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The War On Al Jazeera

President Bush, right, talks with reporters as British Prime Minister Tony Blair listens during a news conference at the White House in Washington in this June 7, 2005 file photo. As he heads into the Group of Eight summit meeting starting Wednesday, July 6, 2005, in Scotland, Bush seems almost to have a fixation with getting the troubled continent on the right track. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
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This column was written by Jeremy Scahill.
If the classified memo detailing President Bush's alleged proposal to bomb the headquarters of Al Jazeera is provided to The Nation, we will publish the relevant sections.

Why is it so vital that this information be made available to the American people? Because if a President who claims to be using the U.S. military to liberate countries in order to spread freedom then conspires to destroy media that fail to echo his sentiments, he does not merely disgrace his office and soil the reputation of his country. He attacks a fundamental principle, freedom of the press — particularly a dissenting and disagreeable press — upon which that country was founded. The Nation Editors


Nothing puts the lie to the Bush Administration's absurd claim that it invaded Iraq to spread democracy throughout the Middle East more decisively than its ceaseless attacks on Al Jazeera, the institution that has done more than any other to break the stranglehold over information previously held by authoritarian forces, whether monarchs, military strongmen, occupiers or ayatollahs. The United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001, shelled the Basra hotel where Al Jazeera journalists were the only guests in April 2003, killed Iraq correspondent Tareq Ayoub a few days later in Baghdad and imprisoned several Al Jazeera reporters (including at Guantánamo), some of whom say they were tortured. In addition to the military attacks, the U.S.-backed Iraqi government banned the network from reporting in Iraq.

Then in late November came a startling development: Britain's Daily Mirror reported that during an April 2004 White House meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, George W. Bush floated the idea of bombing Al Jazeera's international headquarters in Qatar. This allegation was based on leaked "Top Secret" minutes of the Bush-Blair summit. British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has activated the Official Secrets Act, threatening any publication that publishes any portion of the memo (he has already brought charges against a former Cabinet staffer and a former parliamentary aide). So while we don't yet know the contents of the memo, we do know that at the time of Bush's meeting with Blair, the Administration was in the throes of a very public, high-level temper tantrum directed against Al Jazeera. The meeting took place on April 16, at the peak of the first U.S. siege of Falluja, and Al Jazeera was one of the few news outlets broadcasting from inside the city. Its exclusive footage was being broadcast by every network from CNN to the BBC.

The Falluja offensive, one of the bloodiest assaults of the U.S. occupation, was a turning point. In two weeks that April, thirty marines were killed as local guerrillas resisted U.S. attempts to capture the city. Some 600 Iraqis died, many of them women and children. Al Jazeera broadcast from inside the besieged city, beaming images to the world. On live TV the network gave graphic documentary evidence disproving US denials that it was killing civilians. It was a public relations disaster, and the United States responded by attacking the messenger.