IRAQ: War makers' WMD cover-up continues

Issue 

Rohan Pearce

Since the January 28 testimony of David Kay, the retired head of the US "weapons inspections" team in Iraq, before the US Senate's armed services committee, the war makers in Washington, Canberra and London have been scrambling to counter the accusations that they lied about their justification for the invasion of Iraq.

In his testimony, Kay admitted that his team had found no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) during their search of Iraq. The US and British governments have since announced they would hold new inquiries into pre-war intelligence on Iraq, and the Australian government is likely to follow suit.

However, none of the inquiries set up by the governments that made up the "coalition of the willing" will investigate what has most outraged people — the deliberate campaign of misinformation conducted by warmongering politicians in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Bush's rigged inquiry

Rather than establishing an inquiry specifically into the false claims used to justify the invasion of Iraq, US President George Bush's February 6 executive order has created an inquiry that, while appearing to investigate Washington's WMD whoppers, will most likely claim that Bush administration officials simply repeated information given to them by US intelligence agencies.

The current inquiry, conducted by the US Senate's intelligence committee, began in June and has so far only examined the role played by US intelligence agencies in making the case for the Iraq war, not the White House's role in manufacturing claims that Iraq possessed a vast WMD arsenal.

Announcing the formation of the committee, Bush stated: "It will review our intelligence on weapons programs in countries such as North Korea and Iran. It will examine our intelligence on the threats posed by Libya and Afghanistan before recent changes in those countries."

US Democrats lined up the next day to attack Bush's announcement. "To have a commission appointed exclusively by President Bush investigate his administration's intelligence failures in Iraq does not inspire confidence in its independence", House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.

"The commission has been told to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room, which is how the intelligence was used and misused by President Bush, Vice-President [Dick] Cheney and other senior administration officials", said Democrat Henry Waxman.

The commission appeared to be "an effort to scapegoat" the CIA and other intelligence agencies, said Charles Pena, the director of defence policy at the libertarian Cato Institute.

The fundamental problem with Bush's commission is that its mandate relates to investigation of "mistakes" by US intelligence agencies — there is no explicit provision made in Bush's executive order for examining the White House's pre-war campaign of lies and deception.

The White House has appointed a senior Republican, retired judge Laurence Silberman, to head the nine-person commission of inquiry. In 1990, Silberman was one of the judges who overturned the convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter. They had been convicted for their role in the Iran-contra scandal — the secret sale of arms to Iran in order to fund Nicaragua's notorious contra terror gangs in their counterrevolutionary war against the left-wing Sandinista government.

Bush has also rigged the inquiry by putting a "national security" caveat on any of its proceedings or conclusions. His executive order stated: "The secretary of defense, the attorney general, and the director of Central Intelligence shall promptly and jointly report to the president their judgment whether the security rules and procedures adopted by the commission are clearly consistent with the national security and protect against unauthorized disclosure of information required by law or executive order to be protected against such disclosure."

The deadline for the commission's report is March 31, 2005 — long after November's presidential election.

Another Blairite whitewash

On February 3, British foreign secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government was establishing a new inquiry into intelligence on Iraqi WMDs. Like the US inquiry, however, its terms of reference exclude any investigation of government duplicity.

The inquiry will investigate "the intelligence coverage available in respect of WMD programs in countries of concern and on the global trade in WMD" and "discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the government before the conflict, and between that intelligence and what has been discovered" in Iraq since the US-led invasion.

It is a sign of the shaky ground on which Blair still finds himself that this will be the fourth British inquiry related to government claims about Iraq's alleged WMDs. The first two were inquiries by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee and the foreign affairs committee, the findings of which were released in September and July respectively.

The most recent was the inquiry headed by James Hutton into the circumstances surrounding the death of civil servant David Kelly. Hutton's report, released on January 28, was initially considered a triumph for Blair, as it rejected a BBC reporter's accusation that the British Labour government had "sexed-up" intelligence on alleged Iraqi WMDs.

