Feature

United Kingdom: WMD conspiracy theory lives on

Many still have doubts about the suicide of David Kelly, the weapons expert who disputed the British government's claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat.

There is still “a cloud of doubt” hanging over the death of David Kelly, said the Mail on Sunday in an editorial. Dr. Kelly was a weapons expert for the Defense Ministry who disputed the government’s claims that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed an “imminent threat” to Britain and the world. In 2003, a few weeks after the invasion of Iraq, Kelly expressed his concerns to reporter Andrew Gilligan, who unleashed an exposé of what he called the government’s “sexed-up” dossier on Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. The Defense Ministry retaliated by leaking Kelly’s name to the media and trying to destroy his reputation, and in a few short weeks Kelly was found dead in the woods near his home; his death was ruled a suicide. Yet questions persist. There was “no proper inquest”—and no explanation as to why one wasn’t carried out. Kelly supposedly slit his wrists and bled to death, but last week a group of doctors reviewing the evidence said it was “highly unlikely” for someone to die merely from cutting the small artery that had been severed. What’s the government hiding? Why not open an inquest now?

Because we’ve already plowed this ground, said David Aaronovitch in The Times. It’s been seven years since Kelly died, yet we hear calls for an inquest at least once a year. The latest group to cast doubt on the suicide goes over “much the same” terrain as all previous doubters did. What all these conspiracy theorists have in common is a failure to acknowledge what the police said: that Kelly’s death resulted not from the severed artery alone, but from that wound in combination with his heart condition and an overdose of pain killers. Conspiracy mongers prefer to believe that our own government murdered Kelly, apparently in retaliation for his whistle-blowing. For them, “artery doubt” plays the same role “as the magic bullet in the JFK conspiracy.” They are building “a baroque cathedral of allegation out of piss and wind.”

Kelly was my secret source, said Andrew Gilligan in the Daily Telegraph, and even I don’t believe he was murdered. The government had no motive, given that his testimony was already out there. Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that the alleged murder is tied to then–Iraqi exiles Ahmed Chalabi and Ayad Allawi. Under this theory, Chalabi and Allawi, the main propagandists of the “WMD nonsense,” wanted to silence Kelly’s doubts about the WMD threat. But the idea that Chalabi or Allawi would bother about a minor political scandal in Britain is “just silly.” In any case, Iraqi history since then proves that “neither man can run a bath, let alone a sophisticated hit in a foreign country.”

Still, even conceding that Kelly was a suicide doesn’t let the Tony Blair government off the hook, said Sam Leith in the Evening Standard. An inquest could show that Kelly was effectively badgered to death. After the government outed him as Gilligan’s source, Kelly was summoned before a parliamentary committee, where he was grilled and insulted on live television. A “conscientious, private, decent, and ordinary” man was made to suffer because he dared to expose the government’s lies. His suicide, “the last act of a terribly, terribly frightened man,” would never have happened were it not for the “deliberate and cynical leaking of his name.” The government may not have had Kelly murdered, but it still has “his blood on its hands.”

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