By Dr George Venturini
5. Our mate: Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti
From the mid-1990s to around 2006 the Australian Government, some statutory authorities and public service were implicated in attempts to subvert the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme. Australia’s major involvement revolved around a former statutory body – The Australian Wheat Board and eventually the offspring A.W.B. Ltd. Here are the ever-changing libretto and some of the major players in the A.W.B. scandal.
The performers and some extras:
John Howard: Australian Prime Minister since March 1996, Leader of the Australian Liberal Party which governed federally in coalition with the National Party until 2007. (Counter – tenor).
Alexander Downer: Australian Foreign Minister who, jointly with Mark Vaille, administered the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, D.F.A.T. (Mezzo soprano).
Mark Vaile: Minister for Trade and Investment who, jointly with Alexander Downer, administered the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (Basso – shallow).
Others in the cast (in alphabetical order, but not of appearance or importance).
Robert Bowker: Dr. Bowker is a specialist on Middle East and Islamic issues. In Canberra, Dr. Bowker has been the Director of the Middle East Section of DFAT three times, most recently in 1999-2000. From 2001-2003 he was seconded from DFAT to the Directing Staff of the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Australian Defence College, Canberra. He served as Ambassador to Egypt. He also denied removing a crucial A.W.B. letter on Jordanian trucking firms from the department’s files.
Jane Drake-Brockman: Ms. Drake-Brockman was a senior DFAT head. She denied removing a crucial A.W.B. letter on Jordanian trucking firms from the department’s files and lying about it. The faxed letter, signed by an A.W.B. executive, Charles Stott, disappeared despite an official search for it. The fax was sent to the department on 30 October 2000, three days before Ms. Drake-Brockman signed a reply granting A.W.B. permission to enter into “a commercial arrangement” with a Jordanian trucking firm.
Mark Emons: Mr. Emons, a former A.W.B. executive who told the Cole Inquiry that illicit payments had been going to Iraq to facilitate Australian wheat sales for years, even back to when it was still a statutory Australian Government authority in 1999.
Trevor Flugge: Mr. Flugge, a former chairman of the Australian Wheat Board then A.W.B. Ltd. following the privatisation of the government corporation. Flugge was paid almost a million dollars for his work as a consultant marketing grain in Iraq. He was a director of a number of companies, including Woolmark and Wesfarmers. Several A.W.B. executives, including senior managers Mark Emons, Nigel Officer and Tim Snowball, gave evidence to the Inquiry that Flugge, who was voted out as chairman in 2002, knew that irregular payments were being made to Iraq and allowed it to happen because he did not want to lose valuable contracts to competitors.
Dominic Hogan: Former sales executive for A.W.B., Dominic Hogan gave detailed evidence about exorbitant fees being paid to secure wheat deals, including a four million American dollars payment to a Pakistani agent for a one million tonne shipment of wheat.
Andrew Lindberg: From 2000 until February 2006 he held the positions of managing director and board member of A.W.B. Ltd. He resigned from these positions in the wake of his appearance at the Cole Inquiry.
Michael Long: Former A.W.B. executive who told the Inquiry that he had discovered, when he was in Baghdad for the Howard Government immediately after the war in June 2003, that the A.W.B. had been involved in ‘kickbacks’ to Iraq.
Mohammed Medi-Saleh: Iraqi trade minister under Saddam Hussein. Medi-Saleh claimed seven years of sanctions had cost the Iraqi Government more than US$100bn from oil sales and had led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Alistair Nicholas: Austrade commissioner in Washington during 2000.
Brendan Stewart: Mr. Stewart was elected by the directors as chairman on 14 March 2002 and re-elected chairman on 13 March 2003. He was also a non-executive director of A.W.B. (International) Ltd. Stewart operated a 3,200-hectare property which produces grain, cotton and cattle at Chinchilla, Queensland. He is a former President of Queensland Graingrowers Association and Grains Council of Australia and was Chair of the Joint Ministerial Working Group on the Australian Wheat Board Restructure and Vice President of National Farmers Federation.
