Saturday, November 26, 2005

Outrage grows at Bush bomb claims
AN executive of Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news channel, is seeking an urgent meeting with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, over reports that George Bush discussed bombing the satellite channel's headquarters in Qatar.

Wadah Khanfar, the station's director-general, is flying to Britain this weekend after newspapers reported the US President made the comments during a meeting with Mr Blair at the White House on April 16 last year.

Mr Bush's alleged comments about bombing Al-Jazeera's building in Doha are reported to be contained in a note of the meeting. The British Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, warned newspapers they could be charged under the Official Secrets Act if they published further material from the note.

In the House of Commons on Thursday, a Liberal Democrat MP, David Heath, said Lord Goldsmith had threatened editors with the Official Secrets Act to prevent government embarrassment rather than protect national security.

The Attorney-General's warning was "not on the grounds of national security but on the grounds of potential embarrassment to the Prime Minister or to any presidents he happens to have conversations with", he said.

Geoff Hoon, the leader of the House of Commons, replied saying Lord Goldsmith had a "legal responsibility". He added: "It is done only in certain limited circumstances. But it is an important power that needs exercising from time to time."

A former defence minister, Peter Kilfoyle, on Thursday tabled a Commons motion saying MPs were "appalled" by Mr Bush's reported comments and Mr Blair's apparent failure to restrain him by persuading him to moderate US tactics in Iraq. He said any note of the White House meeting should be published.

Ahmed el-Sheik, Al-Jazeera's editor-in-chief, also called on the British Government to release a memo on the meeting. "Leaving things vague is terrifying," he said. "The British Government has to explain - was it a serious talk or was it a joke?"

The White House meeting, in April last year, took place at a time British officials and military commanders were appalled by US tactics in Iraq, particularly the assault on Falluja. Pictures shown on Al-Jazeera of the attack infuriated US generals.

The CIA has been accused of flying terrorist suspects through US air bases in Germany without informing the German Government. Handelsblatt newspaper, citing a CIA source, referred to the Ramstein base and the Rhein-Main base near Frankfurt.

The information could be relevant to a court case in Germany over the alleged abduction of a Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Rome in February 2003. CIA agents were alleged to have flown the imam to Ramstein, where he was switched to a different aircraft.

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