British men face trial over "Jazeera bombing" leak

Tue Jan 10, 2006 03:06 PM ET
By Katherine Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - A British court on Tuesday ordered two men to face trial on charges of leaking a memo that a lawmaker said described a plan by U.S. President George W. Bush to bomb Arabic television station Al Jazeera.

The defendants, civil servant David Keogh and Leo O'Connor, a researcher who worked for a former British lawmaker, face a preliminary hearing on January 24 on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act and their lawyers are pushing for the secret document to be disclosed.

A British newspaper reported last year that the memo of a meeting between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004 detailed a proposal by Bush to bomb Al Jazeera but said Blair had persuaded him against the plan.

The story was dismissed as "outlandish" by the White House and Blair denied receiving details of any U.S. proposal to bomb Al Jazeera.

Britain's attorney general has warned media they will be breaking the law if they publish details of the document.

British Member of Parliament Peter Kilfoyle told Reuters on Tuesday that he had been briefed on its contents by Tony Clarke, the lawmaker who employed O'Connor, after he received a copy.

"He made me aware of the contents," said Kilfoyle. "There was a discussion about bombing Al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar and also about the attack on (the Iraqi town) Falluja."

"My understanding ... is that Blair and (former U.S. Secretary of State) Colin Powell were against the bombing of Al Jazeera," said Kilfoyle, who opposed Britain joining the U.S. in invading Iraq, as did other rebel Labor party members.

Blair's spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday on Kilfoyle's remarks.

Al Jazeera has repeatedly denied U.S. accusations it sides with insurgents in Iraq.

In 2001, the station's Kabul office was hit by U.S. bombs and in 2003 Al Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a U.S. strike on its Baghdad office. The U.S. has denied targeting the station.

O'Connor's lawyer Neil Clark told reporters outside Bow Street Magistrate's court on Tuesday that he had been shown the document ahead of the committal hearing but could not discuss the contents. He said it was a four-page memo marked "Secret."

"It's what I expected having read the media," he said. "I didn't think that there was anything in there that would embarrass the British government."

O'Connor has already indicated he will plead not guilty at the preliminary hearing on January 24.

Keogh's lawyer Stuart Jeffery declined to comment on whether he had received the document.

"We've still got a number of enquiries to make as to what has been revealed," he told reporters.

Keogh also faces a second charge under secrecy laws which prohibit disclosures of information which damage the capability of the armed forces. Keogh has not indicated how he will plead.