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Monday, August 04, 2003
 
The puzzle of David Kelly

Ever since the name of the weapons expert David Kelly became public knowledge, there have been disquieting features. Given his suicide, the plot thickens, as they say. One of the most interesting developments is to be found in this report in today's Independent:
Downing Street will seek to defend itself over the death of David Kelly by portraying the scientist as a Walter Mitty character who exaggerated his role in the Government's intelligence case against Iraq.

Coming shortly before Dr Kelly's funeral on Wednesday, the description of one of Britain's most respected weapons experts as a fantasist is certain to spark fury among friends and former colleagues.

But, in what appears to be a change of tactics by the Government, a senior Whitehall source told The Independent that Dr Kelly had misled the Ministry of Defence and the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan over claims that a dossier used to justify war against Saddam Hussein had been "sexed up".
It's possible to see what's coming next: the government will accept that Andrew Gilligan did report David Kelly accurately but will claim that Kelly was not in a position to give him proper information on the issue, or that he was mistaken, or that he was doing his own 'sexing up'. Watch for more misleading accusations of 'sloppy journalism' against Gilligan, therefore.

I do not maintain that one should never speak ill of the dead but this new government volte-face is disgraceful. There are some strange facts about Kelly's behaviour about which Josh may blog shortly but, for the moment, it's a matter of sources. Whether or not Kelly was the only source, I would expect Gilligan to have given misleading information about it/him. I recognise that this opens him to the charge of (minor) porkie-telling but when you have an important but vulnerable source, responsible journalists dissemble about its nature. This explains the initial 'confusion' about the source's position. I would not be averse to 'confusing' things by e.g. 'making a mistake' about a source's place of employment to preserve anonymity.

However, it's probable that there's more than one source - 'rogue elements in the security services' as the irredeemably nasty John Reid put it. Gilligan and the BBC may well have conflated his sources and I wouldn't be surprised if new, irate, rogue elements are already communicating from the shadows.

The major point - that we went to war on a dodgy prospectus - cannot be contradicted. Even if Tony B liar believes/believed with every fibre of his being that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, he misled Parliament and the nation, almost certainly deliberately. Journalists would be well advised to concentrate on this issue. I hold no particular ill will towards this government but they have behaved disgracefully. The project started with an obvious lie: that the UNSCOM inspectors were expelled from Iraq when, in fact, they were withdrawn. It continued with further ‘misinformation’: sexing up a part-plagiarised dossier, crap about uranium from Niger, and the ‘forty-five minutes readiness’ claim.

Pedants may argue that lying is lying and that's an end to it. However, lying to protect a source (or one's marriage, come to that) is one thing. Telling lies to persuade a reluctant nation to go to war is a different matter.


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