Michael Thawley: Former Australian ambassador to the United States, he lobbied Congress to drop an investigation into allegations that Australia’s wheat exporter paid ‘kickbacks’ to Saddam Hussein’s régime.
The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documented how Prime Minister 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 President George W. 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. And the evidence? And, should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes?
The ‘official’ view is this: in mid-April 2003 the United States invited the United Kingdom and Australia to participate in the setting up of an Iraq Survey Group.
The Iraq Survey Group was to be a fact-finding mission, mainly interested in weapons, ostensibly sent by the multinational force, but in fact directly responsible to Donald Rumsfeld, then United States Secretary of Defense. The Group was to find the weapons of mass destruction alleged to be possessed by Iraq and which had been the main apparent reason for the invasion, but also to seek for evidence of ‘war crimes’ and ‘terrorism’. The Group consisted of a 1,400-member international team organised by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency to hunt for the alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological agents, and any supporting research programmes and infrastructure which could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The Group’s final report, commonly referred to as the Duelfer Report (Charles A. Duelfer is Chairman of Omnis, Inc., a consulting firm in aerospace, defence, intelligence, training, and finance, and the author of Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq), acknowledged that only small stockpiles of chemical and biological agents which might have been used for the weapons were found, the numbers being inadequate to pose a militarily significant threat. (paras. 91-95, at 443-444).
And now a little exercise for the reader: please, open The Iraq Inquiry and go to the Report and choose Evidence, search the website under Australia, click and the first two entries will be: http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/231498/2003-03-18-telegram-34-canberra-to-fco-london-iraq-australia-commits.pdf#search=australia and http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/235986/2003-01-18-minute-miller-to-ps-secretary-of-state-dfid-uk-us-australia-talks-in-washington-22-january.pdf.
The latter document, dated 18 January 2003 is interesting: it points to a meeting to be had in Washington amongst U.K.-U.S.-Australia on 22 January 2003, following up to the first of U.K.-U.S. talks on the subject held on November 2002. Introduced by a high functionary of the Department of International Development, with copy to Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jack Straw, it attaches a paper which deals with a number of issues, and was produced by the Middle East Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 15 January 2003.
They are to be dealt with as at the ‘day-after’, meaning by that “that military action will have taken place to enforce Iraq’s compliance with its U.N. Security Council’s obligations and that Saddam Hussein’s regime will have been removed from power (see U.K. paper on ‘Scenarios for the future of Iraq post Saddam’).”
The points touched by the four-page paper are:
1) security “to facilitate humanitarian operations and to provide the foundation for a normal society to flourish and self-sufficient development to begin.” That required: dismantling the secret security agencies; providing “legitimate and transparent law and order and the necessary civil structures”; preventing “internecine violence.”
2) relief and reconstruction, keeping in mind that “over 60 per cent of Iraqipopulation depend for their food on Oil-For-Food.” [Emphasis added] And the main humanitarian issues were: 1) How will the basic needs of the Iraqi people – food, medicine, shelter, power, emergency reconstruction and protection/personal security – be met?; 2) Who will pay for humanitarian operations? What is the future of Oil-For-Food?; 3) The danger that Saddam Hussein will use chemical and biological weapons to create a diversionary, humanitarian catastrophe; 4) There will be a need to move quickly from relief towards reconstruction and to generate local Iraqi economic activity.
3) political aspects. “We want to replace Saddam Hussein with something much better. How big should our level of ambition be in promoting political reform? To what extent should we commit ourselves publicly to this?”
The paper went on to present issues such as Kurdish and Shia aspirations, the matter of international legitimacy and the problems of an interim administration under U.N. auspices. Some of these issues had already been discussed in the U.K. paper: ‘Interim administration for Iraq: what, who and how’ of October 2002. For instance: “to what extent should we root out Ba’ath party elements?” a question already considered in another U.K. paper: “Interim administration in Iraq” of 12 December 2002. The interim administration would have “to set in hand a process to allow new political structures to emerge.”
