How we were duped over Iraq
Gary Hughes compares What We Were Told with what we now know
Image: thanks to Bill Leak and The Australian
"Thousands of pages of evidence, hundreds of hours of hearings, scores of witnesses and long lists of recommendations have been produced in Australia, the US and Britain as official inquiries have tried to establish who knew what and when."
"The world now knows that the path to war in Iraq was paved with untruths, distortions and errors. There were no hidden stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the mobile biological warfare laboratories didn't exist, Iraq was not operating hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's dream of developing a nuclear bomb was just that, a dream."
The Age - Insight
WHEN Tony Blair's Labour Party was re-elected in Britain two weeks ago, the saga of the Iraq War begun in March 2003 seemed to be, in one sense, over. All three leaders of the "Coalition of the Willing" - the United States, Australia and Great Britain - had survived politically after a war that divided citizens and challenged long established principles of international law.
The three leaders survived despite evidence - still emerging - that now seems to prove that the detailed justifications for the war were not only wrong, but in many cases known to be wrong or uncertain before the war began. This is the second battle for Iraq - the battle for the truth.
Thousands of pages of evidence, hundreds of hours of hearings, scores of witnesses and long lists of recommendations have been produced in Australia, the US and Britain as official inquiries have tried to establish who knew what and when.
The world now knows that the path to war in Iraq was paved with untruths, distortions and errors. There were no hidden stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the mobile biological warfare laboratories didn't exist, Iraq was not operating hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's dream of developing a nuclear bomb was just that, a dream.
Doubts over the legality of the war have deepened. The case justifying military intervention has steadily fallen apart.
As the truth has slowly emerged, the political leaders who argued that war was essential to counter the threat from WMD have shifted ground. We are now told that regime change - the need to end Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule - was justification enough.
The casualties in the battle for the truth have not been the politicians. They have been the western world's intelligence agencies, which according to official inquiries in Australia, the US and Britain, got it very wrong. They used a mishmash of outdated, exaggerated and simply false information from often doubtful sources to present a picture of an Iraq that threatened world peace. Political leaders in turn polished up and passed on that picture to the public to justify war.
The US presidential commission's report in March described the mistakes as "one of the most public - and most damaging - intelligence failures in recent American history".
Anthony Cassimatis, the Executive Director (International Law) at Queensland University's Centre for Public, International and Comparative Law, was one of 43 experts in international law and human rights who warned a month before the invasion of Iraq that military action would be illegal. He told The Age this week that the absence of evidence of WMD "has political and moral significance", but the war was already illegal before that was known and remains so.
He said that it was potentially possible for Australian political leaders to be prosecuted in an Australian court for the common law crime of aggression, although it was unlikely to succeed. A similar attempt to have the Prime Minister and three other members of federal parliament charged under common law with genocide of Aborigines in 1999 failed in the Federal Court.
"A similar argument could be run regarding the crime of aggression. I do not, however, think that such a claim would succeed in an Australian court," Dr Cassimatis said.
The following is the best evidence to date about the Iraq war - what we were told then, and what has emerged since.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Iraq posessed biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction
What we were told
The Governments of Australia, the US and Britain were adamant that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction that it was ready to use.
Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament on March 13, 2003, that it was "inherently dangerous" for Iraq to have such weapons and it was in Australia's interest that it have "taken from her her chemical and biological weapons".
Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, released an intelligence dossier on Iraq's WMD in September 2002, saying it established "beyond doubt" that "Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons".
The dossier said that "intelligence indicates that as part of Iraq's military planning, Saddam is willing to use chemical and biological weapons ..."
Then US secretary of state Colin Powell told the UN in February 2003 that Iraq had rocket launchers and warheads holding chemical weapons."
Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent," Powell said.
What we now know
The UN Iraq Survey Group led the official search for evidence of WMD in postwar Iraq, inspecting likely sites and interviewing key figures from the fallen regime.
In its three-volume report released on September 30 last year, the group concluded that Iraq had no formal strategy or plan for reviving its WMD program after the UNimposed sanctions following the 1991 Gulf War.
