The facts surrounding the alleged suicide on 18 July 2003 of Dr David Kelly, MoD biological expert, Iraq weapons inspector spy, wholesale supporter of the invasion of Iraq, and all-out flunkey of British imperialism, cannot but be well known since this issue has dominated all the information media for over two months. To summarise them briefly for the benefit of anybody who has been visiting Mars in that time, events began to unfold when on 31 May, not long after 6 a.m., the Radio 4 programme Today ran a brief report from BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, to the effect that intelligence experts in the Ministry of Defence were denying the truth of an allegation that had been made by the government in a Briefing Document, or dossier, that it published on Iraq to the effect that Saddam Hussein had the means to launch weapons of mass destruction (WMD) within 45 minutes. The programme went on to say that although much of the document was based on information provided by the intelligence department, the 45-minute claim had been inserted by Alastair Campbell in order to ‘sex up’ the dossier as part of the government’s preparations for participating in the war against Iraq.
The Today programme is widely listened to by people interested in politics, so it was perhaps not surprising that it did cause a flutter in the corridors of power. As one might expect, Tony Blair claimed that the whole thing was a fabrication. Slightly more surprising is that the government demanded a retraction and an apology from the BBC. And even more surprising was the fact that the BBC refused to give it. No doubt the reasons will emerge in the fullness of time. Andrew Gilligan had received the information from a person that the BBC considered to be a reliable source in the Ministry of Defence, and both Andrew Gilligan and the BBC felt that it was a matter that should be reported.
On 8 July the government let it be known that the mole in the Ministry of Defence who had given an unauthorised interview to Andrew Gilligan was David Kelly, and 10 days later David Kelly was found dead in the countryside near his home with his wrists slit.
The government then set up a judicial inquiry into the cause of David Kelly’s death, presumably in the hope of stifling suspicions that he had been murdered because of what he might say that would damage the government’s credibility. Another major purpose would of course be to discredit not only David Kelly but also Andrew Gilligan and the BBC as much as possible in order to restore the government’s credibility, such as it is. The judicial inquiry, led by Lord Hutton, has been making valiant efforts to substantiate the suicide theory, but in doing so has incidentally brought to light a substantial amount of information about the ‘sexing up’ allegations, which have come as quite a shock to the sweet innocents who always believe (generally because it suits them to do so) the alluring fairy tales told by bourgeois governments to justify their most criminal acts.
Lies are necessary to cover up evil
It is said that the first casualty of war is truth – and this must of course be the case when you are trying to mobilise support for a war which is both predatory and illegal even under the norms of bourgeois justice. In the UK there were very few people who did not understand that the war against Iraq was about seizing control of Iraq’s oil resources and had nothing whatever to do with WMD. The people who said otherwise were only that section of the bourgeoisie which happened to support the war – the dominant section of the British bourgeoisie at this time – and most of their hired parliamentary and journalist lackeys who needed to latch on to the wilted figleaf of weapons of mass destruction to justify their support for flagrant illegality and aggression against the people of Iraq. The Hutton inquiry has whipped that wilted figleaf away, causing considerable embarrassment to Tony Blair and the finance, oil and armaments sections of the bourgeoisie that he represents by leading to demands for Tony Blair’s resignation as prime minister – and there has to be a possibility that he will be sacrificed, in just the same way as he was pushed into sacrificing Alastair Campbell.
The most damning evidence against the government came from another MoD employee, Dr Brian Jones, who told the Inquiry that he and other intelligence employees had been disturbed by the absurd claim having been inserted in the dossier that Iraq could launch WMD on 45 minutes’ notice. This evidence contradicted not only that of the prime minister, but also that of the head of intelligence, Scarlett, who had earlier altogether denied the ‘sexing up’ or that anybody in the department had been concerned about it. He admitted that the prime minister’s office suggested changes to intelligence experts’ drafts, but claimed that these were helpful! He obviously had an eye to his pension. It was very brave of Dr Jones to testify in this way, but it was either that or have British intelligence appear to be incompetent idiots who had not the slightest idea of what was really happening on the ground.