However, the report held little credibility among most Britons. The response to the report was summed up by Crispin Black, a former employee of Britain's defence intelligence staff and cabinet office assessments staff, in a February 12 piece for the London Guardian: "When the report came I was puzzled at first — serious people seemed to be taking it so seriously. And then everyone started to laugh."

Fifty per cent of respondents to a survey, conducted on January 30-31 by polling organisation YouGov, indicated that their opinion of Blair hadn't changed and that they still didn't trust him. Forty-six per cent indicated that they still had "little or no respect for the government" and 19% indicated that, as a result of the Hutton report, they had less respect for the government.

A poll for London's Evening Standard newspaper on January 30 found that 49% of Britons branded it a "whitewash" and 56% believed it had treated the BBC unfairly.

Australian inquiry

In Australia, the report of a parliamentary inquiry into Australian pre-war intelligence on Iraq is due to be tabled in the federal parliament on March 1.

An article by Dennis Shanahan, the political editor of Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper, published on February 12, claimed that the inquiry's findings, which have not yet been released, include a recommendation for an "independent inquiry into the Australian [intelligence] agencies' assessment of secret reports from US and British intelligence bodies".

However, according to Shanahan, "the external inquiry into Australia's intelligence assessment is not expected to include politicians. Nor is the inquiry likely to be conducted in as public a manner as the British and US inquiries."

Australian PM John Howard told ABC Radio National on February 12: "I am not ruling [an independent inquiry] in or out. Let us get the [report of the parliamentary] inquiry, have it tabled and see where we go from there." Howard had previously rejected calls for an independent inquiry. However, the decisions by Bush and Blair to hold new WMD inquiries makes it likely he will follow suit.

It's likely that the Howard government will settle for one of two scapegoats — blaming either "failures" by Australian intelligence agencies, or, more likely, blaming US and British intelligence. Howard claimed on ABC Radio National that "about 97% of the intelligence which was assessed by our intelligence agencies in relation to Iraq came from British and American raw intelligence sources".

A statement issued to the news media by Kevin Rudd, the opposition Labor Party's shadow foreign minister, on February 11, explained that the ALP's position "remains that the case for an independent commission of inquiry continues to mount — and Labor will announce its final position on the matter once the parliamentary inquiry reports".

The ALP has called on Howard's Liberal-National Coalition government to make sure that any inquiry releases its findings before the next federal election is held later this year.

The Australian Greens are calling for an independent inquiry to investigate Howard's WMD deceptions. On February 6, Greens senator Kerry Nettle explained: "Australia has participated in an invasion that has generated tens of thousands of casualties on the basis of shaky intelligence. Only an independent judicial inquiry can be trusted to reveal how this happened."

Two days earlier, Greens senator Bob Brown explained that his party wanted "an inquiry with the powers of a royal commission to subpoena papers and people — that includes anyone up to the prime minister".

"Labor voted down my move for a Senate inquiry last year", Brown explained. He described the current parliamentary inquiry as "a joke", arguing that it has allowed its findings to be "vetted by both the government and intelligence agencies".

"It is obvious to most people that we're not dealing with a case of intelligence failure", Pip Hinman, a member of the Socialist Alliance and a leading activist in Sydney's Stop the War Coalition, told Green Left Weekly. "Like Bush and Blair, Howard deceived the Australian people, and he needs to be held to account."

Hinman considers the current parliamentary inquiry "a fraud", and echoed Brown's call for an inquiry that would investigate the Coalition government's deceit. "The federal government lied to 'sell' Australians on an unpopular war. What's worse is that Howard and Co don't even admit that they were wrong to do so.

"Iraq's not liberated, it's occupied. The manoeuvring by the US occupation authorities shows that the White House has no plans to allow an Iraqi government that will challenge the occupation."

Hinman told GLW that protests were planned across Australia on March 20, as part of a global day of action to call for the immediate withdrawal of the foreign troops from Iraq.

"People can also use this opportunity to say to both Howard and [ALP leader Mark] Latham that Iraqis should be allowed to run their country, and that the foreign troops should get out."

From Green Left Weekly, February 18, 2004.
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