Bush as Press Assassin?:  Baathist in a Mirror

Juan Cole

Posted Dec 1, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Bush as Press Assassin?:  Baathist in a Mirror

The Mirror broke the story on Tuesday that a secret British memo demonstrates that George W. Bush wanted to bomb Aljazeera’s offices in Doha, Qatar, in spring of 2004. The subject came up with Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK, and Blair is said to have argued Bush out of it.

Despite attempts of British officials to muddy the waters by suggesting that Bush was joking, another official who had seen the memo insisted, “Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men.”

The US military bombed the Kabul offices of Aljazeera in mid-November, 2001.

The US military hit the Aljazeerah offices in Baghdad on the 9th of April, 2003, a year Bush’s conversation with Blair.* That attack killed journalist Tarek Ayoub, who had a 3 year old daughter. He had said earlier, “We’ve told the Pentagon where all our offices are in Iraq and hung giant banners outside them saying `TV.’‘’ Given what we now know about Bush’s intentions, that may have been a mistake.

When the US and the UN shoe-horned old-time CIA asset Iyad Allawi into power as transitional prime minister, he promptly banned Aljazeera in Iraq. The channel still did fair reporting on Iraq, finding ways of buying video film and doing enlightening telephone interviews.

There have long been rumors that the Bush administration has pressured the government of Qatar to close the channel down.

One of the misdeeds attributed to Syria or pro-Syrian forces is the attempt to assassinate the Lebanese journalist and fixture on LBC, the Lebanese satellite channel, May Shidyaq (Chidiac). If the British report is true, Bush really is just a Baathist in the mirror.

Aljazeera is a widely misunderstood Arabic television channel that is mainly characterized by a quaint 1950s-style pan-Arab nationalism. It is not a fundamentalist religious channel, though it does host one old-time Muslim Brother, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Its main peculiarity in local terms is that it will air all sides of a political issue and allow frank criticism of Middle Eastern politicians as well as of Western ones. It is the only place in the Arab media where one routinely hears Israeli spokesmen (speaking very good Arabic, typically) addressing their concerns and point of view to Arab audiences.

Most of Aljazeera’s programming is presented by natty men in business suits or good-looking, chic Arab women in fashionable Western clothes. (I see the anchors every day and am stricken at the idea of them being blown to smithereens by an American “accidental” bombing!) A lot of the programming is Discovery Channel-style documentaries.

The news is often criticial of the United States, though the journalists like controversy and are perfectly capable of asking fundamentalists and nationalists from the region very hard questions. The channel is one of the few places where you can sometimes see frank debate among Sunni Arab, Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis (the Lord knows we don’t see it on US news!) Some Aljazeera journalists may have been sympathetic to radical Muslim groups, but mainly on nationalist and anti-imperialist grounds. These people don’t look like adherents of political Islam for the most part.

Ironically, after one of the early-morning Aljazeera news broadcasts EST on Wednesday that discussed the Bush plot against the channel, the next show was about recently released American movies, including “Jarhead” (about a Marine during the Gulf War), which showcased the films enthusiastically and may as well have been an infomercial. It was jarring, the effusiveness about American soft power after the admission of the dark side of US military power.

Plotting to assassinate civilian journalists in a friendly country is certainly against the law, and if Bush is ever impeached, this charge will certainly figure in the trial. Who knows, maybe the murder of Tarek Ayoub will be added to the charges. His daughter must be 5, now.

There is a detailed and very valuable timeline of Bush administration- Aljazeera relations at Booman Tribune.

Visit Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment at http://www.juancole.com/