The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and 14 other Bush administration officials will be compelled to testify in the espionage trial of pro-Israel lobbyists, a judge in Washington ruled yesterday.
The ruling threatens to expose how officials used calculated leaks to the American Israel public affairs committee (AIPAC) to influence ideological infighting about the Middle East within the Bush administration. It would require Ms Rice and others to testify about internal conversations as well as contacts with the pressure group.
The two Aipac officials were arrested in a FBI sting operation in 2004 after they were fed false information about a plot to kill Israeli agents in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Steve Rosen, the former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, the organization's senior Iran analyst, argue that their conversations were in line with the administration's unofficial practice of using the lobby as a diplomatic back channel.
Judge TS Ellis III granted lawyers for the two men wide latitude to question Ms Rice, the former national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser and leading official on the Middle East, Elliot Abrams and other key officials. "Defendants are entitled to show that, to them, there was simply no difference between the meetings for which they are not charged and those for which they are charged," Mr Ellis wrote.
"They believed that the meetings charged in the indictment were simply further examples of the government's use of AIPAC as a diplomatic back channel."
He held out little hope that he could be persuaded by administration efforts to block the subpoenas. "The government's refusal to comply with a subpoena in these circumstances may result in dismissal or a lesser sanction," he wrote.
The former deputy Pentagon chief, Paul Wolfowitz, will also be compelled to testify. The AIPAC officials are the first people to face charges under a 1917 espionage law that makes it illegal for civilians to receive classified information. A former FBI official was jailed for 12 years last year after pleading guilty to leaking information.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2007