While Saddam Hussein believed in the power of WMD and wanted them, his intention was to wait till after sanctions were lifted to begin working on them again.
The survey group concluded that Iraq "unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991" and there were no credible indications that Baghdad had resumed production afterwards.
On biological weapons, the survey group said that Iraq abandoned its existing program in late 1995 in the belief that it constituted a potential embarrassment that would, if uncovered, lead to prolonging of UN sanctions. Undeclared stocks of biological weapons and remaining holdings of bulk biological warfare agents were destroyed in 1991 and 1992.
The British Government's inquiry into pre-war intelligence failures, led by Lord Butler, concluded that prior to the start of the war in March 2003,
"... there was no recent intelligence that would itself have given rise to a conclusion that Iraq was of more immediate concern than the activities of some other countries".
Iraq had mobile biological weapons laboratories
What we were told
Claims about Iraq's mobile laboratories first appeared in September 2002, with the intelligence dossier released by Blair saying a number were in use.
The following month the CIA went further, saying that Iraq had "large-scale" biological warfare production capabilities in mobile laboratories.
In February 2003, Powell provided details of Iraq's "biological weapons factories" to the UN Security Council, including artists' impressions of what they might look like.
Two trailers found in Iraq after the war that appeared to have been fitted out as mobile laboratories were initially used by the US as proof the pre-war reports were true.
In May 2003, US President George Bush produced CIA and other intelligence assessments that these trailers were proof of Iraq's WMD program.
What we now know
In June 2003, a report by UK intelligence agency MI6 and British biological warfare experts who inspected the two trailers concluded they were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons.
In August 2003, The New York Times revealed that, according to the US Defence Intelligence Agency, the most likely use for the two trailers was to produce hydrogen for weather balloons.
In its report in September 2004 the Iraq Survey Group, which hunted in vain for evidence of WMD, said it had interviewed 60 Iraqi scientists and other officials likely to be linked to mobile laboratories and inspected a number of sites. No evidence could be found for the existence of such mobile facilities.
According to the US presidential commission on intelligence released in March this year, the information about supposed mobile laboratories first came from a defecting Iraqi chemical engineer, codenamed "Curveball", in 2000.
Curveball was "run" by German intelligence officials, who warned the CIA in 2002 that the defector was "crazy" and most likely a "fabricator".
"Virtually all of the intelligence community's information on Iraq's alleged mobile biological weapons facilities was supplied by ... Curveball, who was a fabricator," the commission's report said.
Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes
What we were told
The British Government's intelligence dossier in September 2002 said that not only were Saddam's supposed WMD in place, but some could be deployed within 45 minutes.
It was this claim that led to allegations the British Government had "sexed up" intelligence reports and indirectly led to the death of British defence whistleblower Dr David Kelly.
The British claim of biological and chemical weapons standing ready to fire was supported by Powell in his crucial address to the UN Security Council in February 2003, in which he described how missiles with WMD warheads were hidden in western Iraq.
"Most of the launchers and warheads had been hidden in large groves of palm trees and were to be moved every one to four weeks to escape detection," he said.
What we now know
No biological or chemical weapons have been found, let alone any that could be deployed within 45 minutes. Nor did Australia's SAS troops find any rocket launchers and warheads hidden under palm trees in the western Iraqi desert, where they were dispatched at the start of the war with the specific task of searching for such weapons.
The inquiry into Kelly's death led by Lord Hutton examined the 45 minutes claim and concluded that it was based on information provided by a single although normally reliable British intelligence source.
But Hutton said the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons section of Britain's Defence Intelligence Staff had concerns about the claim and wanted the language used in the dossier watered down and qualified with the words "intelligence suggests".
Iraq was trying to develop nuclear weapons
What we were told
The Australian, British and US Governments told their citizens in the lead-up to war that Iraq wanted to develop nuclear weapons. Two pieces of evidence were used during late 2002 and early 2003 to support these claims. The first was that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger, in Africa, and the second was Iraq's purchase of aluminium tubes that could be used to build centrifuges for enriching uranium.
