The internet is abuzz over a leaked memo quoted yesterday by the London Mirror alleging that President Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he “planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar,” according to a transcript of an April 16, 2004 conversation between the two at the White House. The Mirror reported that Bush was “talked out of it” by Blair.

The real significance of these new allegations is not that the Bush administration was contemplating taking action against Al-Jazeera, for it is now abundantly clear that there has long been a concerted effort to intimidate and harass the Qatar-based news organization. Rather, this new bombshell demonstrates that this pre-existing agenda has its roots at the very top of the Bush administration, and that a major escalation of that operation was being contemplated. If it had been carried out it would have constituted an attack on a sovereign ally nation and almost certainly would have risen to the level of a serious violation of international law. Little wonder that Blair saw a need to talk Bush out of it.

If true, the Mirror report illustrates the extraordinary lengths to which the Bush administration is willing to go in dealing with its perceived enemies. According to the Mirror:

Al-Jazeera’s HQ is in the business district of Qatar’s capital, Doha.

Its single-storey buildings would have made an easy target for bombers. As it is sited away from residential areas, and more than 10 miles from the US’s desert base in Qatar, there would have been no danger of “collateral damage”.

Dozens of al-Jazeera staff at the HQ are not, as many believe, Islamic fanatics. Instead, most are respected and highly trained technicians and journalists.

To have wiped them out would have been equivalent to bombing the BBC in London and the most spectacular foreign policy disaster since the Iraq War itself.

The White House has issued a non-denial denial, saying that it would not dignify “something so outlandish” with a response, but Blair cabinet civil servant David Keogh has been charged with the leak under the British Official Secrets Act, lending credence to the authenticity of the Mirror report. (UPDATE: The British media is being threatened with prosecution if they pursue the matter further).

This is also not the first time Bush has confided his plans to Blair only to have them leak. Only last month a note of a phone conversation that occurred on January 30, 2003 (weeks before the invasion of Iraq), between the two was also leaked. In it, Bush allegedly told Blair that he “wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD proliferation, mentioning in particular Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan.”

As alluded to earlier, the most persuasive argument for the authenticity of these revelations is the overwhelming evidence that the Bush administration has long had an obsession with Al-Jazeera… and still does.

In a just-published article for Rolling Stone Magazine, journalist James Bamford outlined an elaborate plan for media manipulation involving Al-Jazeera, that the Bush administration out-sourced to The Rendon Group:

The Man Who Sold the War — Meet John Rendon, Bush’s general in the propaganda war


…The top target that the pentagon assigned to Rendon was the Al-Jazeera television network. The contract called for the Rendon Group to undertake a massive “media mapping” campaign against the news organization, which the Pentagon considered “critical to U.S. objectives in the War on Terrorism.” According to the contract, Rendon would provide a “detailed content analysis of the station’s daily broadcast . . . [and] identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships.”

The secret targeting of foreign journalists may have had a sinister purpose. Among the missions proposed for the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence was one to “coerce” foreign journalists and plant false information overseas. Secret briefing papers also said the office should find ways to “punish” those who convey the “wrong message.” One senior officer told CNN that the plan would “formalize government deception, dishonesty and misinformation.”

According to the Pentagon documents, Rendon would use his media analysis to conduct a worldwide propaganda campaign, deploying teams of information warriors to allied nations to assist them “in developing and delivering specific messages to the local population, combatants, front-line states, the media and the international community.” Among the places Rendon’s info-war teams would be sent were Jakarta, Indonesia; Islamabad, Pakistan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Cairo; Ankara, Turkey; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The teams would produce and script television news segments “built around themes and story lines supportive of U.S. policy objectives.”

Let’s examine the specific record as it pertains to Al-Jazeera:


  • October 20, 2001: “Vice-President Dick Cheney alerted the emir of Qatar that Al-Jazeera will be seen as ‘Osama’s outlet to the world’ since it aired bin Laden’s video dispatches from Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.”

  • January 20, 2004: Without mentioning Al-Jazeera by name, President Bush makes a certain allusion to it in his State of the Union Speech: “To cut through the barriers of hateful propaganda, the Voice of America and other broadcast services are expanding their programming in Arabic and Persian — and soon, a new television service will begin providing reliable news and information across the region.”

  • March 17, 2004: “Donald Rumsfeld has called Al Jazeera’s coverage ‘outrageous’ and ‘inexcusably biased’ and implied that he’d like to see the satellite channel thrown out of Iraq.

