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2005-11-23

Al Jazeera London Bureau Chief Responds to Report of British Memo Alleging Bush Wanted to Bomb Network HQ in Doha

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The British government has threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to sue newspapers that publish contents of a leaked memo in which President Bush allegedly discusses bombing the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera. The British newspaper, the Daily Mirror disclosed the memo Tuesday. We speak with the head of Al Jazeera’s London bureau, Yousri Fouda as well as British journalist and filmmaker, John Pilger. [includes rush transcript]

The British government has threatened to use the Official Secrets Act to sue newspapers that publish contents of a leaked memo in which President Bush allegedly discusses bombing the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera. The British newspaper the Daily Mirror disclosed the memo Tuesday. The paper based its report on a confidential Downing Street memo that said Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004 that he wanted to attack Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Blair allegedly talked Bush out of the strike, fearing revenge attacks.

The Daily Mirror says it will comply with the government and not publish the memo. But Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace said: "We made [the government] fully aware of the intention to publish and were given "no comment" officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under section 5 [of the secrets act]." Under section 5, it is illegal come into the possession of government information if it is disclosed without lawful authority. Two British civil servants have been charged in connection to the disclosure of the memo. Asked to comment on the memo, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan told the Associated Press: "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."

Al Jazeera bureaus were hit by U.S. warplanes in April 2003 in Baghdad and November 2001 in Kabul. Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayoub was killed in the Baghdad incident. The U.S. called both incidents accidental. Meanwhile the Washington Post is reporting a former senior U.S. intelligence official said the Bush administration saw Al Jazeera as such a problem that the CIA formulated plans to plant covert agents on its staff. The official said the plan was never approved.

In a statement, Al Jazeera said: "If the report is correct, then this would be both shocking and worrisome not only to al-Jazeera but to media organizations across the world. It would cast serious doubts in regard to the U.S. administration’s version of previous incidents involving Al Jazeera"s journalists and offices."

  • Yousri Fouda, senior investigative reporter at al Jazeera and host of "Top Secret," one of al Jazeera’s most popular shows. He the network’s London bureau chief where he is based. He is co-author of the book "Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Attack the World Has Ever Seen."
    - Extended Democracy Now! interview with Yousri Fouda.
  • John Pilger, British Journalist and filmaker. Columnist for the New Statesman. His latest film is "Stealing a Nation."
    - Extended Democracy Now! interview with John Pilger.
    - More on John Pilger.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the telephone right now by the head of Al Jazeera’s London bureau, Yousri Fouda, senior investigative reporter at Al Jazeera and the host of Top Secret, one of the network’s most popular shows. Welcome to Democracy Now!

YOUSRI FOUDA: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to this report of the Downing — another Downing Street memo?

YOUSRI FOUDA: Well, obviously, we haven’t seen the documents yet. There’s still a case pending, and you have just mentioned the latest episode of events, which media have been just gagged from reporting any further on this story. I’m still hoping, to tell you the truth — we’ve been, what now, nearly 48 hours since this revelation, and we haven’t yet seen anybody hit the roof in the White House or Downing Street, stepping out and saying, no, it’s not true, or if it’s true, that the President actually did not mean it. I’m still hoping at the bottom of my heart that this will happen.

AMY GOODMAN: You have been commenting for your network, Al Jazeera, on various talk shows since this was revealed yesterday. One of the people you were up against was arguing that it was right to attack Al Jazeera, saying it’s state media.

YOUSRI FOUDA: Well, it’s his opinion, and I wouldn’t actually generalize that every American would like to murder journalists for reporting whatever they are reporting. Even if I begin to agree or accept any allegation against Al Jazeera, which I totally refute, I certainly — no decent human being on earth would even begin to justify murdering journalists. And in the name of what? In the name of spreading freedom in our part of the world? I mean, you just can’t argue that you are trying to defend everything that Western civilization stands for, that you are trying to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East, but in the process, you are actually doing exactly the opposite. You cannot argue for both things at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the telephone by British journalist and filmmaker, John Pilger, writes a column now for the New Statesman, used to be with the Daily Mirror. His latest film is called Stealing a Nation. Welcome to Democracy Now! again.

JOHN PILGER: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Your response to this Downing Street memo, and the latest news. Washington Post: "A senior diplomat said the Bush remark as recounted in the newspaper sounds like one of the President’s one-liners that’s meant as a joke, but the diplomat said it was foolish for someone to write it down, and now it will be a story for days." Two British civil servants now being indicted.

JOHN PILGER: Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s a one-liner. I just think they’re minimizing, and I’m not at all surprised. I’m sure no one is surprised. I’m sure Al Jazeera isn’t surprised. After all, as you pointed out earlier on, the Americans clearly targeted Al Jazeera in Kabul and in Baghdad, killing one Al Jazeera journalist. They had been threatening Al Jazeera. It’s part of U.S. policy to target the media. They — during the attack on Serbia in 1999, they targeted the headquarters of Yugoslav Broadcasting. The numbers of journalists who have been killed by American troops is higher than any time in the modern period. The media is terribly important to this whole disaster, and getting Al Jazeera, which has done an extraordinary job of bringing to millions of people, who otherwise would not have been informed about their own part of the world, bringing to them facts and information is very threatening to the United States and to Bush.