Powell used Iraq's attempts to obtain uranium as evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions while giving evidence to a US Senate hearing in September 2002. A month later the US State Department released documents to intelligence agencies in October 2002 purporting to prove Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger.
In September 2002, the British Government's intelligence dossier on Iraq said that "there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa".
On the controversial aluminium tubes, Iraq claimed they were to make the bodies of rockets.
But Powell told the UN Security Council in February 2003 that "Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb".
What we now know
There were serious doubts about the two crucial pieces of evidence long before they were used to justify going to war with Iraq. In February 2002, the CIA sent former US ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims. He reported that any transaction was unlikely to have occurred.
In March 2002, the US State Department's bureau of intelligence and research advised Powell that claims of Iraq's attempts to buy uranium were not credible.
In March 2003, as the coalition of the willing were going to war, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency told the UN that the documents supposedly showing Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger were "not authentic" and the allegations were "unfounded".
The Iraq Survey Group, which searched for WMD after the invasion, found no evidence that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa or anywhere since 1991. On the contrary, it established that Iraq had declined an offer to buy uranium from a Ugandan middleman in 2001.
Concerns over the use of the aluminium tubes as evidence for Iraq's nuclear ambitions date back to August 2001, when the US Department of Energy's intelligence office assessed samples and said they were not wellsuited for a centrifuge and were more likely for making rockets. The International Atomic Energy Agency agreed with that assessment.
But the US in particular kept using the aluminium tubes to help prove the case for war during 2002 and early 2003.
The Iraq Survey Group concluded in its final report last year that Iraq had not tried to restart its nuclear weapons program after 1991.
The US presidential commission on Iraq intelligence found in March this year that the intelligence community "seriously misjudged the status of Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons program".
Legality of the invasion
The invasion of Iraq was legal under existing United Nations Resolutions
What we were told
Australia, the US and Britain argued that any invasion of Iraq would be legal without the need to obtain a further UN Security Council resolution. The argument was used by the leaders of all three countries after it became apparent in the lead-up to war that any new resolution would be vetoed in the Security Council by France.
John Howard admitted in his address to Parliament on March 18, 2003, in which he announced he had agreed to a US request to use force, that he would have preferred a new resolution authorising military action.
But the Government's legal advice on the right to take action under 17 previous resolutions dating back to 1990 - and in particular resolution 1441, that warned Iraq it faced "serious consequences" if it did not agree to new weapons inspections - was "unequivocal"."
The existing United Nations Security Council resolutions already provide for the use of force to disarm Iraq and restore international peace and security to the area. This legal advice is consistent with that provided to the British Government by its attorney-general," Howard said.
That advice from Britain's Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, publicly released a day earlier in the House of Commons, stated that authority to use force against Iraq existed from the combined effect of previous UN resolutions.
In the US, Bush told his nation that under existing UN resolutions "the United States and our allies are authorised to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction".
"This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will," he said.
What we now know
The legality of the war against Iraq was far from being as clear-cut as we were told.
The full version of the secret legal advice provided to Tony Blair by Goldsmith, which was released last month, said that wording of the key UN resolution 1441 "leaves the position unclear" and "arguments can be made on both sides".
"In these circumstances, I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force," Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith admitted in the advice that after hearing the arguments of Bush Administration experts during a visit to Washington, he accepted that a "reasonable case" could be made that resolution 1441 justified military action."
But regime change cannot be the objective of military action," he said in the advice dated March 7, 2003.
In September last year UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the BBC that "from our point of view and the UN charter point of view, it (military action against Iraq) was illegal."
Saddam Hussein's Reign of Terror
Saddam Hussein used a human shredding machine to execute opponents
What we were told
John Howard famously provided additional credibility to claims that Saddam had his opponents fed into a human shredding machine when he referred to it in a televised address to the nation on the eve of the Iraq war.
"This week, The Times of London detailed the use of a human shredding machine as a vehicle for putting to death critics of Saddam Hussein.