  • April 15, 2004: “Secretary Rumsfeld: ‘I can definitively say that what al-Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.’ ” [These comments were made in reaction to Al-Jazeera coverage of the U.S. attack on Falluja. The coverage included graphic footage of alleged widespread casualties among the civilian population. The next day Bush told Blair of his intentions to bomb the Qatar headquarters of Al-Jazeera. Following the attack on Fallujah there were reports in the Arab media (and The Washington Post) of U.S. use of White Phosphorous as a weapon, a charge repeatedly denied by the Bush administration, but admitted to only last week after articles written at the time in military journals emerged in which the use of White Phosphorous by out military was confirmed].

  • May 1, 2004 Following talks at The White House with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “Qatar’s foreign minister said on Thursday he would seek a review of Arabic television station al Jazeera’s coverage of Iraq after Washington complained it was inaccurate and anti-American…The Bush administration has warned Qatar its relations with the United States were clouded by what it called ‘inflammatory’ coverage of Iraq by Jazeera, whose satellite broadcasts have a wide Arab audience.”

  • June 7, 2004: speaking at an international economic summit, then national security advisor Condoleeza Rice “criticized Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Jazeera for ‘purely inaccurate’ reporting, suggesting the Qatar-based satellite station was presenting a biased account of developments in the Middle East.” (The nation of Qatar was not invited to the conference in what administration officials later acknowledged was a deliberate snub designed to bring pressure on Qatar to reign in Al-Jazeera)

  • September 16, 2004: “US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says journalists have received tip-offs from terrorists of impending attacks in Iraq, singling out Al-Jazeera television as ‘Johnny-on-the-spot a little too often for my taste.’ “

Clearly, the rhetoric directed toward Al-Jazeera has been unambiguously hostile and direct. Against that backdrop one must seriously consider whether the trials and tribulations suffered by Al-Jazeera form a deliberate pattern:

  • November 2001: The Al-Jazeera offices in Kabul are bombed by US forces during the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Reporters Without Borders ask US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the time for an explanation of the attack but get no answer.

  • December 15, 2001: Sami Muhyideen al-Haj, an assistant cameraman for Al-Jazeera, is arrested by Pakistani authorities along the Afghan-Pakistani border while on assignment for the network. He is later transferred to U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, where he is still being held to this day without formal charges. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed concern over allegations that U.S. military interrogators told him that he would be released if he agreed to inform about Al-Jazeera’s activities. In September 2002, CPJ wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld calling on the Pentagon to detail the basis for al-Haj’s detention and received no response. “We’re troubled by these latest reports, but most disturbing is the U.S. military’s long-term detention of Sami al-Haj without putting forward evidence that he has committed a crime,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The implication here is that the military can detain a journalist in the field, as it does with other suspects, and hold him for months or years without due process or establishing a legal basis for his incarceration.” Cooper added: “The United States should credibly explain the basis for Sami al-Haj’s detention or release him immediately.”

  • March 29, 2003: Four members of the Al-Jazeera crew in Basra, the only journalists inside the city, come under gunfire from British tanks as they are filming distribution of food by Iraqi government officials. One of the station’s cameramen, Akil Abdel Reda, goes missing and is later found to have been held for 12 hours by US troops.

  • April 7, 2003: A clearly marked Al-Jazeera vehicles comes under fire from US forces on a motorway near Baghdad.

  • April 8, 2003: Al-Jazeera cameraman reporter Tareq Ayoub is killed when a US missile slams into the station’s Baghdad bureau. Reporters Without Borders expresses outrage at the US bombing: “We strongly condemn this attack on a neighborhood known to include the offices of several TV stations,” said secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of US military operations in Iraq. “To ensure the safety of its journalists, Al-Jazeera’s management has been careful to inform the Americans of the exact location of its crews right from the start of the war. The US army cannot therefore claim it did not know where the Baghdad offices were.” An Al-Jazeera journalist who was in Baghdad until a few days before told Reporters Without Borders that “it couldn’t’ve been a mistake. We’ve told the Pentagon where all our offices are in Iraq and hung giant banners outside them saying ’TV.’”

  • April 21, 2003 (link no longer active): British forces detain Al-Jazeera TV correspondent Mohammad Al-Sayed Mohsen in the Iraqi city of Basra where he is covering the US-led occupation… Mohsen says a British soldier “became furious” when he read the cards, issued from the Iraqi Information Ministry, and confiscated his camera… The Al-Jazeera correspondent says it was the third time British forces had harassed him… They were escorted to a British camp where a soldier addressed them in Arabic and told them they would not be allowed to work in the area until further notice. Mohsen said the soldier repeatedly asked him how he could be an Iraqi and be working for Al-Jazeera. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest. “For US-led forces to detain a journalist working in Iraq is a violation of press freedom and coalition forces are obligated to respect the right of journalists of all outlets to work in the country.”

