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When Truth Tried to Stop War

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Gun soon confessed to what she had done. She later explained to the Mitchells: "I'm pretty rubbish at telling lies ... and I try to be an honest person. ... I have to say that I've only ever followed my conscience. And it, my conscience, is such a nuisance."

On Nov. 13, 2003, she was charged with violating the UK's Official Secrets Act. She planned to plead "not guilty," stressing that she acted to prevent imminent loss of life in an illegal war.

Gun's pro bono lawyers insisted that the Blair government produce the opinions of U.K. Attorney General Peter Goldsmith on the legality of the war but the government refused. It was already widely known, well before the leak of the Downing Street memos, that Goldsmith initially advised that an attack on Iraq would be illegal without a second U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing it, and that, only after intense consultation with several lawyers from the White House, Goldsmith showed the required flexibility and changed his mind.

Blair was not about to release such damning documents. Even the usually docile UN Secretary General Kofi Annan finally got around to acknowledging the obvious and agreeing that the attack on Iraq was illegal, albeit Annan found his voice only well after the butchery was underway.

So, when Gun's case came to court on Feb. 25, 2004, her lawyers did not need to argue that trying to stop an illegal act (a war of aggression) trumped Gun's obligations under the Official Secrets Act. The Blair government clearly did not want to let Lord Goldsmith's dirty laundry hang out on the line. Within half an hour, the prosecution dropped the case and Katharine Gun walked.

The Sam Adams Award

For her courage and commitment to principle, Katharine Gun was the second recipient of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. The citation read at the presentation on April 14, 2004, noted that:

"Heeding the dictates of conscience and true patriotism, Ms. Gun put her career and her very liberty at risk trying to prevent the launching of an illegal war. That she is here with us today and not in a prison cell bespeaks a tacit but clear admission by her government that the US/UK attack on Iraq in March 2003 was in defiance of international law.

"Ms. Gun's beacon of light pierced a thick cloud of deception. She set a courageous example for those intelligence analysts of the "Coalition of the Willing' who have first-hand knowledg e of how intelligence was corrupted to 'justify' war, but who have not yet been able to find their voice."

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Commenting on Katharine Gun's courage and integrity, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Dan Ellsberg had this to say:

"No one has had this story to tell before, because no one else -- including myself -- has ever done what Katharine Gun did: tell secret truths at personal risk, before an imminent war, in time, possibly, to avert it. Hers was the most important -- and courageous -- leak I've ever seen, more timely and potentially more effective than the Pentagon Papers."

Fast forward to Jan. 23, 2013, in the Debate Chamber of the Oxford Union where the tenth annual Sam Adams award presentation was held before a packed house of Oxford students. Ms. Gun, her husband, and their four-year-old daughter shed their coveted privacy long enough to allow Katharine to be one of two former Sam Adams Award winners to present this year's award.

The other was Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and counsel at the Minneapolis bureau, who blew the whistle on FBI and other shortcomings before 9/11 and was named one of the three Persons of the Year by Time Magazine in 2002. The Sam Adams award is named for the late CIA analyst Sam Adams who challenged false assessments of Vietcong and North Vietnamese troop strength during the height of that conflict.

The 10th annual Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence was given to Thomas Fingar, the consummate intelligence professional who led the U.S. National Intelligence Council from 2005 to 2008 (and is now a professor in Stanford's overseas program at Oxford).

Fingar supervised the drafting of the eye-opening National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of 2007 on Iran, which differed markedly from previous estimates in assessing that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon at the end of 2003 and had not resumed such work -- and key finding revalidated every year since by the Director of National Intelligence in formal testimony to Congress.

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With the help of that honest assessment, U.S. military leaders and other honest officials were able to beat back pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives for an attack on Iran during 2008 -- the last year of the Bush administration. (See Bush's own memoir, Decision Points, page 419.)

Heading Off Wars of Choice

The poignancy of the moment was not lost on the audience at the Oxford Union. After Katharine Gun read the citation (text below) for the award to Tom Fingar, she turned toward Fingar, and suggested that if honest professionals like him had been supervising U.S. and U.K. intelligence analysis in 2002-2003, the warping of intelligence to support plans for war would have been prevented. And Gun could have avoided the painful choice that her conscience required.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)

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God Bless the Truth Tellers in the Age of the Grea... by Don Caldarazzo on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 1:11:59 PM
World Trade Center - The Guardian The new 21st Cen... by Lance Ciepiela on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 1:44:33 PM
"We know from the Downing Street memos, which were... by Rixar13 on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 3:20:06 PM
"We know from the Downing Street memos, which were... by Rixar13 on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 3:20:20 PM
in response to the death of her son in Iraq; we ha... by molly cruz on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 3:48:58 PM
I recognised the deceptions... as I was facing a l... by Toby Seiler on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 4:35:50 PM
seems like everyone has forgotten the lies.... by Matt Okeefe on Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 at 10:54:09 PM
Very informative. Very useful. Keep up the good wo... by Thomas Finnell on Friday, Feb 1, 2013 at 1:08:26 PM
The invasion and occupation of Iraq is/was a war c... by Paul Carline on Friday, Feb 1, 2013 at 5:54:57 PM