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The War On Al Jazeera

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    Al-Jazeera s quest for answers has been met with silence from both the White House and Downing Street Why did you want to bomb me, Mr Bush and Mr Blair? Wadah
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2005
      Al-Jazeera's quest for answers has been met with silence from both the
      White House and Downing Street

      Why did you want to bomb me, Mr Bush and Mr Blair?
      Wadah Khanfar
      Thursday December 1, 2005

      I have lost count of the number of accusations levelled against
      al-Jazeera and the incidents of harassment to which it has been
      subjected since it was founded in 1996. It was rumoured to have been
      set up by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency with the purpose of
      improving Israel's standing in the Arab world. It has also been
      accused of being a CIA mouthpiece designed to disseminate western
      culture among the Arabs. Some have suggested that it is part of an
      international conspiracy to break up the Arab world by means of
      stirring up discord and creating problems for the Arab regimes. Others
      decided it was a front for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban; or funded
      by Saddam Hussein. And, at the same time, it has been condemned by Abu
      Musab al-Zarqawi and bitterly criticised by Donald Rumsfeld.

      We know that the intelligence services of some Arab regimes have
      resorted to spreading rumours about al-Jazeera in an effort to deter
      Arab viewers from watching it. These are the same regimes that
      recalled ambassadors from Qatar in protest at its hosting al-Jazeera,
      and the same regimes that closed the station's offices in their
      countries and detained its correspondents.

      Until 2001, al-Jazeera was perceived in a positive way in the west as
      a whole and the US in particular. It was seen as the single most
      important force for reform and democracy across the Arab region.
      Harassment by Arab regimes was considered proof of its professionalism
      and testimony to its objectivity. Indeed, al-Jazeera had from its
      foundation the slogan of "the opinion and the other opinion" and
      refused to favour one side over another at the expense of truth. As a
      result, in record time al-Jazeera became the Arabs' number one
      channel, and last year it was voted the fifth most influential brand
      name in the world, after Starbucks, Ikea, Apple and Google.

      In the aftermath of the September 11 events, al-Jazeera found itself
      on the frontline of media coverage in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The
      greater its reputation became globally, the more frustrated some
      western governments became. The "other opinion" this time did not seem
      to suit international decision-makers. Criticisms started pouring in
      and created an opportunity for some Arab regimes to incite the US
      administration against al-Jazeera; some have even gone as far as
      demanding the closure of al-Jazeera as a precondition for full
      cooperation with the US.

      Iraq has been a crucial turning point not only in al-Jazeera's work
      but for media coverage as a whole; 74 journalists, crew and their
      translators have lost their lives since the start of the war - two of
      them belonging to al-Jazeera. As far as harassment goes, al-Jazeera
      has incurred the biggest share. It has been accused by the US of
      inciting violence through the broadcast of al-Qaida tapes and of
      playing footage of beheadings. Our viewers know that no beheadings
      whatsoever were shown on our screens. And we follow strict
      professional rules in handling the tapes of Bin Laden and other
      al-Qaida leaders; we only play short, carefully selected and clearly
      newsworthy clips, and they are followed by analytical discussion,
      frequently including American commentators.

      Al-Jazeera's offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed; we were told at
      the time that both bombings were mistakes. We pushed for an official
      investigation, but thus far have received neither the findings of any
      investigation nor any official apology. The al-Jazeera cameraman Sami
      al-Hajj was arrested in Afghanistan and has for the past four years
      been detained in Guantánamo. We have repeatedly asked for an
      explanation, but none has been given to us.

      We believe that all this harassment has been a worthwhile price for
      our professional commitment to reporting the truth. However, the story
      in the Daily Mirror, which published a leaked document it claimed was
      a transcript of a meeting in April 2004 between George Bush and Tony
      Blair, points to a level of threat to our very existence that had
      never occurred to us or to our viewers before. If it is true that Bush
      had indeed thought of bombing the al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha,
      this will undoubtedly constitute a watershed in the relationship
      between government authorities and the free media. I decided, in view
      of the great shock and bewilderment felt by many people around the
      world, to travel to London to look for the truth behind a press report
      whose reverberations across the Middle East - where reform and
      democracy have been promised - are far from over.

