The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.
Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? All this, and more, has been investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.
Australia’s involvement in Iraq (continued)
The Iraq Inquiry Report showed quite clearly that two friends may differ on certain points and yet maintain a solid relationship. The United Kingdom and the United States disagreed at several moments of recent history: Suez, Vietnam, the Malvinas/Falklands, Grenada, Bosnia, the Arab/Israeli crisis, and the long ‘troubles’ of the six Irish counties occupied by the United Kingdom, without any crack in their partnership.
Of course, Howard twice referred to Australian ‘national interest’. Would that describe the Australian Wheat Board scandal of violating the United Nations embargo on Saddam Hussein by joining him in that kind of corruption the consequences of which have not yet been resolved?
Not all Australians are ignorant, or indifferent.
A few days before Howard’s lecture, a vapid former Foreign Affairs Minister Downer, explained “Why the Iraq war was right.” He spoke of Saddam Hussein as “The world’s most brutal dictator … who had run a corrupt, kleptocratic, sectarian, self indulgent regime in Baghdad.” True, of course, but was not Saddam Hussein good enough to run the racket associated with AWB ? And was not Downer overseeing that corrupt practice ?
Howard’s interview with Tony Jones of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation took place on 7 July 2016 in the wake of the Iraq Inquiry Report.
Questioned over the statement in the Report that the United Kingdom “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted” and keeping in mind that that statement “does have big implications … for [Howard] who advised both Blair and Bush, and for Australia”, Howard replied: “What Chilcot says was that the decision to go into Iraq was based on flawed intelligence. Well, that’s a conclusion based on facts that became available after the decision was taken.” [Emphasis added].
When Howard was advising Blair had there been no reference to the so-called Downing Street Memo of 23 July 2002 – seven months and a half before the invasion – which memorandum gathered the opinion of Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, who conveyed the unease with which the intelligence community was watching its qualified judgments on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction presented as hard facts in various dossiers ? Those ‘hard facts’ were collected in the paper: Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, a document published by the British government on 24 September 2002. At the meeting of 23 July 2002 Dearlove told the Blair ministers that in the United States “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Was Howard relying on that propaganda to inform himself on the facts ? And how could he be credible now?
As a matter of fact, the decision to go to war had been made almost one year before July 2002, and agreed to by Bush and Blair at their meeting in Texas in April 2002. Now Howard knew absolutely nothing about it.
How was it that Howard had counselled Bush that a resolution authorising military action was essential to legitimise the invasion, as well as to win public support, and yet all that became unimportant in March 2003? And why were not the threatened veto by French and Russians, as well as the negative opinion of the Germans, sufficient to dissuade Howard, Blair and Bush?
Here is Tony Jones: “28th January, 2003, you and Tony Blair agreed, according to the Report, that you should pencil in a deadline beyond which, even without a second resolution, they should take a decision to go to war. Do you recall saying that ?”
Tony Jones: “It’s in the report.”
John Howard: “Yeah, look, I’m not gonna argue over that. Look, I’m not arguing that by January and February Tony Blair and George Bush and myself and others were very pessimistic about getting another Security Council resolution explicitly authorising military action, although it had been my belief for a long time and had been Bush’s belief and in the final result it was also the belief of Lord Goldsmith, the British Attorney-General, that a case existed under the existing resolutions to take military operations. But, we’re talking …” [Emphasis added].
First: Bush did not care about a second resolution. He had wanted war since 2001. And that, too, is in the Report. And counsellor and enabler Howard knew about it.
Second: For the better part of two years Lord Goldsmith, QC had held and documented the view that the war would have been illegal, and it was only after his return from Washington and having spoke with American legal officers that he changed his mind and thus wrote to the House of Commons.
Tony Jones: “So let me go back to the report. On 13th February, 2003, you have a breakfast meeting with Tony Blair. Did you tell him that Blix was optimistic?”
John Howard: “I would have reported what Blix told me and I would have certainly reported that, but I would have also had my views about bursts of optimism from Hans Blix in the past. And, I mean, Hans Blix was a – he was a genuine employer and servant of the UN and a weapons – understand all of that. But I …”
Tony Jones: “Who proved to be correct, incidentally, in his view that there were no weapons.”
John Howard: “Well, there were lot of people in the intelligence agencies of Britain and America and Australia who didn’t agree with that and if you ask me do I agree with – take the word of the intelligence agencies rather than Hans Blix, I’ll take the view of the intelligence agencies.”