  • September 10, 2003 U.S. troops detain Al-Jazeera correspondent Atwar Bahgat and her cameraman, Yasser Bahgat (no relation), in the Ghazaliya section of Baghdad. They were filming near the Ghazaliya Bridge, which had been sealed by U.S. troops after an explosion allegedly took place earlier in the day. When a U.S. soldier approached them and ordered them to back away from the bridge, the journalists complied but when they continued filming, the soldiers put both journalists into a Humvee and took them to a detention center at Baghdad Airport, where U.S. forces asked them how they had learned about the explosion. One interrogator accused the journalists of knowing about the explosion before it happened. They were released after spending the night in detention.
    The Associated Press quoted an unnamed military spokesman as saying that the journalists had violated unspecified “ground rules.”

  • November 2003: Coalition troops detain two Al-Jazeera staffers covering an explosion at a police station in western Baghdad on allegations they had prior knowledge of the car bombing. Al-Jazeera dismissed the charges as ridiculous, and the men were later freed.

  • November 3, 2003: Salah Hassan, an Al-Jazeera cameraman, is arrested while interviewing people at the scene of a roadside bomb attack on a US military convoy in Dialah, near the eastern Iraqi city of Baquba. US troops repeatedly accuse him of knowing in advance about the bomb attack and of lying in wait to get footage. “I told them to review my tapes, that it was clear I had arrived thirty or forty minutes after the blast. They told me I was a liar,” says Hassan. He is taken to the military base at Baghdad International Airport, held in a bathroom for two days, then flown hooded and bound to Tikrit. After two more days in another bathroom, he is loaded onto a five-truck convoy of de-tainees and shipped south to Abu Ghraib prison. Once inside, Hassan says, he is greeted by US soldiers who sing “Happy Birthday” to him through his tight plastic hood, strip him naked and address him only as “Al Jazeera,” “boy” or “bitch.” He is forced to stand hooded, bound and naked for eleven hours. In the morning, Hassan says, he is made to wear a dirty red jumpsuit that is covered with someone else’s fresh vomit and interrogated by two Americans in civilian clothes. They make the usual accusations that Hassan and Al Jazeera were in cahoots with “terrorists.” He was later released for lack of evidence. The Nation’s Christian Parenti was told by one source at the civilian Coalition Provisional Authority: “Anything about Al Jazeera is very sensitive, so any on-the-record comment would have to come from pretty far up in the hierarchy. Only a very senior person can deal with this.” But repeated calls to the CPA’s senior spokesperson, Dan Senor, produced no response.

  • November 7, 2003: Sami Awad, a Lebanese cameraman working as a freelancer for a German TV network, says that when he and his crew tried to check out a report Friday about hand grenades being thrown at a U.S. patrol in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers threw them to the ground and pointed their weapons at their heads. “They checked our identity badges and then let us go, saying they thought we were with Al-Jazeera,”

  • January 2004 (link no longer active): Iraq’s then-Governing Council bans Al-Jazeera reporters from entering its offices or covering its news conferences for a month because it had reportedly shown disrespect toward prominent Iraqis.

  • May 21, 2004: Al-Jazeera employee, Rashid Hamid Wali, is shot and killed covering fighting in the city of Karbala.

  • August 5, 2004 (link no longer active): The Iraqi government suspends Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad operations, accusing it of inciting violence.

  • September 4, 2004 (link no longer active): The Iraqi government shuts down Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad operations indefinitely because al-Jazeera had failed to offer an explanation of its editorial policies. The station’s spokesman, Jihad Ballout, said the office in Baghdad was stormed by Iraqi security forces hours before the order was announced. “Members of the Iraqi security forces attacked our office, although it’s been closed for nearly a month now. They took photographs and sealed it,” Ballout said. “They positioned nearly 14 security officers outside Al-Jazeera.”

Last February CNN’s top news executive Eason Jordan was forced, under pressure, to resign his position after a major furor erupted over remarks he had made on a January 27, 2005 panel. Jordan had reportedly suggested (in an “off-the-record” panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland) that coalition forces had deliberately targeted some journalists in Iraq.

A few months later, Linda Foley, national president of The Newspaper Guild, likewise incurred the ire of conservatives for similar comments contained in a letter she had sent to President Bush, and in a panel discussion at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis on May 13, criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq. Foley drew fire from, among others, Newsmax, The Washington Times, and Sinclair Broadcasting for saying: “Journalists are not just being targeted verbally or politically. They are also being targeted for real in places like Iraq. And what outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there’s not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it’s just a scandal.”

In view of recent revelations, especially those involving George W. Bush’s apparent willingness to deliberately bomb Al-Jazeera’s Qatar headquarters, it would seem Eason Jordan and Linda Foley have been vindicated and are owed an apology. The public is owed a Congressional investigation.

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