4) economics matters. “One of the keys to [economic reconstruction and reform] will be ensuring that Iraq’s oil revenues are maintained consistent with the effect on the global oil market, particularly with reference to contracts signed by Saddam Hussein with foreign companies. “The UK preference would be to suspend/lift sanctions shortly after the installation of the interim administration, while maintaining a broad and rigorous arms embargo on Iraq.” And would promoting economic reform from a centrally controlled, military-industrial economy lead to an open, free market one – to the I.M.F. and World Bank?
5) One final concern was for the environment in case Saddam Hussein “sabotage the oil industry, rather than let it fall into the enemies’ hands. Are we prepared for putting out oil fires, as in Kuwait? [Saddam Hussein] may deliberately spill oil into the great rivers of Iraq or into the Gulf. Do we have an environmental clean-up plan?”
The aggression on Iraq, premeditated as early 2002 – at least, was intended to transform the country into a client state, but with different masters – quite likely Vice President Cheney’s oilmen.
Some observations seem in order here. They are based on the ‘official’ version of events.
1) Commander-in-Chief Bush “telephoned Prime Minister Howard shortly after 0.600 local time on 18 March” and made “the formal request for Australia to participate in any military intervention in Iraq.”
2) The preceding document is dated 18/03/2003 at 06:00 and was sent out to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to posts in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, India, Canada, Japan, UKMILREP CENTCOM and Wellington.
3) After President’s Bush call, “Howard immediately called a further meeting of full Cabinet,
4) at the end of which he announced in a live television broadcast that a decision had been taken to commit Australia troops to any US-led coalition to disarm Iraq.”
Decision? By whom? When? Where? Nothing was said about that. Her Majesty’s Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia had spoken and who would dare in or out of Parliament to ask questions?
The decision – in the words of Howard – was “legal [and] it was directed towards the protection of Australian national interest.” It is a case of ‘Prime Minister Howard said so’. Well educated lawyers, as against pettifoggers, would call this a case of ipsedixit, an assertion without proof, or a dogmatic expression of opinion.
5) Only at 2.03 p.m. Howard began his announcement to Parliament of “the Government’s decision to commit Australian Defence Force elements in the region to the international coalition of military forces prepared to enforce Iraq’s compliance with its international obligations under successive resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, with a view to restoring international peace and security in the Middle East region.” (Commonwealth of Australia, Hansard, House of Representatives, p. 12505, 18 March 2003).
6) The preceding document is written (see point 2) as if it were a record of what happened during the afternoon of 18 Mach and the following day.
The time sequence is really as follows: call from President Bush, telecast to the people, information to Parliament.
As for debate, what followed was a mockery, truly worthy of the pantomime which passes for ‘parliamentary democracy’ in a Governor-Generalate imitation of the ramshackle Westminster System.
Prime Minister Howard said in the document, maintained in Parliament and ever since, as in the 9 April 2013 speech to the Lowy Institute of Sydney, that “the Iraq issue was one of morality and not just of legality.”
Legality may be seriously affected by what was revealed in communication by Mr. James O’Neill, a distinguished Queensland Barrister at law and geopolitical analyst, in: ‘New Revelations About Australia and the Iraq War’.
Mr. O’Neill writes:
“A newly declassified document, originally compiled by Dr. Albert Palazzo of the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre, has been publicized on the ABC’s news website. Professor Clinton Fernandes of the University of New South Wales obtained the 156-page report.
There are two key paragraphs in the ABC report. It quotes Professor Fernandes as saying that the Palazzo Report discloses that the Howard government had decided in early 2002 that Australian Defence Force personnel would be dispatched to the United States Central Command headquarters in Florida to begin planning the Iraq War.
