A Look Back at John Howard

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Today Australian Prime Minister John Howard was ousted by the Labor Party, which easily took back control of Parliament from Howard’s party. The defeat was so severe Howard may even lose his own seat.

So, now is a good time to look back at something little-noticed in America: Howard’s shameless lying on Iraq.

Howard’s most important Iraq speech was delivered to Parliament on February 4, 2003. Here’s some of what he said:

The point must clearly be understood that, following its defeat in the Gulf War, Iraq admitted to possessing chemical and biological weapons and to developing a nuclear programme. In those circumstances the overwhelming imperative is that Iraq demonstrates to the world that it has destroyed those weapons and disbanded those programmes. That, in fact, is what this debate is all about.

The world demands to know precisely what happened to Iraq’s pre-1998 weapons and material. Iraq claims to have destroyed them…

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.

Howard is lying so enthusiastically about such a complex story it’s difficult to untangle it all, but I’ll try. Howard’s story, rephrased slightly, goes like this:

We know Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and a nuclear program. They claim to have destroyed the unaccounted parts in secret, but if they’re lying there’s no reason to think UN inspections will find anything. After all, the inspectors didn’t even know Iraq had a massive ongoing biological weapons program right under their noses—including aflatoxin, botulinum, and anthrax—until Saddam’s son-in-law defected in 1995 and told them.

This turns reality completely on its head, and not just in today’s hindsight. When Howard spoke, this is what was known with 100% certainty:

After the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq admitted to possessing chemical weapons and a nuclear weapons program. But—despite the suspicions of the UN—Iraq denied producing biological weapons. Over the next several years, as Iraq turned over its chemical weapons to the UN to be destroyed, the UN uncovered clear evidence Iraq had had a biological weapons program. When confronted with this excellent work by the inspectors, Iraq finally admitted in July, 1995 to having produced anthrax and botulinum—before the Gulf War. However, they claimed to have secretly destroyed everything long before, and, in 1995, to have nothing.

Hussein Kamel did not defect until a month later, in August, 1995. And not only was he not the reason the inspections uncovered Iraq’s biological weapons program, he also emphatically said Iraq had indeed destroyed everything years previously, and since the Gulf War had had no ongoing WMD programs. As Kamel told the UN, “All weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.” (What Kamel did reveal is Iraq still had not come clean about the entire extent of its pre-91 programs, including the production of aflatoxin, and was hiding relevant documents.)

Thus, Howard’s statement was truly a masterpiece of lying. It included everything humans use when they want to deceive others, from the omission of important information to misleading language to outright fabrication.

And Howard’s efforts were impressively brazen. Again, it’s not in hindsight they can be seen to be false. Anyone with access to the internet could have proven this within ten minutes of Howard making his speech.

Take Howard’s claim about the UN only learning about the biological weapons program from Kamel’s defection. Here’s the timeline the US State Department had online by January, 2003:

July 1, 1995
Iraq admits for the first time existence of offensive biological weapons program

August 8, 1995
Hussein Kamal—Saddam’s son-in-law and figure in charge of Iraq’s WMD effort—defects

Then there are the specifics of Howard’s claim—that it was only after Kamel defected that the UN learned about Iraq’s anthrax and botulinum. Here’s a New York Times story from July 6, 1995:

The chairman, Rolf Ekeus, told the Council that the Iraqis admitted in a meeting Saturday in Baghdad that they had produced “large quantities” of two deadly biological agents, the bacteria that cause botulism and anthrax. Iraqis maintain that the toxic agents were later destroyed…

“It is important that Iraq has finally admitted what it was denying only a week ago: that it had an offensive biological weapons program,” Madeleine K. Albright, the United States representative said after the letter was circulated in the Security Council today. “This admission demonstrates again that the Council can get results when it is firm and consistent in demanding Iraqi compliance”…

“This is an important step the Government of Iraq has taken,” Charles Duelfler, deputy chairman of the commission, said today.

(You may remember Charles Duelfer led the CIA’s investigation nine years later into what happened to Iraq’s WMD.)

Then there’s Howard’s omission of what Kamel said about whether or not Iraq still possessed WMD. Here’s Kamel on CNN on September 21, 1995:

SADLER: Can you state here and now — does Iraq still to this day hold weapons of mass destruction?

KAMEL: No. Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction. I am being completely honest about this.

And as little-known as Howard’s false claims are in America, even fewer people here are aware of something even uglier: the story of Bob Mathews, one of Australia’s top WMD experts. Before the war, Matthews was warning everyone within the government (including Howard) about the weakness of the WMD evidence. Hearing this, Howard’s underlings snapped into action: they immediately created a plan to smear Mathews if he went public. After the war, they punished Mathews for being correct. His security clearance was removed, his travel overseas was restricted, and they threatened to prosecute him for revealing classified information.

FINALLY: Here’s Howard speaking on Australian radio in August, 1995—ironically, just after Hussein Kamel defected, and just before Howard became prime minister:

Truth is absolute, truth is supreme, truth is never disposable in national political life.


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