On Nov. 22, Britain's Daily Mirror published
a startling allegation: In an April 2004 White House meeting with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, President Bush proposed bombing the Arab TV network al-Jazeera's
international headquarters in Qatar. The report was based on a memo stamped
"Top Secret" that had been leaked by a Cabinet official in Blair's
Is the allegation "outlandish," as the White House claims? Or was
it a deadly serious option? Until a news organization or British official defies
the Official Secrets Act and publishes the five-page memo, we have no way of
knowing. But what we do know is that at the time of Bush's White House meeting
with Blair, the Bush administration was in the throes of a very public, high-level
temper tantrum directed against al-Jazeera. The Bush-Blair summit took place
on April 16, at the peak of the first U.S. siege of Fallujah, and al-Jazeera
was there to witness the assault and the fierce resistance.
A day before Bush's meeting with Blair, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
slammed al-Jazeera in distinctly undiplomatic terms:
REPORTER: "Can you definitively say that hundreds of women and children
and innocent civilians have not been killed?"
RUMSFELD: "I can definitively say that what al-Jazeera is doing is vicious,
inaccurate, and inexcusable."
REPORTER: "Do you have a civilian casualty count?"
RUMSFELD: "Of course not, we're not in the city. But you know what our
forces do; they don't go around killing hundreds of civilians. That's just outrageous
nonsense. It's disgraceful what that station is doing."
What al-Jazeera was doing in Fallujah is exactly what it was doing when the
United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001 and when U.S. forces
killed al-Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, Tareq Ayoub, during the April 2003
occupation of Baghdad. Al-Jazeera was witnessing and reporting on events Washington
did not want the world to see.
The Fallujah offensive was one of the bloodiest assaults of the U.S. occupation
of Iraq. On April 5, 2004, U.S. forces laid siege to the city after the killing
of four Blackwater mercenaries days earlier. When the U.S. forces, led by the
First Marine Expeditionary Force, attempted to take Fallujah on April 7, they
faced fierce guerrilla resistance. A U.S. helicopter attacked a mosque, hitting
the minaret and killing at least a dozen people. Within a week, some 600 Iraqis
were dead, many of them women and children. By April 9, some 30 Marines had
been killed and Fallujah had become a symbol of resistance against the occupation.
What was more devastating than the direct resistance U.S. forces encountered
in Fallujah was the effect the story of the local defense of the city and the
U.S. killing of civilians was having on the broader Iraqi population. A handful
of unembedded journalists, most prominently from al-Jazeera, were providing
the world with independent, eyewitness accounts. Al-Jazeera's camera crew was
also uploading video of the devastation for all the world, including Iraqis,
to see. Inspired by the defense of Fallujah and outraged by the U.S. onslaught,
smaller uprisings broke out across Iraq, as members of the Iraqi police and
army abandoned their posts, some joining the resistance.
Faced with a public relations disaster, U.S. officials did what they do best–they
attacked the messenger. On April 11, with the unembedded reporters exposing
the reality of the siege of Fallujah, senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt
declared, "The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing
women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and
that is lies." A few days later, on April 15, Rumsfeld echoed those remarks,
calling al-Jazeera "vicious."
It was the very next day, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush
told Blair of his plan. "He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in
Qatar and elsewhere," a source told the Mirror. "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."
To date, there has been no credible rejection of the Mirror's report
from the White House or 10 Downing Street. Instead, the British government has
activated its Official Secrets Act, threatening news organizations that publish
any portion of the five-page memo. Already, one British official has been accused
of violating the act for allegedly passing it on to a member of Parliament.
Former British Defense Minister Peter Kilfoyle has called on Blair's government
to release the memo. "It's frightening to think that such a powerful man
as Bush can propose such cavalier actions," he said. "I hope the prime
minister insists this memo be published. It gives an insight into the mindset
of those who were the architects of war."
The Bush administration clearly blamed al-Jazeera for undermining the first
siege on Fallujah and fueling Iraqi public opinion and resistance against the
U.S. occupation. Given Washington's record of attacking al-Jazeera both militarily
and verbally, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the Bush administration
could have simply decided that it was time to take the network out. What is
needed now is for a British newspaper or magazine to publish the memo for all
the world to see – and if they face legal action, they should be backed
up by every major media organization in the world. If true, Bush's threat is
a bold confirmation of what many journalists already believe: that the Bush
administration views us all as enemy combatants.
Reprinted courtesy of The Nation.