Defence files have revealed the United States military was planning to test deadly nerve gas on Australian troops in a far north Queensland rainforest in the 1960s.The Australian government was aware of this plan and it went all the way to the final stages before Harold Holt had the good sense to veto it.
Australian Defence Department files obtained by Channel Nine show the US was planning to test Sarin and VX nerve gas on up to 200 Australian combat troops by aerial bombing areas around Lockhart River.
The plan never went ahead, but American survey teams inspected the proposed testing site.
Fast forward 40 years, and John Howard commits Aussie troops to the invasion of Iraq based on WMD lies which his criminal government apparently never had the temerity to question. What's changed?
UPDATE: More info dribbling in... It's not totally clear whether or not the tests went ahead.
The US proposal for nerve gas tests was made by US defence secretary Robert McNamara in July 1963, according to Defence Department and Prime Minister's Office documents obtained by the Nine Network's Sunday program.
The documents stated that of the 200 troops to be used in the tests, "only four to six would need to know the full details of the operation".
The US proposal recommended that the Australian government keep the nerve agent tests secret, describing them as either "equipment testing" trials or "land reclamation" experiments.
The Australian government is believed to have not responded to the initial US proposal in 1963, but in 1966 Washington approached the new prime minister, Harold Holt, with a request to drop tear gas on Australian troops. Again, Canberra quietly ignored the request.
Mr Fitzgibbon said yesterday it was "difficult to believe any such request came forward, but if it did, surely it would have been rejected by the conservative government of the day out of hand".
"I have asked Defence for an urgent and full briefing on this matter. I can certainly rule out any such testing in the future."
Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who was minister for the army from 1966 to 1968, denied knowledge of the US requests. He said it was "extraordinarily unlikely" the testing on Australian troops took place, although he could not rule it out.
"If anything like that had ever been put to me as army minister, defence minister or prime minister, I would not only have said no, I also would have queried ... with the American president: what the hell are your people doing?" Mr Fraser said.
He said he had no doubt Mr McNamara would regret the request. "I've gotten to know him quite well over the last 25 years, and I'm quite sure today he'd be thoroughly ashamed of that request," Mr Fraser said.
Peter Bailey, a former adviser to Mr Holt, told The Australian that the US request was taken seriously by the Australian government and he believed cabinet was divided on the issue.
He said Holt saw the implications of the request.
"He hadn't yet made his 'All the way with LBJ' speech - that was later in the year - but that was a reflection of his propensity to want to be with the Americans and do what they would like to do, but within reason, of course."
Mr Bailey said he briefed Holt on the implications, but Holt never discussed the request with him.
"There were really major issues about breaking international law, and a treaty that we'd signed up to and all sorts of defence implications," Mr Bailey said.
"And I'd seen what had happened to people who'd been gassed in World War I. They were still around at that time, lying out on verandas, ill, with very little comprehension."
Mr Bailey said the issue quietly went away - although he never saw any documents to suggest the government had rebuffed the request. He said he did not believe the testing took place, but it was possible it did. "It's one of those things governments quietly let drop at some point, and then it went away," he said.
Mr Bailey said the documents were first considered by the Defence Department, before coming to the attention of the prime minister.