Thursday, June 5, 2008

Time For A Royal Commission On Iraq

We live in interesting times, and it's been an interesting week since we learned (via Reuters) that Australian "combat troops" had started leaving Iraq. In an interview, former PM John Howard claimed that the decision to go to war had been "very, very, very hard" and it was "very much my decision":
"It was obvious to me through 2002 that this decision would have to come."
The next day, Kevin Rudd accused John Howard of taking Australia to war based on a lie:
In a terse statement to Parliament, the Prime Minister said the Howard government had embarked on the mission using abused intelligence and "without a full and proper assessment" of the consequences.

Supporting the war without approval of the United Nations had set a dangerous precedent and undermined the international system, Mr Rudd said.
Rudd committed his Government to releasing a national security statement "so war could not be waged in such a manner again".
"Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence...

"Our Government is committed to ensuring that our national security arrangements are focused, co-ordinated and effective, and that the actions of government are accountable."
However, he did not pledge to hold any members of the former Howard government accountable, despite rude interruptions from Alexander Downer on the backbench:
"Can't you rise above this? You're supposed to be the Prime Minister of Australia..."
On Monday afternoon, the ICC Action group in Melbourne (a "loose alliance of peace activists, lawyers, academics and politicians") sent a legal brief to the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging former prime minister John Howard committed a war crime by sending troops to Iraq. The move was supported by Democrats Senator Lyn Allison and the NSW division of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War. The story received little media attention.

Overnight, the White House responded to Mr Rudd's comments through spokesperson Dana Perino:
"No-one else in the world, no other government, had different information and so we acted based on what was the threat that was presented to us. When the intelligence community presents you with their concerns, you'd better take them seriously... Intelligence is not a perfect science, but they certainly do their best," added Perino, who said she had not seen Rudd's comments and was therefore "not going to speak directly back to the prime minister."
George W. Bush put his own spin on events:
“Troops are coming out because we are successful and so I would view the Australian decision as return on success. Returning home on success.”
On Thursday, former PM Malcolm Fraser urged the press to hold world leaders accountable for the illegal invasion of Iraq:
"I don't think journalism has pursued what happened there, how the war was begun, as vigorously, as fearlessly as it should've.

"I don't believe that the fabrication of evidence and the false intelligence that was used to justify war has been adequately exposed for what it, in fact, is.

"I don't think the leaders of Britain and the United States have really had put on their shoulders fairly and squarely the responsibility of what I believe was to be a most disastrous venture."
The story received little media attention.

On Thursday night (Australian time) a new Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report revealed that "the Bush administration misused, and in some cases disregarded, intelligence which led the nation into war".

Dana Perino insisted that the Bush White House "acted based on what was the threat that was presented to us”:
“That dissent amongst experts within the intelligence community at some level did not reach the president.”
But the report clearly showed that a whole lot of dissent DID reach the President, and yet STILL “the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence.” All Bush had to do was read the reports on his desk!
The revelations pour cold water on Bush’s rationale as to why he makes a good wartime leader. In 2007, he said that he is credible as Commander-in-Chief because he “reads” the intelligence:
Q: Can you explain why you believe you’re still a credible messenger on the war?

BUSH: I’m credible because I read the intelligence, David.
“All of the intelligence I looked at…the Congress looked at, said the same thing,” Bush said in 2004. Unfortunately, it seems that Bush only selectively “looked at” the intelligence.
The White House was forced to back down:
“Maybe ‘entire world’ was probably a little bit too strong or too broad,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said as a key Senate committee charged President George W. Bush knowingly made false claims about Iraq before the US-led invasion.

“But, clearly, other governments that looked at the same intelligence that we had came to the same conclusions. I don’t think that’s in dispute,” the spokeswoman said.
Of course, that is just another ridiculous lie. In reality, a lot of governments around the world looked "the same intelligence" and came to quite different conclusions. Canada, Russia, France, Germany, New Zealand and many other nations decided the US intelligence was not strong enough to support an argument for invasion. Bush, Blair and Howard could not get a further UN resolution authorising force, so they went to war without it.

On Friday, former foreign minister Alexander Downer published an Op-Ed in the Murdoch media:
“If the war was so illegal, immoral and generally heinous, why is the Rudd Government still contributing?

In the end, Australians should be proud that our contribution to Iraq has made that long-suffering country just a little bit better and the lives of its people just a little bit brighter.”
For all his sneering contempt, Downer has a valid point: if Kevin Rudd really believes that the invasion of Iraq was "based on a lie", launched "without a full and proper assessment" of the consequences, and has increased the threat of terrorism, then what is he going to do about it?

As our new Prime Minister, it is incumbent upon Kevin Rudd to pursue the irresponsible and illegal actions of the previous government. If Rudd himself was duped by the bogus intelligence on Iraq (or even if he just pretended to be) it’s all the more reason why he now needs to launch a full, independent investigation into how more reliable intelligence was suppressed and ignored.

Australians now need to know whether all members of our former government were allowed to see ALL the intelligence "that we had" or just carefully selected (and carefully created) bits of it. Certainly Andrew Wilkie saw quite a bit of contrary intelligence, but his efforts to highlight it were suppressed. Why? On whose orders?

We need to know what was discussed at the top level during meetings with US and British political leaders, intelligence officers and military analysts. Our national press should be submitting F.O.I. requests for all such correspondence, and asking the Rudd government to explain why any of it might still be considered too secret to reveal. I suspect Australia's own versions of the Downing Street Memos are still waiting to be discovered.

If Rudd fails to launch a proper investigation, then he too become complicit. The media must now hold Rudd to account, as they failed to hold Howard to account.

A Royal Commission is the only way to ensure this contemptible episode in Australian history is finally laid to rest.

NOTE: This post assimilates information from several posts below.