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Government must not fear the truth

22 January 2009

Government must not fear the truth

The Senate's disappointment over the government's answers to its hundred or so questions on the Iraq war; the latest revelations in the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad regarding the concealing from the foreign minister of official advice notes which might have borne on the decision to offer the US/UK invasion political support; these could prove the overture to a parliamentary enquiry. The answers were followed by the endorsing by a majority of Senators of calls for just such an enquiry. In parliament's lower house too, support for an enquiry is growing after it was revealed that contradictory advice notes existed in relation to Dutch support for the Anglo-American attack on Iraq. Parliament's changing attitude is emblematic of an ever-broadening consensus that this subject deserves further and closer examination. Herman Wijffels, the senior Christian Democrat who was 'informateur' (principal adviser to the Queen) when the current coalition government was established, along with five former Foreign Ministers, recently announced that they also supported an enquiry into the decision-making process which led to Dutch support for the war.

by SP Senator Arjan Vliegenthart

Arjan VliegenthartOnly the Dutch government seems to want to dig in. In their answers to the Senate's question they stated their view that there had already been enough exchanges on this subject and that it was in addition unnecessary to bring into the open the information on which they had arrived at their decision. This position leaves them increasingly isolated. Internationally, also, the government's standpoint is remarkable, both in the arguments it used to justify support for the war and in its refusal to go deeper into the considerations which lay behind its decision.

Such an attitude is, however, untenable in a mature parliamentary democracy. As one of those who took the initiative in raising this matter I have gone into it thoroughly and after the government's latest set of responses it is clear that important questions remain unanswered. Let me give a couple of examples: first of all there is the question of the international legal aspect of the invasion of Iraq. The government was and remains of the opinion that the existence of resolutions against Iraq offered sufficient basis to allow the invasion of the country to proceed. In this they run counter to the prevailing view amongst international legal experts and also of the opinion of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Their view is that a new resolution was necessary before Iraq could legitimately be attacked. This question is all the more serious now that it has emerged that different opinions in relation to this matter existed within the Foreign Ministry. In order to establish the Netherlands' position in respect of international law it is crucial to know how consideration of the matter was conducted. As long as the government refuses openness on this, it remains impossible to judge the soundness of their arguments.

In addition there remains a complete lack of clarity with regard to relations between the Netherlands and its allies in the run-up to war. An investigation in the United States concluded that the decision to invade Iraq had been taken as early as January 2003. The Dutch government, however, is sticking to its opinion that all options were open until March 2003, and that this was also true for its allies. This is a contradiction which must be explained in greater depth. Did the Bush administration misinform the Netherlands or is there some other explanation? Parliament has a right in this case also to a clear answer.

All of these and other questions show that more than five years after the beginning of the war a great deal of mystery continues to surround the Dutch decision-making process. As long as this uncertainty persists the truths of this act of the Balkenende government will continue to be pursued. If what Prime Minister Balkenende says is true, namely that the government has nothing to reproach itself with, then Balkenende himself will also benefit from an enquiry. The government must not be afraid of the truth and Parliament must now take its responsibility.

This article first appeared on 22 January 2009 in the official newspaper the Staatscourant

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