The Death of Dr. Kelly


It seems pretty certain that Dr. David Kelly killed himself in despair and confusion over his government’s muddled scheme to justify the invasion of Iraq. One person after another appearing before the official Hutton inquiry in London has said that this decent, internationally respected scientist was driven to kill himself because he had raised the mildest possible questions about Prime Minister Tony Blair’s war brief. Blair’s claims, to which the Bush government regularly referred as if they were incontestable facts, have been exposed as a collection of twisted factoids, including among other things information culled from Jane’s Defence Weekly and an ancient grad school thesis. This was the best the storied Brit spy service could do, and it has been ridiculed around the world as nonsense.

At Lord Hutton’s official inquiry into Kelly’s death, government officials have been describing straightforwardly how they decided to deal with the scientist, who had been a source for a critical BBC report. These officials, from the prime minister’s chief flack to the defense minister, Geoff Hoon, proposed to out Kelly as the BBC’s source, and then in the public clamor, watch him twist in the wind—in other words, naming an internationally respected scientist in such a way that he could be seen as a possible traitor to Blair’s brave war against Iraqi perfidy. All of this is business as usual to the Brit establishment, and Hoon told the inquiry that in his view Kelly had not been “poorly treated.” After all, Kelly had done his duty, as every British civil servant is expected to do. To spare his government embarrassment on his account, he went into the countryside and slit his wrists. Such a pity that things got so messy.

Indeed, in his appearance last Thursday, Blair himself airily admitted to have been part of the planning process that outed Kelly, claiming that the scientist—far from being stressed and tired from, among other things, the way this controversy was affecting his ill wife—was “anything other than someone of a certain robustness who was used to dealing with the interchange between politics and the media.”

In fact, Kelly’s officemate reported that the scientist talked of being “tired” after his grilling before a Parliament committee, adding, “He basically said he was holding up OK but it had all come to a head and his wife had taken it really very badly.”

While Hoon steadfastly defended the truthfulness of the government’s claims about Iraq, John Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence panel, whose job it was to put together the case for war, admitted that one of Blair’s major reasons for going to war was a lie. The British government had been insisting that Saddam could threaten the West within 45 minutes with chemical and biological payloads via long-range missiles. But at the Hutton inquiry last week, Scarlett said the 45 minutes applied not to long-range missiles but to “battlefield mortar shells or small-caliber weaponry.” Such weapons clearly could not threaten Britain, unless they were being operated from Trafalgar Square. But they also didn’t threaten any of the countries neighboring Iraq. Blair originally claimed that going to war was in the interests of Britain’s national security because Saddam’s missiles could reach British bases in Cyprus, which, according to Scarlett’s testimony, would have been impossible.

There were reasons, according to one colleague, for Kelly’s unhappiness. David Broucher, a former British ambassador to Prague and delegate to a disarmament conference in Geneva, recalled a conversation he had with Kelly in Geneva in February in which the scientist told him, “I will probably be found dead in the woods. ”

Broucher said he didn’t take this remark seriously at the time.

But in an August 5 e-mail to the Foreign Office that later was revealed at the Hutton inquiry, Broucher detailed the context of Kelly’s eerie comment: “He said that his Iraqi contacts had pointed out to him that revealing too much about their state of readiness might well heighten the risk that they would be attacked. To gain their trust, he had been obliged to assure them that if they complied with the weapons inspectors they would not be. The implication was that if an invasion went ahead that would make him a liar and he would have betrayed his contacts, some of whom might be killed as a direct result of his actions. I asked what would happen then and he replied in a throwaway line he would probably be found dead in the woods.”

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John

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