some in the Bush administration to be largely anti-West, Qatar is an American ally.

According to sources familiar with the case, it was the then-recent attack on Fallujah that had Bush concerned about what al-Jazeera might report.

The memo, according to sources familiar with the case, was not in the possession of the editors and writers of the Mirror, which would violate the UK Official Secrets Act.

The Mirror was contacted on Tuesday evening by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, who told the Mirror that they were not to report any further findings from the memo even though on Monday, prior to the running of the story, the Mirror had contacted Downing Street and informed officials that the publication would be running the story.

According to The Mirror's political editor, Kevin Maguire, Lord Goldsmith "... threatened an immediate High Court injunction unless the Mirror confirmed it would not publish further details. We have essentially agreed to comply," stated Maguire in a recent editorial.

The Memo and the Players
According to sources familiar with the case, the classified government memo, consisting of minutes of an April, 2004 meeting between UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush, described a disagreement between the two leaders over plans to silence anti-US sentiments in the middle-east.

The memo alleges that President Bush expressed his frustration with al-Jazeera, which is the equivalent of a large broadcast news company such as CNN and has a viewership of 50 million, and wanted to bomb their headquarters using US bombers stationed nearby.

Blair, according to the memo, dissuaded the President from this action because Qatar is an ally of the US and such an action would result in severe backlash.

The allegations of how the memo came to be leaked focus on three players, former Foreign Office official in the Cabinet, David Keogh, former Labor MP for Northampton South, Tony Clarke, and Clarke's then researcher Leo O'Connor.

It is alleged that Keogh, who has been charged under section 5 of the Official Secrets Act, sent the memo to O'Connor sometime between April 16 and May 28 of last year. O'Connor, also charged, then took the document to his boss, Clarke, who dutifully handed it back to the government. O'Connor and Keogh were arrested in August of last year; the charges have just recently been filed.

The Mirror reported on why the two men had been charged and on the contents of the memo. Lord Goldsmith has issued a warning to the major British publications and news outlets about the serious legal consequences of disclosing secret information leaked by a government official.

Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act of 1989, says it is an offence to disclose when:

"Any information, document or other article protected against disclosure by the foregoing provisions of this Act has come into a person's possession as a result of having been-

"(i) disclosed (whether to him or another) by a Crown servant or government contractor without lawful authority; or "(ii) entrusted to him by a Crown servant or government contractor on terms requiring it to be held in confidence or in circumstances in which the Crown servant or government contractor could reasonably expect that it would be so held; or "(iii) disclosed (whether to him or another) without lawful authority by a person to whom it was entrusted as mentioned in sub-paragraph (ii) above."

A source familiar with the case told Raw Story that while individual publications have been targeted by the Blair administration in the past, this case is particularly extraordinary because journalists by and large are allowed the public interest defense. Central to this case and series of events is the question of why The Mirror and other news organizations would accept this gag order.

"One key thing to remember is you don't have to have signed anything saying you would stick by the rules and not disclose or receive stuff. If you knowingly received it you could be charged. But charging journalists would fall foul of the public interest defense, so although journalists are as liable to arrest as anyone else, the case would almost certainly fail if it could be shown to be in the public interest that the information be made public," said the source who declined to go on the record.

Lucy Dalglish, the Executive Director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press points to the First Amendment, under which this type of gag order would not be permissible in the US.

"[The gag against the Mirror] shows what a difference the First Amendment can make," says Dalglish.

"You could not issue a prior restraint like that in the US unless there was an urgent, immanent, actual threat to US national security. First Amendment would absolutely apply here in this type of case," she added.

Bombings now Suspect
According to the Guardian, in reaction to the article in the Mirror, the International Federation of Journalists is demanding complete disclosure with regard to the death of 16 journalists and media staff, including al-Jazeera cameraman Tarek Ayoub, who was killed when the station's Baghdad office was hit during a US air strike in April of 2003.

All media outlets had to provide the US military with their locations in Baghdad and neighboring cities. Al-Jazeera provided the location of its Baghdad office to Washington prior to the bombing on its Baghdad office.