Thu, Jan 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Two appear in court over Bush, al-Jazeera case

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LONDON

A British civil servant and a former researcher appeared in court on Tuesday in the latest skirmish of an unfolding legal battle over claims that US President George W. Bush proposed bombing al-Jazeera's television headquarters.

Bush's reported remarks were disclosed in a leaked document, the contents of which were published in a British newspaper late last year. The comments raised questions here about whether Britain might be drawn into questionable military operations as a result of its alliance with Washington.

Indeed, in an interview published on Tuesday, General Michael Rose, a former commander of UN troops in Bosnia, called for the impeachment of British Prime Minister Tony Blair for taking the country to war on false pretenses.

The remarks were unusually blunt for a commander of such rank.

"People have seen their political wishes ignored for reasons now proved false," Rose told the Guardian, referring to Blair's prewar insistence on the presence of unconventional weapons in Iraq.

He added: "No one can undo the decision to go to war. But the impeachment of Mr. Blair is now something I believe must happen if we are to rekindle interest in the democratic process."

In the latest legal maneuvers, David Keogh, 49, a government communications officer, and Leo O'Connor, 42, a former parliamentary researcher, face charges under the Official Secrets Act. They were indicted last November.

Keogh is accused on two counts. One is that he passed a memo to O'Connor between April 16 and May 29, 2004. The second, made public on Tuesday, is that he, "without lawful authority, made a damaging disclosure of a document dated April 16, 2004, which had been in his possession by virtue of his position as a crown servant."

O'Connor has indicated that he plans to plead not guilty. Keogh did not say how he would plead in the trial, scheduled for Jan. 24.

The document was described last fall by the Daily Mirror as a transcript of a conversation in the White House on April 16, 2004, in which Blair dissuaded Bush from bombing al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf.

At that time, US generals were complaining publicly that al-Jazeera's coverage of Iraq on its Arabic-language channel was inflaming anti-American sentiment.

Neil Clark, a lawyer for O'Connor, said he was shown the memo for the first time on Tuesday on condition that he discuss it only with his client. But, Clark said, he would seek the disclosure of the document in court.

"I didn't think there was anything in there that could embarrass the British government," he said.

The court hearings came as Peter Kilfoyle, a legislator from Blair's Labor Party, said he and another lawmaker, Tony Clarke, who employed O'Connor as a researcher, had tried to publicize the document in the US in 2004.

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