U.K. court to keep Bush-Blair talk secret

July 19, 2006 at 11:24 AM
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LONDON, July 19 (UPI) -- A conversation between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the war in Iraq is to be protected in a forthcoming trial.

A British judge ruled Tuesday that a document detailing the discussion -- already partially leaked to the media -- must be kept out of the public domain during an official secrets trial in which it is to be submitted as evidence.

During the April 2004 conversation, Bush purportedly expressed his desire to bomb the Arabic satellite TV station al-Jazeera, while Blair raised concerns about U.S. military tactics in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

Any discussion of the document must be heard in private, Justice Aikens ruled. He also banned the public and the media from hearing the prosecution's arguments on the grounds of national security.

A number of newspapers are planning to challenge the ruling.

David Keogh, a former Cabinet Office official, and Leo O'Connor, former researcher for a Labor parliamentarian, are due to face trial at London's Old Bailey on Oct. 9. Both have pleaded not guilty to charges under the Official Secrets Act.

The Bush-Blair meeting followed the U.S. military assault on Fallujah, in which up to 1,000 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have died. Whitehall officials, intelligence officials and British military commanders were outraged by the scale of the attack, while U.S. generals were angered by images of the battle broadcast on al-Jazeera.

A further document, leaked in May 2004, contained British criticism of "heavy-handed U.S. military tactics in Fallujah and Najaf" which were losing the coalition "much public support inside Iraq."

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