Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Suspects in court over 'Jazeera bombing' leak

LONDON (Reuters) - Two men appeared in a British court on Tuesday accused of leaking a secret document which a newspaper said showed that U.S. President George W. Bush wanted to bomb Arabic television station Al Jazeera.


The hearing came a week after the Daily Mirror reported that a British government memo said British Prime Minister Tony Blair had talked Bush out of bombing the broadcaster's headquarters in Qatar in April last year.

The White House has dismissed the report as "outlandish" and on Monday Blair denied receiving any details of a reported U.S. proposal to bomb Al Jazeera.

Defendant David Keogh, a civil servant who used to work at the Cabinet Office, was charged with making a "damaging disclosure of a document relating to international relations."

His co-defendant Leo O'Connor, once a researcher for a former member of parliament, was charged with receiving a document which he knew, or had reason to believe, was protected against disclosure by Britain's Official Secrets Act.

The two spoke only to confirm their personal details during a 15-minute hearing at Bow Street magistrates' court in central London. The case was adjourned until January 10.

The Daily Mirror said the memo came from Blair's Downing Street office and turned up in May last year at the local office of Tony Clarke, then a member of parliament for Blair's Labor party, who had employed O'Connor as a researcher.

Clarke handed the document back to the government.

O'Connor's lawyer Neil Clark told reporters after the hearing he had not been granted access to the document but hoped he would before the trial resumes.

"Sometime between now and January 10 I hope that that document will be disclosed to me," he said. "It needs to be disclosed because it's impossible to defend unless you know the case that you're facing."

He added that his client regarded media reporting of the case as "inaccurate."

In its report, The Mirror quoted an unnamed government official as suggesting Bush's threat was a joke, but added another unidentified source saying Bush was serious.

Al Jazeera, which has repeatedly denied U.S. accusations that it sides with insurgents in Iraq, has called on Britain and the United States to state whether the report was accurate.

The British government's top lawyer warned media organizations after the Daily Mirror story that they would be breaking the law if they published details of the leaked document

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