Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Australian PM ignored weapons expert: report

FALSEHOODS It is becoming increasingly likely that John Howard knew there was no substantial evidence that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction

AFP , SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister John Howard faced renewed attacks yesterday over his support for the US-led war in Iraq as new evidence emerged that a top weapons expert had warned him that there was nothing to justify invasion.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Bob Mathews, described as Australia's leading expert on weapons of mass destruction, told Howard three days before his announcement that Australia was committing troops to the invasion that the case for war was based on falsehoods.

Mathews, a 35-year veteran of the government's Defense, Science and Technology Organisation, also warned Howard in a letter that support for the war would make Australia a bigger terrorist target.

The Herald said it had obtained a copy of Mathews' letter to How-ard and had been appraised of what one colleague had reportedly described as "disgraceful" treatment of Mathews before and after he sent the letter.

"There are no reasons at the present time to justify supporting a US-led invasion of Iraq," the letter quoted Mathews as telling Howard.

The letter also urged Howard to make a last-ditch effort to persuade the US to abandon war plans.

The report described Mathews' action as a last, desperate act after his superiors repeatedly blocked him from expressing his views.

Mathews wrote to Howard as a private citizen three days before he committed the nation to sending some 2,000 defense personnel to the conflict.

Tough campaign

The report, the latest of a series that alleges Howard was well warned against joining the war in Iraq, comes at a bad time for the government, now in the throes of a tough campaign for the Oct. 9 election.

Howard's enthusiastic support for US President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq and the Labor opposition's pledge to pull Australian troops out by Christmas have been a major election issue.

In his televised address to the nation advising of his decision to take Australia into the war in conjuction with the US and other allies, Howard said that the reason "above all others" for joining the war was the threat that was posed by terrorists who had gained possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Clear evidence

The Labor Party moved quickly yesterday to capitalize on the report, saying that it constituted further clear evidence that How-ard had ignored expert advice not to take Australia into the conflict.

"Bob Mathews was right in saying that there were big question marks over the weapons of mass destruction," opposition leader Mark Latham said from Melbourne.

"Mr. Howard ignored that advice in the letter and decided to go in search of weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist," Latham said.

"Mr. Howard said it would make us safer. It hasn't -- he's had it wrong. This is an incompetent government on national security and the letter today and the information today further confirms that point of view," he said.

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