True lies and why Bush and Blair hate Al Jazeera
THE British government has taken the legally unprecedented step of threatening journalists with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if they publish anything from an official account of a conversation between Prime Minister Blair and President Bush back in April 2004? What could the two leaders have talked about that is now so sensitive.
The word on the street in London is that Bush, infuriated by Arab TV coverage of the deadly American assault on Fallujah, wanted to bomb the headquarters of the major Arab channel, Al Jazeera, in Doha, Qatar, to shut it up. But, the rumour goes, Blair talked him out of it. But there has to be more to the story than this. To begin with, Washington’s anger about Al Jazeera’s coverage of the invasion of Iraq is not new. When western TV networks were showing graphic footage of the "shock and awe" of Coalition firepower, Al Jazeera was beaming scenes of the "shocked and awed" to fifty million Muslim viewers all over the world.
When Western TV networks showed Alliance soldiers taking Baghdad, Al Jazeera showed dead Iraqi women and children and a memorable image of an old Iraqi man carrying his grand-daughter, one of her feet shredded by an American bomb. Washington has always regarded Al Jazeera as an enemy propaganda station and has tried to deter Western TV networks from re-broadcasting Al Jazeera material. Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange barred the station and a concerted attack by mysterious hackers shut down its web site.
Al Jazeera was well aware of Coalition hostility. "But what can they do to us?" the editor, Ibrahim Hilal said. "Apart from bombing our offices in Baghdad —and we’ve had guarantees that they won’t." But that is exactly what the Americans did do. On April 8, 2003, as Coalition forces closed in on Baghdad, a US plane bombed Al Jazeera’s offices in the city, killing Tarek Ayyoub, one of its cameramen. Ibrahim Hilal said Al Jazeera had got the message: "Americans want war done without any witnesses."
So where is the newsworthiness in a story that reveals that President Bush might — Washington refuses to comment — or might not have told Tony Blair that he wanted to bomb Al Jazeera headquarters? It seems more likely that the British government’s over-the-top reaction in moving to stop any publication of the account of the exchange between the two leaders is a smoke-screen to cover more serious concerns.
My view is that the official account of the reason for invading Iraq is beginning to unravel and the British government wants to warn the Western media that it will not tolerate any investigations in this sensitive area. The justification for the invasion of Iraq was Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world because he has —or had already —developed weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them in the run-up to the war —this accusation was changed in an apparently slight but actually significant manner.
Despite their apparent confidence that weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq the two Western leaders were well aware that they might not be found. So the accusation against Saddam Hussein was expanded to suggest that even if no weapons were found NOW, he had the INTENT to develop them in the future. The evidence for this, said Washington and London, was two-fold. Firstly, he had been trying to acquire from Niger uranium for a nuclear weapon and, next, he had imported aluminum tubes in order to build centrifuges to process this uranium for a bomb. The first accusation was always considered dodgy. By a simple telephone call to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, British atomic energy expert Professor Norman Dombey discovered that Iraq already had some 500 tons of uranium ore from Niger sitting in barrels in stores in Baghdad.
Since Saddam had no way of turning it into weapons-grade uranium, why would he be trying to acquire even more? But the accusation collapsed comprehensively when former American ambassador Joseph Wilson IV went to Niger on a mission to —so Washington hoped —stand up the story only to return and say it was without foundation. It now appears that the story it was based on forged documents, probably "created" in Washington and planted on the Italian intelligence service SISMI so they could be "discovered" and released to an unsuspecting world without any apparent American involvement.
The aluminum tubes story is even more ludicrous. Two investigative journalists from the Italian newspaper La Republica have just reported that the aluminum tubes did indeed exist and that Iraq did indeed import them. They were wanted for missile production —allowed under UN sanctions. Western intelligence services were well aware of this because the tubes were part of the Medusa 81 missile system which Italy had sold to Iraq and had even trained Iraqi officers in the system’s use. The moment appears to be drawing closer when what many have speculated about all along is shown to be true —Bush and Blair decided early on to invade Iraq as part of America’s grand plan for a new Middle East. Then, after that decision had been made, they set about inventing a reason for the war. Another push or two by determined journalists and we will at last know the truth. Meanwhile hundreds of journalists gathered at London’s Front Line club earlier this week to show support for Al Jazeera and support for the London Daily Mirror which first revealed the story of the leaked memo. Let’s hope this made both Tony Blair and President Bush think again.
Phillip Knightley is a veteran British journalist and commentator. He can be reached at PhillipGK@aol.com
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