MAJOR MUST CARRY IRAQGATE CAN

Tribune leader, 13 November 1992

Following the collapse of the case against the Matrix Churchill company executives accused of busting the em­bargo on military exports to Iraq, at least four government ministers should resign at once.
Michael Heseltine, the President of the Board of Trade, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, the Defence Secretary, and Tristan Garel-Jones, a junior Foreign Office Minister, all signed “public interest immunity cer­tificates” designed to prevent evidence reaching court showing the extent of Government encouragement of military-related exports to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between 1987 and 1990. If their efforts had not been ruled out of order by the judge in the Matrix Churchill trial, the three defendants could well have gone to prison for long terms.
The ministers say that they were only following orders, that they were under a legal obligation to attempt to prevent the secret documents from entering the pub­lic sphere. That is hogwash. So too is their claim that signing the certificates was not motivated by any desire to sup­press relevant evidence. The only con­ceivable reason for their course of action was to cover the government’s tracks. If any of the four culprits had any decency, they would already have quit.
Instead, of course, the government has adopted the time-honoured strategy of announcing a public inquiry into the whole affair. It hopes that this gambit win turn what is currently a govern­ment-threatening scandal into a dull, technical matter with which the public and the media will be bored rigid.
Labour’s task is to make sure that this does not happen – and the way to do that is to make sure that the main story is kept constantly in the public eye.
The story, in case anyone has missed it, is simple. Despite having announced an embargo on sales of military equipment to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, the government did everything in its power to maximise exports to Iraq, delib­erately turning a blind eye to what it knew were exports with a primarily mili­tary use and deliberately taking no notice at all of the brutality of Saddam’s regime.
Meanwhile, it deliberately misled Parliament and the British people about its policy. Finally, since Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait exposed its encouragement of military exports as, at very least, a monumental error of judgment, it has contin­ued to go out of its way to attempt to sup­press the truth.
The four ministers caught lying about the relevance of the secret documents to the Matrix Churchill trial should be only the first casualties of the scandal. Both the Prune Minister, John Major, and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hard, have played crucial roles in pulling the wool over the eyes of Parliament since the question of British exports to Iraq was first raised in the wake of the execution of the journalist, Farzad Bazoft, in 1990.
Even more crucially, Mr Major and Mr Hurd were the successive Foreign Secre­taries responsible for running the disas­trous “arm Iraq” policy from July 1989 to July 1990.
Given that it is extremely unlikely that the two most senior members of the gov­ernment will easily resign, let alone face charges for embargo-busting as they should, it is up to Labour in Parliament to hound them remorselessly until they are forced out of office. Mr Major’s in­quiry should be treated as the attempt to cover up a cover-up that it really is.
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