Fernandes goes on to say that the Howard government has already decided, in early 2002, to join the US operation in Iraq. This decision was kept from Parliament, the ADF at large, and the Australian public. [Emphasis added]
The ABC article goes on to detail how ill-prepared the Australian forces were when they did go to Iraq in March 2003. Much is made of the lack of fresh clothing and the poorly thought out vaccination program! This emphasis is completely misconceived.”
O’Neill proceeds to recap “the relevant sequence of events, as they demonstrate what Phillipe Sand called a grand and disastrous deceit. (Phillipe Sand, ‘A Grand and Disastrous Deceit’. London Review of Books Vol 38 Number 14, 28 July 2016 pp. 9-16).
John Howard, the then prime minister, told Parliament on the 4th of March 2003 (the eve of Colin Powell’s infamous address to the United Nations Security Council) that the government would not make a decision “unless and until it is satisfied that all achievable options for a peaceful resolution have been explored.”
Howard went on to make the unequivocal statement that “the Australian government knows Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and that Iraq wants to develop nuclear weapons.” He even repeated the discredited claim that “uranium has been sought from Africa (sic) that has no suitable application in Iraq.” [Emphasis added] This is an echo of George Bush’s similar claim in the latter’s State of the Union address in January 2003.
On 18 March 2003 Howard introduced a resolution into the House seeking authorisation for Australian military action in Iraq. The resolution claimed that United Nations Security Council resolutions 678, 687 and 1441 provided “clear authority for the use of force against Iraq.”
Howard also claimed that the legal opinion he had obtained supported military action against Iraq.
O’Neill notes that: “Howard to his credit did table the legal opinion in parliament, which is in contrast to the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments that have refused to release the legal advice they received in respect of Australia’s involvement in the Syrian war. They have even lied about when that advice was received, as I have pointed out elsewhere.
The legal posturing was, we now know incontrovertibly, mere window dressing. The Dutch inquiry into their involvement in the Iraq war, and the Chilcott inquiry in the United Kingdom both concluded, along with the vast majority of international lawyers, that the Allied attack upon Iraq was without a shred of legal justification.”
The legal opinion put before the Australian Parliament by Prime Minister Howard was, in the words of Lord Alexander (Robert Scott Alexander, Baron Alexander of Weedon, QC, FRSA was a British barrister, banker and Conservative politician.), ‘risible’. (Lord Alexander, ‘Iraq: Pax Americana and the Law’, Justice, May 2014).
“We also now know a number of other things we were not told in February/ March 2003.” O’Neill continues. “These include the fact that the invasion of Iraq was an agenda item on the first Bush Cabinet meeting in 2001.
We also know that Vice President Cheney’s Task Force had, in early 2002, drawn up a map dividing Iraq’s lucrative oil fields among its corporate supporters.
The so-called Downing Street memorandum compiled by Sir Richard Dearlove, Head of the U.K.’s MI6, and dated 23rd of July 2002, was disclosed in the course of the Chilcott enquiry. That memorandum stated, “military action was inevitable,” terrorism and weapons of mass destruction would be the public justification, and that the “intelligence was being fixed around at the policy.”
O’Neill concludes: “The disclosure in the Palazzo Report that the Howard government had decided in early 2002 to join the United States in its illegal war in Iraq is not a revelation to those who have followed this saga from the outset. That the ABC should note the deceit but then focus on the lack of a change of clothes and inadequate vaccinations says volumes about the lack of pressure for holding those accountable for what is, and continues to be, an appalling war crime.
Successive Australian governments since 2003 have a refused to hold a proper enquiry. The reasons are now even more obvious. The ongoing disaster in the Middle East is a direct consequence of our involvement in a war based on lies and illegality from the outset.” (J. O’Neill, ‘New Revelations About Australia and the Iraq war’, 30 November 2018, johnmenadue.com).
John Winston Howard deceived Australia and exposed himself to the accusation of being a war criminal. Not that it matters to him.
Continued Saturday – Our mate: Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti (part 2)
Previous instalment – The spying on Timor-Leste case … et cetera (part 9)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.email@example.com.
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