Mark Thomas wonders if Saddam's men recycle paper

Just under two years ago, Jack Straw believed that Iraq's security forces were even-handed and just.

Since he is Foreign Secretary, it was up to Jack Straw to release the dossier on human rights abuse in Iraq. A mere 14 years too late. No doubt in the coming weeks Jack will tell us what a radical and entertaining subversive Ben Elton is, and how saddened he was that the space shuttle blew up at Nasa. At this rate, Straw's criticism of the torturing states we are currently arming, such as Uzbekistan, will not occur until he is dead and his report emerges at a seance on a Ouija board.

So when did Jack Straw realise that Saddam Hussein's regime was a torturing and murderous one?

Was it when the first reports started to filter in about a big gas attack on Halabja in 1988? The first early day motion (these are political statements which MPs can sign up to and support) condemning Iraq's use of chemical weapons was issued on 24 March 1988. Did Straw support it? No. Neither did he support the first early day motion to mention Halabja by name, issued four days later on 28 March 1988. Nor did he put his name to the condemnations on the first, sixth and tenth anniversaries of the attack in March 1989, 1994 or 1998. Strangely, neither did Blair, Prescott, Blunkett, Cook or Hoon add their names to any of these condemnations of Iraq's most notorious attack. Maybe they just all forgot their pens on those days.

"Perhaps they all decided to speak out against Iraq in the adjournment debate of 1988?" I hear you ask. No, not one of them. In fact, Straw's conversion to the cause of human rights in Iraq is a recent one.

The comedian and writer Jeremy Hardy was sent a copy of a Home Office letter refusing asylum to an Iraqi refugee in January 2001.

Although the individual seeking asylum had been detained and tortured, the Home Office letter read as follows: "The Secretary of State [then Jack Straw] has at his disposal a wide range of information on Iraq which he has used to consider your claims. He is aware that Iraq, and in particular the Iraqi security forces, would only convict and sentence a person in the courts with the provision of proper jurisdiction. He is satisfied, however, that if there are any charges outstanding against you and if they were to be proceeded with on your return, you could expect to receive a fair trial under an independent and properly constituted judiciary."

So, just under two years ago, Jack Straw believed that Iraq's security forces were just and even-handed - why, I bet they even used recycled paper, were equal opportunities employers and had one of those "Investors in People" awards.

Two years ago, the knowledge that Iraq was a corrupt and torturing dictatorship was an innate fact carried by every human, akin to the genetic code for the impulse to breathe.

Yet Straw managed to convince himself otherwise. It is difficult to imagine just how far his head was up his own backside to maintain that level of ignorance. One thing is for sure, and that is to remove it would require far more training and equipment than the army and their Green Goddesses have.

For campaigning organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Labour's failure to condemn and highlight human rights abuses is a constant source of frustration and annoyance. Yet they still think it right to criticise this dossier. Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, pointed to the government's failure to mention the right to food, education and health - rights denied to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and caused, for the most part, by the UN sanctions.

She went on to describe the dossier as "a cold manipulation to justify military action". Poor Jack Straw must feel like a chef serving up a meal to the famished and starving, only to be told his cooking is crap.

Straw insists that the contents, publication and timing of the government's dossier on human rights abuse in Iraq are not part of the propaganda for the war's PR campaign.

He might even genuinely believe that fantasy: after all, last year he genuinely believed Iraq to have a just judiciary. But to think that the rest of us would fall for it assumes that we, too, have our heads in a similar configuration to our arses as his.

CND's legal challenge to the government over the use of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 is in court on 9 December. Legal opinion from Rabinder Singh QC states that if the government goes to war with Iraq without returning to the Security Council for a new and clear mandate, it will be acting illegally. As we go to press, the government has refused to cap legal costs in a move that appears to be designed to outspend and intimidate CND.

Donations to CND's legal fund can be made to the Co-op Bank, sort code 089033, account number 50425088

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