This is the man, this is the apparatus of terror we are dealing with," Howard said on March 20, 2003, while telling Australia he was committing troops to the invasion of Iraq.
What we now know
The human shredder, which was supposed to be at Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, has yet to be found.
Last year Britain's Spectator magazine set out to track down the source of the shredder claim, starting with the Times article that was written by a British Labour member of parliament, Ann Clwyd.
Clwyd chaired a group called Indict, which had been campaigning against the Baathist regime that supported Saddam. She had written on March 18, 2003, that male prisoners were dropped into the machine "designed for shredding plastic" and their minced remains packed into plastic bags before being used as "fish food".
Indict had first mentioned the human shredder in public on March 12, 2003, using information it said it had got from an unnamed Iraqi dissident in northern Iraq.
An Iraqi doctor who worked in the hospital attached to Abu Ghraib prison told the Spectator in February 2004 that there was no shredding machine. "As far as I know (hanging) was the only form of execution used there," he said.
Iraq's links to terrorism
Iraq supported Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network
What we were told
Colin Powell set out a powerful case for Iraq's support of al-Qaeda when he addressed the UN in February 2003.
Describing the "sinister nexus", he said Iraq's links to the terrorist network could be traced back to the mid-1990s, when Iraqi intelligence officials met regularly with senior al- Qaeda members.
"Iraq today harbours a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants," Powell said.
Powell produced satellite photographs of a terrorist training camp run by Zarqawi, which he said was providing training in "poison and explosives". Although he admitted the training camp was in Kurdish northern Iraq, outside of the area controlled by Saddam, Powell said Zarqawi had received medical attention in Baghdad and an Iraqi intelligence agent was working with the terrorist leader.
"Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al-Qaeda. These denials are simply not credible," Powell said.
What we now know
The US Congress' commission on the 9/11 attacks said in its final report, released last August, that in the early 1990s bin Laden had actually been supporting anti-Saddam rebels in Iraq. When bin Laden met a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in late 1994 or early 1995 to ask for weapons and space to establish training camps, there was "no evidence that Iraq responded to this request".
"There is also evidence that around this time bin Laden sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some co-operation," the commission found. "None are reported to have received a significant response." On the contrary, said the commission, Saddam was trying to "stay clear of bin Laden".
In 1998 Iraq reportedly initiated new contacts with bin Laden, with a meeting in Afghanistan, then the home base of al-Qaeda. When Iraq offered bin Laden safe haven, the al-Qaeda leader declined, although friendly contacts continued.
"But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship," the commission report said.
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Insiders who spoke out
Dr David Kelly
The British Ministry of Defence's most senior biological weapons expert and adviser to intelligence agencies on Iraq, Dr Kelly was the anonymous source for BBC reports in May 2003 that a dossier used by the Blair Government to justify invading Iraq had been "sexed up".
He was known to be particularly doubtful about the claim that Saddam Hussein's regime could deploy WMD within 45 minutes. After being revealed as the BBC's source and grilled before a parliamentary inquiry, Dr Kelly was found dead in July 2003. An inquiry into Dr Kelly's death and his allegations by Lord Hutton concluded that the scientist had taken his own life by swallowing pain-killers and slashing his left wrist. The Hutton inquiry findings, released in January 2004, cleared the Blair Government of any serious wrongdoing in Dr Kelly's death and said the claims it had "sexed up" intelligence information were unfounded. In December, the paramedics who attended first at Dr Kelly's death raised doubts that he had committed suicide.
A former senior Australian intelligence official and weapons expert, he resigned in protest from the US-controlled Iraq Survey Group last year during its fruitless search for WMD. He claimed the group's report to the US Congress had been politically censored and distorted, with information deliberately omitted that contradicted previous US claims on Saddam's WMD. In February, he went public on ABC television revealing that he had provided advice before the war to the Australian and US governments that Iraq's weapons did not threaten either country. He also challenged the Federal Government's assertions that Australians had not taken part in interrogations of Iraqi prisoners, revealing he had interviewed one senior military officer himself.
