Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bombing Al Jazeera: Serious, Not Humorous?

Veteran British journalist-gadfly Christopher Hitchens is a tough man to categorize because he has that rarest of journalistic attributes: When confronted with those sometimes messy things known as facts, he's willing to change his mind.

I know this first hand because Hitchens once did so – with grace and equanimity, I might add -- in response to a question I had posed about an apparent conflict in his view of the end of the first Iraqi war.

Hitchens is more or less supportive of the (second and current) war in Iraq while acknowledging some of its unintended consequences and shortcomings. He also is more or less supportive of President Bush, while acknowledging some the unintended consequence of his tenure and his own shortcomings.

So you have to sit up and take notice when a man of Hitchens' stature writes in Slate that he gives credence to a wild story promoted by Bush bashers and debunked by Bush loyalists: That the president considered bombing the headquarters of the Arabic-language news network Al Jazerra in Doha, Qatar.

Bush is said to have revealed that frighteningly bizarre idea during an April 16, 2004 meeting at the White House with British PM Tony Blair. Bush told Blair that he was upset because Al Jazeera was broadcasting embarrassing footage of bloody house-to-house fighting between U.S. Marines and insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah at a time when the White House was trying to project the image of a U.S. in control in that occupied land.

Hitchens comes to the conclusion that Bush wasn’t joking, as Blair and others have suggested, through his typically laborious sifting of available information and adroit reading between the lines. The story he tells, including efforts in the U.S. and U.K. to cover up what was said at the Bush-Blair meeting, is genuinely scary.

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