Friday, September 01, 2006

Downer tried to bury WMD letter

Yesterday the Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer responded to allegations that he had tried to suppress a damning letter by Dr John Gee of the Iraq Survey Group, which stated that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction and that Canberra and Washington were reluctant to accept the facts.

Mr Downer, naturally enough, denied trying to bury the letter, saying:

"Of course not. Why would I?"

and admitting that the government's confidence in the WMD threat had gradually declined after the March 2003 invasion.

Well, for starters, there was the timing of the letter: not long before the 2004 Australian Federal elections. Criticism of the government's WMD fantasies could have hurt the Liberal Party's standing in the election.

And then there are these quotes by Mr Downer in February 2004:

  • "The government stands by its presentation of the case for disarming Iraq of its WMD capabilities"

  • [Evidence collected since the conflict began showed Saddam Hussein] "was pursuing WMD programs and that his regime was concealing these activities from U.N. inspectors"

They don't look like the words of a man starting to have doubt about the existence of WMD in Iraq. They look like the words of a man lying through his teeth, because as we now know, there was no such evidence in February 2004. It isn't as if there was evidence in February, and then, oops, somebody lost it and now nobody can find it. There is no evidence now, and there was no evidence back then.

More on the allegations here.

I don't expect these revelations to have any lasting effect on the Australian political scene. I see no evidence that anything more than a minority of Australians actually care whether the government ministers lie to the public and cover-up inconvenient facts. Past revelations of Prime Minister "Honest John" Howard and his cabinet lying to the public have lead to a brouhaha for a few days or weeks, then back to business as usual. I don't imagine this will be any different.

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