Official Secrets Act Convictions

From Richard Norton Taylor in the Guardian:

An Old Bailey judge has imposed unprecedented gagging orders preventing the British media from reporting information which is published today in newspapers and websites around the world.

The orders were imposed by Mr Justice Aikens during discussions in the court which Lewis Carroll would have delighted in hearing. At times, we were truly living in Wonderland. The discussions took place after David Keogh, a Whitehall communications officer, and Leo O’Connor, researcher to a former Labour MP, were found guilty of breaching the Official Secrets Act and jailed.

Their crime was to disclose the contents of an official minute of a meeting between Tony Blair and George Bush in the White House on April 16 2004. Keogh disclosed the document to O’Connor who passed it on to Tony Clarke, his boss who was MP for Northampton South at the time.

We cannot report allegations about what the document contains even though they have been reported time and time again – “recycled” was the word the judges preferred – by the media, including British newspapers.

That’s not strictly true. The judge said we can repeat those allegations but only if they appear on a different page of a newspaper than any reference to the trial or the document which was at the centre of it. We can also report, since it was said in open court, that the Guardian’s counsel, Anthony Hudson, argued that it would be inappropriate to restrain publication of the allegation already in the public domain claiming that President Bush suggested that the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera should be bombed.

Whenever the document and its contents were discussed, the media and the public were barred from the court. The trial then continued behind closed doors.

The judge imposed his contempt of court – gagging – orders after the prosecution stressed the importance the attorney general (AG), Lord Goldsmith, was personally attaching to the case. Official Secrets Act prosecutions always require the consent of the AG.

He, and the government as a whole, seemed particularly concerned about the need to protect Bush from embarrassment, (the prosecution conceded that no “actual damage” had been caused by the leak) and to show the White House that Whitehall is determined to try and keep secrets even though Washington cannot.

But the judge did more. Not only did he prevent the media from repeating allegations already well and truly in the public domain; he imposed a gagging order on a remark made by Keogh during his evidence in open court when he was asked why the contents of the document preyed on his mind so much.

This is an unprecedented attempt to use the contempt of court act to impose secrecy on something said in the open.

The Guardian, Time, BBC, and Index on Censorship, will appeal against these orders next week.

This savage sentencing of good men to prison – for being good men – underlines just how illiberal the Blair/Brown Britain is. The farcical attempts by the court to continue to hush up the fact that Bush suggested bombing Al Jazeera, simply underline this.

The judge, Mr Justice Aikens, is clearly a complete wanker. Let me say that again just in case anybody misses this opportunity to jail me. Mr Justice Aikens is a complete wanker. In sentencing, he said that by leaking the document, Keogh had put British lives at risk. The argument apparently being that, if Iraqis knew just how violent and unprincipled George Bush is, they might fight still harder.

One worrying aspect of this case is that the jury convicted. There has been a historic reluctance of juries to convict in OSA cases, because they tend to sympathise with the defendants and not with the draconian legislation. This conviction might encourage the government to make more OSA prosecutions. It did not dare prosecute me, even though I very openly released many classified documents related to our policy of using intelligence from torture. There remains, of course, the stinking fact that “Top Secret” intelligence is regularly leaked by the ministers and special advisers in the Home Office to the media whenever they wish to start a new terror scare.

Finally, what a terrible shame that the would-be leakers decided to try to use the newspapers rather than the Net. Our pusillanimous newspapers are still controllable by the courts. Despite Norton Taylor’s huffing and puffing, the Guardian will obey Justice Aikens (did I mention he is a wanker) ? The Net, however, is unstoppable. The documents we leaked are on hundreds of sites all over the World.