Monday, November 27, 2006

Grain daze: Saddam allegedly embezzled billions by evading UN sanctions - who turned a blind eye then?

Reporting on Howard's evidence to the Cole Commission in April, Peter Hartcher had this to sat about our government:

"Howard's appearance yesterday seemed to confirm that the Government makes some of its most serious foreign policy decisions based on hunches and politics rather than objective analysis, and that Australia's national budget for intelligence, with disclosed spending of $1.1 billion a year, and all the expertise and information that it buys, is wasted on this Government.

How so?

The counsel assisting Cole, John Agius, SC, with the Prime Minister in the witness box, started probing Howard's knowledge of the rorting of the oil-for-food program that the UN had set up.

Agius reminded the Prime Minister of a speech he gave to the National Press Club in building support for the invasion of Iraq. Agius read out to Howard an extract of that speech, from March 13, 2003, in which Howard attacked Saddam Hussein:

"He has cruelly and cynically manipulated the United Nations oil-for-food program. He's rorted it to buy weapons to support his designs at the expense of the wellbeing of his people."

John Agius put it to Howard: "Clearly that statement, and a statement of such gravity, must have been based upon briefings that you received?"

Well, not really, said Howard. It was based mainly on open sources available to anyone who could read a newspaper or type "Google" - a speech by Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, a press briefing by the US State Department and other miscellaneous reports.

Howard said he had asked one of his staff, the speechwriter, to check that reports or cables from Australia's diplomatic posts "supported the open-source claims and was satisfied that they did".

So Howard had not needed the intelligence system to tell him that Saddam was cheating the sanctions system. For how long before his press club speech had Howard known this, Agius wanted to know.

"It would be well before that. It's very hard - probably a year or more that I would have had that belief, but, like a lot of these things, it would have been a mixture of bits and pieces plus a predisposition to believe the worst, I suppose, of that regime."

Agius: "Well, in that connection, did you ever have any suspicion that any Australian company, including AWB, one of the largest exporters to Iraq, might have been involved in that rorting?"

Howard: "No, I didn't."

Golly gosh....

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