Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 1 News List

War prevented another Pearl Harbor: Howard

AP , SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister John Howard yesterday said that if the US and its allies had waited for definitive proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, they would have faced "another Pearl Harbor."

Howard has come under fire from opposition lawmakers for his decision to send troops to fight alongside US and British forces in last year's invasion of Iraq based on intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein's regime was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

But he remains adamant he was right, even though no such weapons have been found.

"If you wait for perfect proof, I've said it before, I said it a year ago, you would have another Pearl Harbor," Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp television.

A report from a Senate inquiry into the prewar intelligence that prompted Howard's troop deployment is to be released March 1. According to leaked excerpts, the report calls for a broader probe into flawed intelligence but clears Howard's administration of overstating the threat that Iraq posed.

But despite the apparent criticism of Australia's intelligence agencies, the government has no plans to expand its spy network, the attorney general said yesterday.

Canberra bolstered the country's domestic spy agency -- the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) -- in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and doesn't need more agents, Philip Ruddock said.

"There's been a substantial increase in ASIO resources and there's been a substantial increase in the number of staff employed," he told Australian television's Nine Network. "ASIO has received very considerable additional resources and ... it's recruiting people that it needs."

Also yesterday, Howard said he wouldn't change the law to allow two Australian terror suspects being held by US forces to be sent home for trial.

The opposition Labor Party called Friday for new anti-terror legislation to be backdated to allow David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib to be tried in Australia.

Hicks and Habib are among hundreds of terror suspects being held at a US military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"It's fundamentally wrong to make a criminal law retrospective," Howard told Australian television's Nine Network.

"We don't support that and we won't support that," he added.

Hicks, a former Australian cowboy, was detained in Afghanistan late in 2001 for allegedly fighting for the Taliban. He is to appear before a US military commission to answer accusations that he is a "foreign combatant."

Habib was arrested in Pakistan and is alleged to have trained with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network. His family says he was in Pakistan looking for a school for his children.

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