"Our goal . . . is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way."

Dig up an old lie from one of George Bush's forgotten speeches and the stench is asphyxiating, as though it's coming from the rotting corpse of democracy itself. The words quoted above are from the president's inaugural address in January - the odor intensified by recent news that the president allegedly wanted to bomb the headquarters of al-Jazeera, the Arab-language TV station with 50 million viewers, during our first bloody assault on Fallujah a year and a half ago.

If you aren't familiar with this outrageous little glimpse inside the war effort (and if you expose yourself only to mainstream American media, you probably aren't), here's a quick summation of the controversy, which is currently wreaking havoc on freedom of the press in Great Britain:

In April 2004, the president told Prime Minister Tony Blair he was concerned about the reporting that al-Jazeera, known for its graphic, uncensored footage of the Iraq war, was doing from the city then being leveled.

The station was "providing images of what the reality of war is," Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. "They were showing the piles of bodies in the streets. They were showing the blown-off limbs. They were showing that there was a domestic, not foreign, insurgency that was resisting the U.S. forces as they attempted to take the city."

Furthermore, as we have recently learned, our troops were using white phosphorus, a chemical weapon that melts the skin (and possibly the napalm-like Mark-77, as well) on human targets - a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. So honest reporting was intolerable to the president whose professed highest aspiration was "to help others find their own voice," and he told Blair he wanted to bomb the station's headquarters in Qatar.

Uhh, George . . .

Blair, ever the straight man in this duo, reminded Bush that Qatar is a U.S. ally and was able to dissuade the president from that particular act of blatantly illegal, stupid, vengeful bellicosity.

The account of the meeting is contained in a five-page memo, the contents of which were ultimately leaked to the British publication the Mirror. Last week the paper ran a story headlined "Bush Plot To Bomb His Ally."

The day the article ran, the Mirror was contacted by Britain's attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, who invoked Britain's Official Secrets Act, threatening a High Court injunction unless the newspaper agreed not to publish further details. In addition, the two government officials responsible for the leak face criminal charges for violating the Act and appeared in court on Nov. 29.

Phew! I can smell the burning newsprint from here. Great Britain, which has no equivalent of the First Amendment, is displaying to the world why it needs one, though the government's suppression of the memo is doing far more to publicize it than mere publication was likely to do. Global interest in Bush's comment has metastasized.

Scahill said: "Nothing puts the lie to the Bush administration's absurd claim that it invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Middle East more than its war against al-Jazeera. Perhaps no institution in that region has done more to promote free thinking, a free flow of ideas and dialogue, than al-Jazeera."

The White House has called the controversy "outlandish," but guess what? While we may have spared al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, we've bombed the station's bureau offices in Kabul, Basra and Baghdad. Oh, accidentally, of course. But in the Baghdad strike, on April 8, 2003, correspondent Tariq Ayoub lost his life. Later the same day, a U.S. tank shelled the Hotel Palestine, killing two more journalists.

And the latest controversy comes amid news that the U.S. military has launched an "information offensive" inside Iraq. Turns out we have been paying Iraqi editors to publish propaganda written by U.S. troops extolling the occupation.

The fact of the matter is, the cynically conceived "war on terror" is turning us into a rogue nation. We maintain a torture gulag, we bomb and gas civilians, we manage the information flow with a heavy hand and kill inconvenient journalists - just the sort of thing we accuse Saddam Hussein of doing.

Even conservatives are getting it. "We now have allegations of such severity, against the U.S. president and his motives, that we need to clear them up," Boris Johnson, a prominent conservative British MP who supported the war, wrote in his publication, the Spectator. And he vowed he would publish the suppressed memo and risk a jail sentence if someone passed it to him.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," he wrote. "If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for."

Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at or visit his Web site at © 2005 Tribune Media Services, Inc.