BOMBING AL-JAZEERA….This goes right to the top of the “seriously weird” pile:
President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a “Top Secret” No 10 memo reveals.
But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.
….A Government official suggested that the Bush threat had been “humorous, not serious”. But another source declared: “Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men.”
….Bush disclosed his plan to target al-Jazeera, a civilian station with a huge Mid-East following, at a White House face-to-face with Mr Blair on April 16 last year. At the time, the US was launching an all-out assault on insurgents in the Iraqi town of Fallujah.
At first this sounded like just another bizarre British tabloid fantasy, but apparently it’s quite real. That is, the conversation was real; the transcript is real; it was leaked to a guy who is now being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act; and the Daily Mirror, which published the story on Tuesday, has been ordered not to publish any further details about the memo. In a story on Wednesday they said they have “essentially agreed to comply,” but then immediately provided a bit of additional detail:
The five-page memo ? stamped “Top Secret” ? records a threat by Bush to unleash “military action” against the TV station.
Needless to say, both the White House and Downing Street have declined to comment.
So take your pick. Either Bush seriously tossed out the idea of bombing a TV station in a friendly country because he didn’t like their coverage of the war, or else this was his equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s “The bombing will begin in five minutes.” There’s no way to know which unless someone leaks the transcript itself. I’d sure like to see whether Tony Blair treated it like a joke when Bush proposed it.
UPDATE: I don’t have a link for this, but a reader emails to tell me that this was the subject of Tuesday’s “Quickvote Poll” on CNN. The question was:
Do you believe President Bush talked about bombing the HQ of Arabic-language TV network al-Jazeera?
71% of the respondents said yes. Even if this story turns out not to be true, that’s quite a statement.