This article was first published here on 13 June 2012 and is republished in the light of a call being made by an eminent group of Australians led by Malcolm Fraser for an enquiry into the decisions that led to Australia joining the US-led invasion of Iraq on March 2003.
During the lead up to the war against Iraq that began on 20 March 2003, Australian Prime Minister John Howard told the Australian people and the Australian Parliament that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. On the 18 March 2003 Howard told the Australian Parliament that these weapons were “a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people” and, for this reason, Australia will be part of a coalition that will ‘disarm’ Saddam Hussein.
Howard’s announcement that Australia would join the coalition to attack Iraq was the culmination of nearly 18 months of Western anti-Saddam propaganda and rhetoric that had begun soon after 9/11. During that entire period between 9/11 and prior to the announcement to the House of Representatives on the 18 March 2003, Howard had always denied that any decision had been made to join with the coalition in any attack on Iraq.
Howard’s decision to join the coalition to attack Iraq was, so Howard told the Australian people, based on the notion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. This rhetoric was completely in line with the rhetoric of the other members of the coalition that also took part in or supported the attack against Iraq.
John Howard first mentioned Iraq just 10 days after the 9/11 attacks during an interview with Neil Mitchell on Radio 3AW on 21 September 2001:
Israeli intelligence is suggesting Iraq sponsored this attack, is that likely?
Well, I wouldn’t rule that out but I’m not saying that I’m convinced that that was the case. We would have to have an open mind on that. There are documented and published suggestions of some of the hijackers having been in touch with people in Iraq. I read another report of that in one of the newspapers this morning.
I guess that expands the possibility of any military action from Afghanistan to include Iraq.
Well, I have to be careful how I speculate in a situation like that but going back to basics once again, the American’s dilemma is that if they can’t, by diplomatic pressure and by the weight of world opinion, encourage those who are currently harbouring suspected terrorists to hand them over they then have to ask themselves what other alternative do we have. If they don’t then do anything at all then hasn’t terrorism scored a very significant victory?
However, while this was the first mention of Iraq after the 9/11 event, Howard had already promised the US only the day after the attack, “that Australia will provide all support that might be requested of us by the United States in relation to any action that might be taken”.
The statement was emphatic and, in typical Howard style, had been carefully considered. True to his word, Howard soon offered Australian troops to help with the US attack against Afghanistan. The Americans, together with the British, launched their attack against the Taliban and al Qaeda on 7 October 2001 and by 17 October 2001, Howard had announced Australia’s military commitment to the war against Afghanistan.
The question of Iraq is next seriously discussed by Howard on 10 February 2002 in a TV interview with journalist Laurie Oakes. The discussion arose as a result of President George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address which had been delivered on 29 January 2002, just five months after 9/11, in which Bush had referred to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an ‘Axis of Evil’.
In his discussion with Oakes, Howard attempted to discreetly back-pedal from his 12 September 2001 commitment of “Australia will provide all support that might be requested of us by the United States in relation to any action that might be taken” Oakes asked Howard: “…does his [Bush’s] axis of evil statement commit Australia in any way?”
The conversation then ran thus:
No, not ... no, it doesn't. We are only ... we will only commit our forces to any kind of action as a result of a separate, deliberative decision by the Australian government ...
So we're not going all the way with the USA?
There is ... well, I'll, you know, let me define our relationship with the United States in a positive way. If there is an American request for Australian forces to be involved in future action, then that will be considered afresh. Our decision to be involved in Afghanistan does not automatically commit us to involvement elsewhere.
The Americans know that, the Americans don't presume on our friendship. We are close, there is no ally closer to the United States at present, and I think everything we have done has been in Australia's interests. And I think President Bush's speech was a first class one and I understood full well the language he used and why he did it.
Clearly, in the heat of the moment in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Howard, on 12 September 2001, had made a unilateral decision to back Bush and the US no matter what and, despite Howard’s later comment about only committing forces to any kind of action being as a result of a deliberative decision by the Australian government, Howard remained firmly committed to his promise to Bush. Everything Howard said and did from then on was with a view to fulfilling his promise to Bush regardless of anything that might distract from that including, as it transpired, the wishes of the Australian people.
For the next thirteen months right up to the eve of the invasion, Howard made every effort to deceive the Australian people and the Australian Parliament by claiming that, one, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which, two, Howard claimed were a “a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people”; and, three, right up to the eve of war, he continued to claim that he had made no decision about committing Australia to go to war against Iraq as an ally of the US.
As shall be shown using bona-fide evidence, the first two of these claims by John Howard were patently and deliberately false. Both the circumstantial evidence and the balance of probabilities regarding the falseness of the third claim are compelling.
With regard to the first two claims, the second is contingent on the first. If Howard knew that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction prior to committing Australia to war against Iraq, then obviously Howard’s claim that they were “a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people” could not be valid and, therefore, was a blatant lie.
With regard to the third claim, the circumstantial evidence clearly shows that Howard had made a decision to go to war long before the announcement on the 18 March 2003. However, this paper will confine itself to the verifiable evidence that relates to Howard’s deliberately false claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that they were a “direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people”.
The accusation that John Howard deliberately lied to and misled the Australian people and Parliament revolves around whether or not Howard knew that Saddam Hussein had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction after the First Gulf War which ended in 1991.
On 7 August 1995, Hussein Kamel al-Majid and his wife defected from Iraq. Kamel was the son-in-law of Saddam Hussein. He was also the Minister of Industries and was responsible at various stages of his career for developing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and later, after the First Gulf War, for secretly destroying Iraq’s WMD’s in accordance with the allies demands after the war.
