John Howard: I defend my decision

Photo: Rob Blakers / Pool /Getty Images.

The Chilcot Inquiry, published overnight in the UK, is one of the most highly-anticipated international political reports in recent history.

The document is the culmination of an investigation launched by former British prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009 into his nation’s involvement in the 2003 war in Iraq.

Chaired by former senior civil servant Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry covers the political decisions made in the run-up to the UK’s intervention, the military action itself, and the aftermath of the conflict, as well as the involvement of the US and Australia.

If you need a brief reminder, US President George W. Bush was adamant that Iraq needed regime change because its dictatorial leader, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction and was fuelling terrorism. It turns out he didn’t and wasn’t.

More than 150,000 Iraqis and 179 British soldiers died during the Iraq war between 2003-2007.

Two Australian soldiers died in Iraq, Victorian Paul Pardoel, 35, was a Flight Lieutenant serving as a navigator in the RAF, having transferred from the RAAF in 2002 died when his C-130 Hercules crashed on 30 January 2005 killing all 10 crew aboard. Private Jake Kovco, 25, from 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, died on 21 April, 2006, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A memo, declassified as part of the inquiry, reveals Blair proposed using a UN resolution as a “trick” to get the public and UN Security Council to support war in Iraq.

The Bush administration did the same, and Australian prime minister John Howard didn’t object.

Following the revelations, independent MP and former intelligence analyst, Andrew Wilkie told the ABC that Howard should face prosecution in the International Criminal Court over his decision.

“[It is] one thing to take Australia to war based on a lie. It makes it all the worse when that war has been so damaging to so many people and remains in the opinion of a great many historians as the darkest blot on this nation’s history, at least in modern times, as far as foreign policy and security goes,” Wilkie said.

Today, both Blair and Howard have faced the media.

Blair apologised and said the memories of events around the invasion would never leave him.

“I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” he said.

“There will not be a day of my life where I don’t relive or rethink what happened.”

He also admitted the three biggest mistakes he made at the time. Read what they are here.

Despite his apology, Blair said he had taken the right decisions despite the serious flaws in planning and execution.

Meanwhile Howard hasn’t exactly apologised, rather admitted his embarrassment around the foiled invasion.

He told the Seven Network he was “embarrassed” when he learned there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Foreign minister Julie Bishop also told Seven that the federal government took responsibility for Australia’s involvement in the war, but it was up to Howard to decide whether he wanted to apologise.

“It was based on information, the best information that we had at the time,” Ms Bishop said.

“I was in the party room. I recall very well the information that was presented to us. It was the best information that was available. And we took a decision at the time.

“Of course the government takes responsibility for the decisions the government makes.”

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Howard said no lies were told rather there were errors in the intelligence they based their actions on.

“Yes, it was subsequently discovered that there were no stockpiles, but with equal conviction it has to be remembered that the intelligence advised of both the UK and the US, and that advise greatly informed our own intelligence agencies, was that there was stockpiles,” Howard said.

“In the years gone past there is this constant claim that we went to war on a lie. There was no lie. There was errors in intelligence, but no lie.

“I regret clearly, everybody regrets, the loss of life in any military conflict. I have said before, the hardest decision I took as prime minister was commit the men and women of the Australian Defence Force to military conflict.

“But I believe the decision was justified at the time… I thought it was the right decision.”

When Asked whether he should apologise for the decision he took, Howard said he defends it.

“Of course I defend it. I don’t retreat from it. I don’t believe, based on the information available to me, that it was the wrong decision. I really don’t.”

While Howard denied writing any memos to Bush at the time — Tony Blair is hot water over one that implies he wanted to use a UN resolution as a “trick” to get the public and UN Security Council to support war in Iraq — he said: “I made it very clear to the Bush administration all a long that a final decision… would not be made until the diplomatic process had been exhausted.”

“I have not read, and don’t pretend to have read, what is a very large and full report… but you have to remember this particular conclusion is an expression of opinion.

“They are differences of judgement. His (Chilcot’s) views an naturally informed by subsequent events.”

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