'I'm also a believer in the cock-up theory'
Michael Meacher courted much controversy with his 'difficult' questions about 9/11 and the war on terror, but, he tells Matthew Tempest, he is absolutely not a conspiracy theorist
Thursday July 29, 2004
Since losing political office as Tony Blair's environment minister, Michael Meacher has been saying - and writing - some controversial things.
Not Robin Cook controversial ("the weapons inspectors should have been given more time"); not Clare Short controversial ("the post-war reconstruction was mishandled"); but really controversial: "why weren't F16 jets scrambled quicker on September 11? What is the truth about the mysterious MI6 unit Operation Rockingham which 'liaised' with UN weapons inspectors? What was the role of the Pakistani intelligence services in the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl?
These are not the sort of questions that are designed to aid one's ascent up the greasy pole of a political career. Quite the opposite. Not only are they difficult to answer, they burst the bubble of etiquette and respectability at Westminster and get one labelled with the career-suicide stamp of "conspiracy theorist".
Not surprisingly, this is the first thing the now backbench MP for Oldham West and Royston wants to get off his chest when I meet him in his south-London home.
"I am absolutely NOT a conspiracy theorist. I am anything but paranoid. I have an extremely rational belief in systematically collecting the evidence and seeing where the facts and the documents take you.
"However, conspiracies do occur, but that would be a last-resort explanation rather than a first. I am also a believer in the cock-up theory."
Since writing an article for the Guardian last September, detailing unanswered questions about the events of September 11 2001 and the predetermination of the US to go to war in Iraq, Meacher has faced a torrent of abuse and derision beyond that borne by most mainstream politicians.
The US embassy in London dismissed the article as "monstrously offensive" and Meacher as not being "serious or credible", while many journalists found his arguments unconvincing and even deranged.
Despite this, Meacher is unrepentant about airing his concerns. "That analysis has been confirmed. In the past nine months [his unanswered questions] have proved both logical and correct. I'm not aware of a word that has not been accepted.
"Indeed, some of it has been confirmed - for instance, Paul O'Neill's account of his time serving Bush, where he reveals that Iraq regime change was a priority from day one of the administration."
For the record, Meacher believes the biggest mysteries surrounding 9/11 were why more effort was not put into catching the hijackers beforehand, why fighter jets were not scrambled from US Andrews airforce base 10 miles from Washington until the Pentagon had already been hit, and why little or no effort was made to catch Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
The Senate's Kean commission into 9/11 finds a confused chain of command on the day, but confirms that while the Pentagon was hit at 9.38am, planes from nearby Andrews were only scrambled at 10.38am, a few minutes after the vice-president, Dick Cheney, had authorised shooting down hostile planes. Planes from Langley airbase were already in the air, but had not received orders to shoot down hostile aircraft.
Curiously, for a man who seems out on a limb in British politics, Meacher hasn't yet seen Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which provides similar succour to his theories, especially concerning the US military's semi-detached efforts in and around Tora Bora, the al-Qaida stronghold in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding.
"Oh I must see it!" he declares, when told that it backs him up on several counts.
Meacher says his postbag was "95% supportive" after his initial article in the Guardian. Probably as a result of its attendant publicity, he was asked to write the foreword to a new US book entitled: The New Pearl Harbour: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11.
He's quick to intervene: "Writing a foreword does NOT mean I agree with everything in it. It is an unconventional book which says things which deserved to be listened to and have an airing.
The book suggests that there may have been explosives inside the World Trade Centre before the attacks - does he believe that?
"Well, I'm not a technical expert and I have no idea and I just don't know.
"But it's a worthwhile thing for the Kean commission to examine even if it's just to disprove it. After all, there were two previous bomb plots against the Twin Towers, and bombs would alter the whole concept of what happened on 9/11, but that should have been up to Kean to look at."
More recently, Meacher wrote another high-profile piece in the Guardian demanding to know the truth about Operation Rockingham, an intelligence cell mentioned to the intelligence and security committee by weapons expert Dr David Kelly the day before his death.
Meacher alleged, on the basis of the evidence of former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, that the previously unheard of unit was designed to spread misinformation about Iraqi WMD capabilities.
On page 90 of Lord Butler's inquiry into intelligence failures over Iraq is a five-paragraph explanation of Operation Rockingham, calling it a briefing and liaison unit for the Unscom inspections. Meacher believes the explanation is there as a result of his probing.
"It's a pedestrian few paragraphs, but I've seen it and I'm glad it's there and it shows that they've taken it [the article] on board. I believe it [Rockingham] had a key role in seeking to handle intelligence to provide the 'right' material for its political masters.
"Obviously that will be denied, and I'm not expecting Butler to prove it, but I suspect the reason that they felt the need to include it [the explanation] is because of the article."
In all of this, it's easy to forget that Meacher in fact voted for the war. As a minister at the time, the alternative would have been immediate resignation.
"I voted for it because I believed what the PM said. He reeled off weapons inventories, and I presumed that this must be reliable.
"In fact, I've long called for military interventions for humanitarian purposes [he wrote a pamphlet on the theme as far back as 1991], but there would have been no legal basis for that, and the 'humanitarian' reasons for the war have only been used retrospectively."
His high-profile and well-informed campaign against GM crops since being sacked from the environment post in 2003, as well as his difficult questions over 9/11 and the Bush administration have led some senior Green party officials to hope he could be persuaded to jump ship, and become the first ever Green MP in Britain.
"Never, never, never, never, never," he chides. "I respect the Greens. In fact, I respect the Lib Dems and I respect Respect, but there is no question of me switching.
"I've always been a mainstream politician, and I shall die Labour."
There doesn't, thankfully, seem much prospect of that yet, as Meacher boasts of having lost weight since losing office, and "feeling fitter and more energised than I have ever done".
No chance of this 64-year old quitting parliament at the next election, then?
"Not only shall I fight the next election, I could go on for another 10 years yet!"
See more links to Michael Meacher on warmwell