AMY GOODMAN: This latest news, also in the Washington Post piece, and I wanted to get both of your reactions to this, the idea that the U.S. government was so threatened by what Al Jazeera was doing, wanting to put in plants of the C.I.A. at Al Jazeera. Yousri Fouda, your response.

YOUSRI FOUDA: I’m sorry. It’s a very bad line.

JOHN PILGER: I have to tell you, there is a — one of your colleagues is speaking over us there. I can’t hear very well. There’s a double line here.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry. I was just asking — let me put this question to Yousri Fouda first, a senior investigative reporter at Al Jazeera. The latest news in the Washington Post of — saying that a former U.S. intelligence official saying that it was clear the White House saw Al Jazeera as a problem, that although the C.I.A.’s clandestine service came up with plans to counteract it, such as planting people on its staff, it never received permission to proceed. Your response to that, Yousri?

YOUSRI FOUDA: Well, I mean, any news organization is open to anybody to be planted into it. We — I mean, our address is actually meant to be — every news organization’s address and every news organization’s process is just out there. So, I would wouldn’t be surprised that indeed that there are some people who might be working, whether paid or not paid, for this intelligence agency or the other. We are very transparent, and everybody knows this. I can hardly think of anyone who introduced themselves as a journalist or a researcher or somebody who is associated with a think tank requesting a visit to our headquarters in Doha and we turned them down. We are open. People come and go, and how would you know that somebody is not actually working for the C.I.A. or any other intelligence agency in the world? I don’t think that this is the issue.

The issue is the way some people — and I would this — that some people within the U.S. administration view the world, that kind of arrogant attitude towards the world that we don’t even need to even begin to explain ourselves is just outrageous. You know, when you take people for granted, when you think that, well, taking an easy target like journalists, unarmed human beings, just for, you know, for doing their job, just because they wanted to stay in the middle and not be with any side, like the President of the most powerful nation on earth said at one point, "You are either with us or against us." Hello. I’m a journalist. My job is all about being in the middle.

So, it’s — from that point of view, I just wonder, in light of what happened recently, I mean, this revelation about this document, how many people would have been recruited into the mindset of al-Qaeda because of something like this? I’m talking about mainstream Arabs and Muslims, and even decent human beings, wherever they come from, when they hear about something like this. So we have been hearing a lot about people in our part of the world, 'They hate America and Americans.' Well, they might do this, but they used to hate Americans for what they do, not for what they are. Now, with something like this, I wouldn’t be surprised that Americans will be hated for what they are.

AMY GOODMAN: Yousri Fouda, what would you say to those people now, who have been charged, two British civil servants, for leaking this memo? And also what would you say to the British government, which has threatened the use of the Official Secrets Act to sue newspapers that publish the contents of this leaked memo, apparently now the Daily Mirror complying. Do you think that a news organization, perhaps even your own, Al Jazeera, should defy this? And then I’ll put the question to John Pilger.

YOUSRI FOUDA: Well, the signs are not very encouraging. You know, again gagging — I understand from a legal point of view that there’s a case going on, and we usually try and be a little bit more sensitive when there’s a legal case taking place. So, I would refrain from commenting on the civil servants, because I might prejudice their case. But on the other hand, when you gag somebody, the story becomes sexier, and everybody develops even more interest into it. I have a personal experience with this myself, having interviewed a former MI5 officer who ran away and started talking about things, and British media were gagged. What happened? Because legally he could speak to non-British media, and then British media would take the story on. So, you go around things again. It’s a very hypocritical approach. And that’s what happened. I interviewed the guy, and every single media outlet in this country quoted my interview with him. So I don’t think that it’s really the best policy, but at the same time, I have a little bit of understanding because of the legal case. The ball is in the White House court, the bottom line of the issue is in the White House. I urge the White House to come out and say this did not happen, and if it did happen, the President was rather joking about it.

AMY GOODMAN: John Pilger, your final response?

JOHN PILGER: Well, it’s just part of a pattern, isn’t it? It’s part of a pattern of the unfolding disaster that is the United States domination and imposition of its policies on the world. I don’t — none of these are isolated incidents. Targeting journalists makes all sorts of sense, because it’s journalists — that is, honest journalists and especially the journalists like those on Al Jazeera, who might be saying the sort of things the administration doesn’t want to hear —- these are a threat, and it’s something that all honest people throughout the world and especially in the United States have to face, and the United States -—

AMY GOODMAN: John, a quick question. Do you think that a newspaper should reveal this memo? Now, the British government has threatened any British newspaper for revealing it. There’s also, of course, U.S. papers.

JOHN PILGER: Yes. Yes, I do. It’s too dangerous now. This dangerous farce called the "war on terror" has got to such an extreme now that the freedom of speech that we do have left, the freedom of expression that we hang onto, we have to use.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I thank you both for being with us, John Pilger, British journalist and filmmaker and Yousri Fouda, senior investigative reporter at Al Jazeera. He hosts Top Secret, the network’s London Bureau Chief, co-author of Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Attack the World Has Ever Seen_. And I encourage to you go to our website at DemocracyNow.org for full hours with both "Yousri Fouda":_SLASHLINK__, when he was in Washington, when we had him in the Washington studio, and with John Pilger, the interview__ we did with him in person. We thank you both for being with us.

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