Friday, September 4, 2015

Aussie war in Iraq -- never justified, always a war crime

"Poor John Howard was embarrassed by the dodgy intelligence that led to death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. John is the victim."

This is the lie and it is false.

[1] John Howard was told by Australian weapons inspector Rod Barton in Dec 2002 that there were no WMDs in Iraq and no reasonable prospect of finding any.

He told him in chapter and verse and later went on to say that Howard lied to Parliament over the issue. Barton also pointed out to Howard that his weapons inspector counterpart in the UK had provided similar negative findings to the UK government and his advice was similarly ignored. Andrew Wilkie provided similar negative WMD assessments to PM Howard.

[2] The "dodgy intelligence" that people often cite is the 2002 US National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq. It was put together by the 11 leading US intelligence agencies. There was a publicly released version and a classified version.

The classified version was intended only for the Bush leadership and (from leaks that we now know) basically said "We don't know what Saddam has but there is no evidence and no reasonable expectation that we will find anything."

The publicly released version had been rewritten by the Bush leadership to read "We don't know what Saddam has which means he is probably hiding huge stockpiles of WMDs and the world ought to be afraid."

The public intelligence release was a work of fiction, a politicized document put together to provide reasons to invade Iraq.

Howard relied on that document when selling the war to the Australian public and parliament. But as has been pointed out he had credible intelligence already that the public US intelligence document was not credible.

It is doubtful that Australian Intelligence would have been less well informed than Barton, Wilkie and others and almost certainly knew the facts. They would have been aware that George Bush Jnr was a deeply compromised man, a liar and a drunkard who came to office by stolen elections in 2000 and whose cabinet consisted largely of Texas oil men hell bent on claiming Iraqi oil wells. None of this was hidden. It was all out in the public domain. No Bush intelligence briefing could be taken at face value. Howard had every reason to doubt the veracity of it.

[3] The UN weapons inspectors were basically forced out of Iraq by the imminent US invasion.

Contrary to US propaganda Saddam had not stopped them in their work; at that stage they were permitted to go any where, any time. Legally and morally, John Howard had no business supporting an invasion of Iraq where there was no evidence of WMDs, no imminent threat from Saddam, and the inspectors had been barred from doing their job. Any Labor leader receiving Barton's advice would almost certainly have insisted that the weapons inspectors finish their job. They would have found nothing and Bush would have had no reason to invade.

[4] Legally, Howard had no business supporting the invasion.

There was no "casus belli," neither the US nor Australia were under any kind of attack much less an imminent one. There is a strong body of evidence in support of the claim that the war in Iraq was illegal under international law and that the invasion, the civilian deaths that arose from inadequate levels of troops necessary to ensure order, and the incidents of the torture of prisoners that occurred while Australia was part of an occupying force, all constitute prosecutable war crimes. While there may be legal arguments in regard to those claims it is undeniably clear that a prima facie case exists that our Prime Minister is guilty of serious war crimes.

The legal advice from hundreds of international law experts at the time was unequivocal: the planned invasion was illegal, a major breach of the Geneva Conventions which was not authorized by any UN resolutions concerning Iraq. Howard had no business whatsoever sending Australian forces into that country. The subsequent deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi civilians were the direct legal responsibility of Bush, Blair, Howard, Rumsfeld and others under the Geneva Conventions. These were flat out war crimes no different to Howard putting a gun to someone's head and pulling the trigger. That's how real it was and that's how criminal.

[5] Those war crimes were compounded by the fact that under the Geneva Conventions the US (and Australia) as occupying powers had a legal responsibility to provide troop numbers sufficient to maintain civil order.

The US generals had previously war gamed an Iraq invasion and had advised Bush in no uncertain terms that he would need 400,000 troops to stabilize the country and meet their legal obligations. The US sent in 160,000 soldiers and dismantled the Iraqi army and police force resulting in chaos and civil war. Australian military advisers would have known those required occupation figures and Howard would have been told that the US was seriously undermanned. Howard went ahead anyway. That's a legal and moral failure of a very high order. 

[6] And finally, Howard had foreknowledge of the Iraq invasion a full 13 months before it actually happened according to then UN ambassador John Dauth. He reportedly conveyed those views to former AWB chairman Trevor Flugge in Feb 2002 - a full 13 months before the invasion - and the minutes of that conversation were put before the Cole inquiry.

If that is true, then the case for war crimes charges against John Howard is very real.


The US does not own the world and neither does Australia. Sending forces to invade another country involves massive destruction of that country's resources and, inevitably and however mitigated, the commission of violence against innocent civilians who did nothing to this country.

There is no legal mandate for any Western politician to simply decide that it's ok to bomb and invade some largely defenseless country far away that poses no threat to us. 

I certainly didn't authorize PM Howard to murder people far away. And certainly not because of some dodgy intelligence document or an oversized ego that told him Australia's army was his private toy.

John Howard conducted the equivalent of putting a gun to someone's head and pulling the trigger. No matter what conceited lies he might tell himself his actions are prima facie war crimes.

War is not a humanitarian exercise no matter how much our leaders insist it is.

We still need a full inquiry as to why we went into Iraq and a reform of the war powers laws as exercised by our government.