The former senior intelligence analyst in Australia's Office of National Assessments resigned in protest a week before the start of the Iraq war, claiming it would "make Australia a more likely terrorist target". In August 2003 he told a parliamentary inquiry that the Government had deceived the public before the Iraq war, exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein by ignoring vital qualifications placed on intelligence about arms programs. Wilkie said intelligence information had been "sexed up" by the Government before being used in the public arena." Sometimes the exaggeration was so great it was clear dishonesty," he said. Prime Minister John Howard later accused Wilkie of "distortion, exaggeration and misrepresentation".
The former UN arms inspector in Iraq first went public in 1999 with claims that the US had used the supposedly neutral inspection teams to spy on Saddam's regime, including planting surveillance devices. Continuing to campaign against military intervention, he said in August 2002 that Iraq's weapons programs had been eliminated and it posed no threat. His claim that the British Secret Service was planning a disinformation campaign against Iraq in the late 1990s was investigated by the Blair Government's Butler inquiry into pre-war intelligence and found to be true. Earlier this year, Ritter wrote in The Age that the invasion of Iraq was "a crime of gigantic proportions".
The former chief counter-terrorism adviser to the National Security Council in the Clinton and Bush administrations revealed in March 2004 that there was no evidence that Iraq had supported al-Qaeda, despite claims made by President George Bush. "They wanted to believe there was a connection," he said. Later Clarke told the presidential commission inquiry into Iraq intelligence failures that he wrote a memo just seven days after the twin towers attacks in New York in 2001 saying there were no confirmed reports of Saddam ever co-operating with al- Qaeda on unconventional weapons. He said the Bush Administration's obsession with Iraq had diverted its attention from the war on terrorism and al-Qaeda.
The Road to War - and beyond
UN Security Council unanimously passes resolution 1441, which orders Saddam Hussein to accept the unconditional return of weapons inspectors or face "serious consequences".
Ten days later weapons inspectors return to Iraq for the first time in almost four years.
UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reports that Iraq "appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance ... of the disarmament that was demanded".
Blix indicates that slight progress has been made in Iraq's co-operation. He voices doubts about key elements of the intelligence presented to the Security Council by then US secretary of state Colin Powell about Iraq's WMD.
Blix attempts to delay a war, calling for more time to verify Iraq's compliance. Britain and US respond by setting a March 17 deadline for Saddam to comply.
France says it will veto any attempt to have the Security Council pass a second resolution, as sought by the US, Britain and Australia.
President George Bush issues an ultimatum to Saddam saying he and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Prime Minister John Howard tells Parliament that cabinet has agreed to commit Australian troops to any military action.
The invasion of Iraq, codenamed Operation Iraqi Freedom, begins at 2.30am Baghdad time. John Howard tells the nation that Australian troops were committed to action "because we believe it is right, it is lawful and it's in Australia's national interest".
President George Bush declares victory in the "Battle of Iraq" beneath a banner reading "Mission accomplished". A further 1235 coalition troops have since died in continuing fighting. Total civilian and insurgent casualties are unknown.
The body of British whistleblower Dr David Kelly is found. Kelly was the source of allegations that intelligence about Iraq's WMD had been "sexed up".
Saddam is captured.
The parliamentary inquiry into Australia's intelligence on Iraq before the war says the Government was more moderate and more measured in its pre-war statements than either Britain or the US. It recommends an independent review of the performance of the intelligence agencies.
The Iraq Survey Group reports after an extensive search that Iraq's WMD capabilities were essentially destroyed after the 1991 Gulf War and there was no formal plan or strategy to revive them.
John Howard's Government re-elected.
George Bush re-elected.
The US presidential commission on intelligence on Iraq before the war describes the mistakes made about Saddam's WMD capabilities as "one of the most public - and most damaging - intelligence failures in recent American history".
Howard farewells 450 Australian troops leaving for Iraq to provide security for Japanese engineers in al-Muthanna in the country's south.
Tony Blair's Government re-elected.