On 22 August 1995, Hussein Kamel was debriefed by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It was during this debriefing that Kamel disclosed what he knew about Saddam’s WMD’s and, crucially, that he had personally seen to it that all of Iraq’s WMDs had been destroyed. The reason for the secrecy at the time was that Iraq did not wish it to be known to Iran that it no longer had any WMDs. Clearly, the US and their allies went along with the ruse since the debriefing was not made public at the time.
In the lead up to the attack against Iraq, it was Kamel’s disclosures about Saddam’s WMD’s that were primarily used to support the allegation that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Omitted, however, was Kamel’s insistence, in the same debriefing, that these weapons had been destroyed and, more to the point, that it was Kamel that had organised their destruction.
After the allies had consolidated their hold over Iraq, it soon became apparent that there were no WMD’s despite a concerted effort by the allies to find them. When Howard on 2 February 2004 was later confronted about the fact that there were no WMD’s to be found and asked if there would be an inquiry into the intelligence failures during the lead up to the war, Howard said:
You’ve got to bear in mind of course that almost all of the intelligence that came our way in relation to the war against Iraq pertained from British and American sources. It didn’t come from our own independent sources, obviously it was independently assessed and so forth but it was primarily British and American intelligence and I’ll see what the detail of that that statement is.
Part of that intelligence that Howard says was gained from US and British sources was Hussein Kamel’s debriefing transcript. Indeed, Howard actually referred to it and to Hussein Kamel by name in his Ministerial Statement to Parliament on 4 February 2003 when he said:
There are 6500 chemical bombs - including 550 shells filled with mustard gas, 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent - including 1.5 tonnes of the deadly nerve agent VX, 3000 tonnes of precursor chemicals - 300 tonnes of which could only be used for the production of VX, and over 30 000 special munitions for the delivery of chemical and biological agents - all unaccounted for.
In 1995, the international community was confronted by Iraq's massive programme for developing offensive biological weapons - one of the largest and most advanced in the world.
Despite four years of intensive inquiries and searches, the weapons inspectors did not even know of its existence until Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal defected. Faced with its duplicity Iraq finally admitted to producing aflatoxin - which causes cancers, the paralysing poison botulinum and anthrax bacteria.
It admitted to manufacturing 8 500 litres of anthrax. A single gram is enough for millions of fatal doses. Dr Blix wants proof that the anthrax has been destroyed - and so do we.
Iraq must account for the large quantity of undeclared growth media for biological weapons and for all its SCUD B ballistic missiles. It must explain why it has rebuilt equipment and facilities destroyed by previous inspection teams.
Clearly, Howard had access to Kamel’s debriefing transcript and was well aware that the material he was referring to in his statement had been destroyed by Kamel long ago and, contrary to Howard’s assertion otherwise, had, therefore, all been accounted for by Kamel.
Because Howard was eager to tell the Parliament and the Australian people about the WMD’s Saddam Hussein once had by presenting them as WMD’s that Saddam Hussein still had, Howard deliberately misled the Parliament and lied to the Australian people by failing to tell them that these weapons no longer existed and that, crucially, the source of this withheld information was the same source as the source he relied on to accuse Saddam Hussein of still having WMD’s.
In trying to defend himself against being touted as a liar, Howard may well say that he had not been advised that Kamel had said that he had destroyed Saddam’s WMD’s, but then that would lead to accusations that he had been deliberately mislead by our allies the US since the disclosure about having destroyed the WMD’s was part of the original statement about what WMD’s Saddam had.
No matter what way one looks at it, Howard is unable to escape the fact that he either misled Parliament and the nation or, alternatively, he and the Australian people were deliberately misled by President George W. Bush and his administration. Given Howard’s close relationship with Bush, however, the alternative is an unlikely scenario.
 John Howard, “Iraq Speech’, House of Representatives Hansard, 18 March 2003. p. 12506.
 John Howard, “Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard MP interview with Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW”, 21 September 2001. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20080118-1528/pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2001/interview1248.html Accessed 2 June 2012.
 John Howard, “Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard MP, press conference – Ambassador’s residence, Washington, DC”, 12 September 2001. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20080118-1528/pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2001/interview1239.html Accessed 2 June 2012.
 Media Release, “Force Deployment”, 17 October 2001. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20080118-1528/pm.gov.au/media/Release/2001/media_release1342.html Accessed 2 June 2012.
 John Howard, “Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard MP, Interview with Laurie Oakes, Sunday Program”, 10 February 2002. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20080118-1528/pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2002/interview1507.html Accessed 2 June 2012.
 76% of Australians were against Australia taking part in the war against Iraq without UN approval. See: Brendon O'Connor and Srdjan Vucetic, ‘Another Mars-Venus divide? Why Australia said 'yes' and Canada said 'non' to involvement in the 2003 Iraq War’, Australian journal of International Affairs, Vol. 64, No. 5, pp. 526 — 548, November 2010. p. 535.
 ‘Testimony of General Hussein Kamel’, UNSCOM/IAEA, 22 August 1995. http://www.downingstreetmemo.com/docs/unscom950822.pdf Accessed 12 June 2012.
 John Howard, “Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard MP doorstop interview, Perth”, 2 February 2004. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20080118-1528/pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2004/Interview666.html Accessed 12 June 2012.
 John Howard, “Ministerial Statement to Parliament on Iraq”, 4 February 2003. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20080118-1528/pm.gov.au/media/Speech/2003/speech69.html Accessed 12 June 2012.