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'Jazeera bomb' leak trial date set

By CNN's Jonathan Wald

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Great Britain
United States
White House
George W. Bush

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Two men will stand trial later this month in London facing charges of leaking a secret memo which, according to a British newspaper, indicates U.S. President George W. Bush considered bombing Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar.

In a five-minute hearing at Bow Street Magistrates Court, a judge ordered David Keogh, 49, and Leo O'Connor, 42, to appear on January 24 at the Old Bailey, Britain's main criminal court.

The Daily Mirror reported that during an April 2004 meeting at the White House, Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded Bush not to attack the satellite channel.

Keogh, who was working as a civil servant in the British Cabinet Office, is accused of sending a confidential government file -- originating in Blair's office -- to O'Connor, who worked as a researcher for Tony Clarke, a member of Parliament, Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said. The MP then handed the document back to Blair's office.

The charges allege both men "made a damaging disclosure of a document relating to international relations."

Former Defense Minister Peter Kilfoyle told CNN he discussed the contents of the memo with Tony Clarke and in October 2004 passed the information to a British ex-patriot living in San Diego in the hope of influencing the U.S. presidential election in favor of the Democrats.

"It seemed as though it would have been useful to the Democrats leading up to the election -- it would have illustrated what the president was all about, that he said he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera," Kilfoyle said.

"I cannot understand what Leo O'Connor did that was wrong," Kilfoyle added. "Presumably Tony Clarke and I are guilty of passing that information on as well, so why haven't we been charged?"

According to Kilfoyle, the British ex-pat was an active supporter of the Democratic Party but chose not to publish the information.

During Tuesday's hearing Keogh was additionally charged with "making a damaging disclosure of a document dated April 16, 2004, whilst in the position of civil servant" -- a charge that relates to military affairs.

In November, O'Connor indicated in court he intends to plead not guilty. Keogh has not said how he will plead.

"There is enough evidence to take the case forward for trial," Keogh's lawyer, Stuart Jeffery said. "But I still have further investigations to make."

O'Connor's lawyer, Neil Clark, said he was finally shown the document at the heart of the case on Tuesday morning but he, too, would be breaking the law if he disclosed its contents.

"It is what I expected having read the reports in the media," Clark said. "I didn't think there was anything in the document that would embarrass the British government. I will be seeking the disclosure of the document in court."

He added it was four pages long and marked "secret."

Asked how he was coping with the stress of the case against him, Keogh told reporters, "I am very depressed."

Prosecution threat

After the Daily Mirror published its report, a White House official told CNN: "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response." A Pentagon official called the report "absolutely absurd."

In November, Blair was asked by a British lawmaker in a written question "what information he received on action that the United States administration proposed to take against the Al-Jazeera television channel." Responding in writing, Blair gave the one-word answer "none."

Britain's attorney general has warned other media that they can be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act if they reveal further details of the memo.

The Daily Mirror reported that Bush was angered by Al-Jazeera's coverage of the April 2004 uprising in the western Iraqi city of Falluja, where U.S. Marines were dispatched to restore order after four American security guards had been killed and mutilated by insurgents.

Executives at Al-Jazeera have called upon the British and American governments to confirm or deny the allegations about their headquarters being a possible target.

The Arabic network said if the report was borne out, it "would cast serious doubts" on U.S. statements that previous strikes on Al-Jazeera facilities were accidental.

In 2001, Al-Jazeera's Kabul office was hit by U.S. bombs and in 2003, Al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed when a U.S. missile hit his office in Baghdad.

Mark Stevens, a lawyer for Al-Jazeera who came to Tuesday's hearing as an observer, said: "if President Bush seriously considered bombing Al-Jazeera's headquarters then it would be a war crime. If he made that kind of remark frivolously then he would effectively be treating a war crime as a joke."

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