      My colleagues have submitted a memorandum to 10 Downing Street, urging
      the British government to reveal the truth about the alleged document,
      and stressing that publishing the part within it relating to
      al-Jazeera is essential to put an end to speculation. After all, the
      matter concerns an institution that has never perceived itself to be
      an enemy of anyone. Our journalists are civilians who have gained the
      confidence of most Arabic-speaking viewers around the world. The
      failure to disclose the contents of the memo will cause a great deal
      of harm and will seriously undermine relations between media and
      government, and between the western and Arab worlds.

      I brought many questions with me to London; it would seem that I shall
      return to Doha - where al-Jazeera is based - with even more
      misgivings. Officials in Britain have come up with nothing, and their
      silence is likely to reinforce suspicion and mistrust. This will not
      be the end of the road; we are taking legal advice and won't rest
      until we know the full truth.

      However, I shall be returning to Doha with a lot of hope. The support
      and sympathy that I have sensed from colleagues in the British media
      represent the best consolation for me and my colleagues at al-Jazeera,
      whose viewers have seen for themselves the view of British and other
      western journalists that the truth should be disclosed in full. The
      issue does not only concern al-Jazeera; it concerns the truth for
      which we have withstood nine years of pressure and harassment, and for
      which many journalists around the world have endured all forms of
      intimidation; it is the truth for which Tayseer Allouni is serving a
      prison sentence in Spain, for which Sami Al-Hajj continues to be
      detained in Guantánamo and for which Tariq Ayoub died in Iraq.

      · Wadah Khanfar is the director general of al-Jazeera manager @

      Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005


      The War on Al Jazeera
      by Jeremy Scahill

      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
      US-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 US 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 US
      occupation, was a turning point. In two weeks that April, thirty
      marines were killed as local guerrillas resisted US 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.

      Just a few days before Bush allegedly proposed bombing the network, Al
      Jazeera's correspondent in Falluja, Ahmed Mansour, reported live on
      the air, "Last night we were targeted by some tanks, twice...but we
      escaped. The US wants us out of Falluja, but we will stay." On April 9
      Washington demanded that Al Jazeera leave the city as a condition for
      a cease-fire. The network refused. Mansour wrote that the next day
      "American fighter jets fired around our new location, and they bombed
      the house where we had spent the night before, causing the death of
      the house owner Mr. Hussein Samir. Due to the serious threats we had
      to stop broadcasting for few days because every time we tried to
      broadcast the fighter jets spotted us we became under their fire."

      On April 11 senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, "The
      stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and
      children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that
      is lies." On April 15 Donald Rumsfeld echoed those remarks in
      distinctly undiplomatic terms, calling Al Jazeera's reporting
      "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.... It's disgraceful what that
      station is doing." It was the very next day, according to the Daily
      Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan. "He made clear he wanted to
      bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere," a source told the Mirror.
      "There's no doubt what Bush wanted to do--and no doubt Blair didn't
      want him to do it."

      Al Jazeera's real transgression during the "war on terror" is a simple
      one: being there. While critical of the Bush Administration and US
      policy, it is not anti-American--it is independent. In fact, it has
      angered almost every Arab government at one point or another and has
      been kicked out of or sanctioned by many Arab countries. It holds the
      rare distinction of being shut down by both Saddam and the new
      US-backed government. It was the first Arab station to broadcast
      interviews with Israeli officials. It is hardly the Al Qaeda
      mouthpiece the Administration has wanted us to believe it is. The real
      threat Al Jazeera poses is in its unembedded journalism--precisely
      what is needed now to uncover the truth about the Bush-Blair meeting.

      Conservative British MP Boris Johnson, who is by trade a journalist
      and is editor of The Spectator magazine, has offered to publish the
      memo if it is leaked to him. It should be published, and if any
      journal is prosecuted for doing so, it should be backed up by media
      organizations everywhere. The war against Al Jazeera and other
      unembedded journalists has been conducted with far too little outcry
      from the powerful media organizations of the world. It shouldn't take
      another bombing for this to be a story.

      Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for
      the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, has spent extensive
      time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin
      Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. He can be reached at
      jeremy @ democracynow.org



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