Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Rumsfeld’s Al-Jazeera outburst

THE Middle Eastern news network Al-Jazeera was accused by Donald Rumsfeld, the American defence secretary, of broadcasting “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” reports about the war in Iraq the day before President George W Bush met Tony Blair at the White House and apparently suggested bombing the station’s headquarters.



Rumsfeld denounced the satellite television station at a Pentagon briefing on April 15, 2004 after Al-Jazeera had reported that America’s assault on the insurgent stronghold of Falluja was terrorising civilians. “They are simply lying,” Rumsfeld said.

It was on April 16 that Bush reportedly said during talks with Blair that he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera’s offices in Doha, Qatar, although it is not known whether he was joking.

A report last week that was said to be based on a transcript of the conversation claimed that Blair had talked the president out of a raid, but Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, has banned newspapers from publishing details under the Official Secrets Act. The White House dismissed the report as “outlandish”.

The Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad detailed 34 instances of alleged hype and distortion by the television station from April 8-13, ranging from reports of a helicopter and fighter plane being shot down to stories about American soldiers killing and mutilating Iraqi citizens.

In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, the Pentagon awarded the Rendon Group, a public affairs firm, a $16.7m contract to monitor media in the Islamic world. It was assigned to track “the location and use of Al-Jazeera news bureaux, reporters and stringers”, and was asked to “identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances”.

The firm says that it did not go on to monitor Al-Jazeera. But the original contract suggests the Pentagon was interested in targeting the station and its journalists.

In 2002 Al-Jazeera’s bureau in Kabul was hit by a US missile and five months later a missile struck its Baghdad office and killed a reporter. Both were said to be accidents.

Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based think tank, last week described Al-Jazeera as “fair game” on the grounds that it promoted beheadings and suicide bombings.

Wadah Khanfar, director- general of Al-Jazeera, delivered a letter to Downing Street yesterday urging Blair to clarify reports that Bush had suggested bombing the station.

“We have regularly been accused of showing beheadings of hostages, but Al-Jazeera has never shown any material of this nature,” Khanfar said.

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