And that is so, no matter how ‘doctored’ their information is or how un-intelligent those agencies may be! In the case of Australian agencies, the Defence Intelligence Organisation and the Office of National Assessments, an examination of their findings by Philip James Flood AO, a distinguished former Australian diplomat and a former senior public servant, as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, described the evidence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as ‘thin, ambiguous, and incomplete’ in his Report of the inquiry into Australian intelligence agencies (Canberra, 20 July 2004).
The Defence Intelligence Organisation and the Office of National Assessments had concluded that:
- the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was less than it had been a decade earlier, in 1991;
- under sanctions which prevailed at the time, Iraq’s military capability remained limited and the country’s infrastructure was still in decline;
- the nuclear programme was unlikely to be far advanced. Iraq was unlikely to have obtained fissile material;
- Iraq had no ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States;
- there was no known chemical weapons production;
- there was no specific evidence of resumed biological weapons production;
- there was no known biological weapons testing or evaluation since 1991;
- there was no known Iraq offensive weapons research since 1991;
- Iraq does not have nuclear weapons;
- there was no evidence that chemical weapon warheads for missiles had been developed; and
- no intelligence had accurately pointed to the location of weapons of mass destruction.
Then something extraordinary happened during the interview.
Tony Jones prefaced: “We’re now trying to put ourselves in your shoes, in other words, to find out what really happened.” and then asked: “Did you at the breakfast meeting [of 13 February 2003] also make the case that a second resolution was not needed for legal reasons? You’ve just mentioned that.”
John Howard: “Well the legal advice we had was that there were sufficient [sic] and that was the legal advice [which, of course, was dated 12 March 2003] that we tabled in Parliament [on 18 March 2003].”
Tony Jones: “And you told this to Tony Blair, but as it turns out, you were way ahead of him at the time because he didn’t know or think that at the time.”
John Howard: “Well, I don’t know what he thought and I’m not claiming I was way ahead or way behind him. I’m just … I’m telling you that we got legal advice, which I tabled in the Parliament, saying that sufficient authority existed under previous resolutions to take the action that we did.”
Tony Jones: “Tony Blair, at that breakfast meeting, was surprised to hear that and said, ‘No, they need the second resolution.’ ”
Here there is a serious problem of times. The serious problem is: how could a legal ‘advice’ dated 12 March have been submitted to Blair on 13 February 2003?
Before coming to the end of the interview, John Winston Howard gave himself an opportunity to emulate the idol from whom he was named. He interrupted Jones and said: “and then I’m talking from my own experience and it’s directly relevant to your question and because it was an operation conducted in conjunction with the United States. The United States is a hugely important ally for Australia and we should never lightly dismiss the value of that alliance. That doesn’t mean to say you give a blank cheque or you give a tick to everything the Americans want to do. You treat each operation on its merits and that’s what I have done.”
It was for Lord Alexander of Weedon, Q.C. to remind the audience of his lecture on 14 October 2003. He said that it would be advisable for any [British] prime minister to follow “the long-standing Atlanticist view succinctly expressed by Sir Winston Churchill in the last week of his premiership: ‘We must never get out of step with the Americans – never!’ ”
Lord Alexander also thought, and said quite clearly, that Lord Goldsmith, QC’s turn-around of 17 March 2003 – one of the grounds of Howard decision to go to war – was “risible”, and so was the “quaint concept of the ‘revival’ of Resolution 678”.
Ascertaining the truth about Australia’s intervention in Iraq cannot be left to interested, self-justifying tricksters and their associates.
Correctly Andrew Wilkie MP said: “Until we have an effective inquiry into the invasion of Iraq … then people like John Howard and Alexander Downer and others won’t be properly scrutinised and held to account”. Along with that, the inquiry should examine to whom the so-called war powers belong: a cabal of ministers, the Cabinet, Parliament?
The inquiry could be entrusted to Parliament, or a joint committee thereof; it could be assigned to a Commission – the so-called Royal Commission with commissioners appointed by Parliament to guarantee independence, to protect submissions and evidence presented and guarantee the immunity of witnesses. The Commission should have the amplest powers to call for witnesses and experts, who would communicate by solemn declaration, or oath if preferred, to call for documents by way of summons and request for the production of those documents.
The last words should be left, as admonition, to a very much missed historian departed years ago. They go like this: if one does not know history, it is just like being born yesterday. And if one is like being born yesterday, then any leader can say anything – in the case of Iraq – with impunity.
– Conclusion –
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.
➡️ Part 40