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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Iraq: IRAQ LETTER 'SUPPRESSED' BY DOWNER

A DAMNING six-page letter on the hunt for weapons of mass destruction was suppressed by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, according to a former senior diplomat.

The Age/Australia
By: Marian Wilkinson
August 31, 2006

Dr. John Gee, a world-renowned expert on chemical weapons, worked with the US-led weapons hunt, the Iraq Survey Group, after the war and wrote the critical letter when he decided to resign.

In it he warned the Australian Government the hunt was "fundamentally flawed" and that there was "a distinct reluctance on the part of many and in Washington to face the facts" that Iraq had no WMD.

Dr. Gee recorded in an email soon after that "Downer has issued instructions it (my letter) is not to be distributed to anyone." Dr. Gee wrote to his colleague on the Iraq Survey Group that a senior official in ONA, the Prime Minister's intelligence advisory agency, had told him of Downer's instructions.

In another email, Dr. Gee revealed that the head of the Defence Dept, Ric Smith, informed him his department did not receive a copy of the critical letter even though Dr. Gee was working in Iraq under contract to the department.

Dr. Gee said senior Defence officials told him, "DFAT (the Dept of Foreign Affairs) had not passed the letter on to Defence."

Last night, a spokesman for Mr. Downer said the minister "did not recall" receiving Dr. Gee's letter and described as "a conspiracy theory" material showing that the letter had not been given to the head of the Defence Dept. "I have heard a lot of conspiracy theories over the years, but I have not heard that one before."

However, documents including Dr. Gee's resignation letter and a series of emails he wrote to his colleague, Rod Barton, another senior weapons inspector in Iraq, reveal efforts to contain his findings. Mr. Downer has previously acknowledged that he was personally briefed by Dr. Gee when he returned, but never has revealed the contents of that briefing.

From the emails it appears tha Mr. Downer received the damning findings months before he and Prime Minister John Howard finally accepted that no WMD would be found in Iraq.

One month after his briefing with Dr. Gee, Mr. Downer made a public appearance with the US head of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer. At their press conference, Mr. Downer insisted that the weapons hunt "was still a work on progress" and he could not draw any conclusions.

But Dr. Gee's emails reveal that every senior level of the Australian Government, including Mr. Howard's office, ONA, Defence and Mr. Downer's Iraq Taskforce was briefed by him when he returned from Baghdad in March 2004. They also suggest that Mr. Downer knew about his letter.

In a blunt conclusion, Dr. Gee's letter stated: "I now believe that there are no WMD in Iraq and that while the ISG has found a number of research activities...it has found no evidence so far on ongoing WMD programs of the type I had assumed would be there."

Summing up his difficulties in Baghdad, Dr. Gee wrote: "I have concluded that the process here is fundamentlly flawed and that there is a distinct reluctance on the part of many here and in Washington to face the facts."




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