Al Jazeera lodges FoI request to see if Bush planned to bomb its HQ

By Colin Crummy

Lawyers
for Arabic broadcaster Al Jazeera have submitted a Freedom of
Information request asking the Government to publish the conversation
between Tony Blair and George Bush in which the American president is
alleged to have talked of his plan to bomb the station’s headquarters.

The
FoI request has been made on behalf of the station and a number of its
staff, including managing director Wadah Khanfar, by law firm Finers
Stephens Innocent. It states that its applicants were not only the
company, but “individuals whose very right to life is at stake”.

It
says the “overriding interest of protecting the lives of journalists
and broadcasters” justifies publishing the alleged conversation.

Al
Jazeera’s bureau chief in London Yosri Fouda said: “We are trying to
figure out if somebody was trying to murder us, [committing]
premeditated murder. If it turns out to be true there’s no other way to
describe it – if it turns out to be premeditated murder, in the eyes of
international law it would be a war crime.

“Deep in our hearts we
don’t want to believe it and we are heartened by the support and
sympathy of fellow journalists not only in the Arab world, but indeed
much more in the West. We’re defending our very lives and at the same
time we’re talking in the name of every journalist on earth who might
be in a similar situation.”

The request also challenges the
grounds under which a previous request by Steve Wood was refused in
November last year. Under Section 27 of the Act, the university
lecturer’s application was rejected because disclosure would ‘harm
international relations’

and ‘breach confidentiality’.

The
fresh request by Al Jazeera argues that these grounds could not be
relied upon. It states that “acts preparatory to an international crime
can never be in the interest of good international relations” and that
“Section 27 was never envisaged by parliament as a means of covering up
high crimes and misdemeanours”.

On the ‘breach of confidence’

ground, it said “a fundamental principle of English law [was] that there is no confidence in iniquity”.

Downing
Street’s response to the original application by Wood confirmed it held
“information relevant to your [Wood’s] request”. Al Jazeera has taken
this as evidence that the memo does refer to the alleged conversation
about an attack on the station.

A spokesperson for the Prime
Minister has since denied the memo refers to the bombing of Al Jazeera
headquarters in Qatar or elsewhere.

Fouda said this was
“heartening” if it were true, but added: “We don’t want people to play
with words, [saying] that the very word ‘bombing’ wasn’t mentioned.

But
maybe it turns out another word was used like ‘military action’ or
‘missile strike’ or ‘neutralising Al Jazeera’. It is too serious a
situation to be thrown into a state of semantics.”

The Daily
Mirror reported in November that the memo of a Blair- Bush meeting in
April 2004 detailed a proposal by Bush to bomb Al Jazeera, but said
Blair had dissuaded him. Al Jazeera’s bureaux in Kabul and Baghdad were
attacked in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

The Government has 20
working days to respond to the request. Al Jazeera can appeal the
decision to the Information Commissioner.

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