Thursday, 10 May 2007

"The memo is explosive..."

Daily Mirror
Two men were jailed today for leaking a classified memo detailing a conversation between UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush that took place on 16th April 2004. Civil servant David Keogh, who copied the memo, was sentenced to six months in jail. Keogh had given the memo to Leo O'Connor, who received a three-month sentence for passing it on to MP Anthony Clarke. Keogh and O'Connor were arrested in 2004, when Clarke called the police after finding the memo in his office.

Details of the memo were first revealed by the Daily Mirror on 22nd November 2005, under the front-page headline "BUSH PLOT TO BOMB HIS ARAB ALLY". The report began: "Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals. But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash." The newspaper quoted a source saying: "The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush."

After the story was published, the Attorney General threatened the UK media with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if any further details of the memo were revealed. This marked the first and only time that the Act - rather than a conventional injunction - had been used to censor the media. Also, Keogh and O'Connor's trial was held in camera, and the judge ruled that it would be a contempt of court to report Keogh's three-word response when he was asked about his initial reaction to the memo.

Due to the reporting ban, and the closed trial, there has been some confusion surrounding the charges against Keogh and O'Connor. Their arrest was not reported until they were formally charged on 17th November 2005, more than a year after the event. The case was originally linked to another leaked memo, titled Iraq: The Medium Term, published by The Sunday Times on 23rd May 2004. That memo was relatively uncontroversial, and it contained no reference to Al-Jazeera. Subsequent media reports have linked the case only to the Al-Jazeera memo, though it was published after the men were charged.

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