The upshot of it all was to establish beyond doubt that the essential point of Andrew Gilligan’s report had been 100% correct and there was no basis for demanding that the BBC apologise for it. Into the bargain, as Michael Prowse in the Financial Times of 26 August 2003 points out (‘Hutton highlights the failure of Britain’s amoral democracy’): “The documents, e-mails and oral evidence flowing from the inquiry reveal chaotic meetings, bullying language, partisan assessments of evidence and the relentless spinning of information for public consumption”.
Attempts at damage limitation
In order to distract attention away from the central issue brought to light by this Inquiry, namely that the government has comprehensively been caught out in a monstrous lie, we are regaled with all kinds of attacks on those who blew the whistle. The servile Dr Kelly was maligned by a government spokesman shortly after his death as a person suffering from Walter Mitty fantasies. Andrew Gilligan, who was able to prove the essence of his story even before Dr Jones gave his evidence by producing a tape-recording of Dr Kelly making much the same allegations to his colleague Susan Watts, was decried as unprofessional on a number of counts, especially fingering Alastair Campbell, since it just so happened that Alastair Campbell was not mentioned on that tape-recording. The BBC was supposed to be complicit in hounding Dr Kelly into committing suicide, etc., etc. Frantic efforts were made to uncover procedural breaches or errors of judgment with which the whistle-blowers could be pilloried. All of this made headlines in all newspapers and broadcast news reports, masking the underlying issue of the exposure of government prevarication.
Despite all this, Alastair Campbell’s resignation was suddenly announced. No reason for that resignation was given. It has certainly not been admitted by the government that it was he who inserted the offending words in the dossier, but clearly somebody did – and Alastair Campbell was the one to carry the can.
The evidence to the Inquiry had also made it clear that if Dr Kelly was driven to suicide, then it was the government who was responsible for this, not the BBC. Good little servant of the bourgeoisie that he was, David Kelly had confessed to his line manager at the MoD that he had spoken out of turn. He was then reprimanded and told the matter would go no further. It then appeared that on instructions of Tony Blair himself his name was leaked to the press so that he would be hounded by them out of house and home, which is what happened. Despite the reassurances he had been given by his line manager, there was evidence that David Kelly was indeed worried about his pension. One can only assume that pressure had been put on him to lie about his conversation with Andrew Gilligan, he had refused, and was therefore being subjected to bludgeoning in the hope it would make him change his mind.
Of course, this could, and indeed was intended, to support the suicide theory. But the suicide theory has a number of very bold question marks over it. First of all, it transpires that Dr Kelly was a member of the Bahai faith, which very strongly condemns suicide (as indeed it condemns all telling of untruths – no doubt the reason why Dr Kelly was so disturbed at the contents of the dossier that he spoke to Andrew Gilligan about it, and the reason why he would not have been prepared to be bullied into lying about what he said to Andrew Gilligan). Secondly, Dr Kelly left no suicide note. Thirdly, he wrote an email the same day that he died saying how much he was looking forward to going back to Baghdad.
It actually makes very little difference, however, as to whether his suicide was ‘assisted’ by secret service assassins or was entirely spontaneous. Either way you look at it, his life was sacrificed because he dared to cause inconvenience to the government by exposing their lies.
A sense of proportion
Interesting though all the revelations are that the Inquiry is bringing to light, it is important not to lose one’s sense of proportion. It is no great revelation to the working-class movement that the government lied in order to make its case for war. It was self-evident that after years of weapons inspections and UN sanctions, Iraq did not have the means to defend itself against imperialist invasion, and it was for that precise reason that imperialism found the confidence to invade – a project from which it drew back in the Gulf War. Not only did the government lie, all day and every day, but so did all the bourgeois mass media, including the BBC. Yes, one does enjoy the sight of all the toadies who happily propagated these lies being discomfited, but in fact it’s no big deal. Above all it is important not to lose sight of the fact that even if Saddam had been armed to the teeth with WMD, it still would not have provided any justification for the imperialist powers (who hold overwhelmingly the world’s largest arsenals of WMD) to invade Iraq, overturn its government, take possession of its oil resources, occupy the country and turn it into one large prison camp and torture chamber. There was no justification either for the preparations for that invasion, which included the UN sanctions regime and the weapons inspections.
Nor can any socialist get more than passing enjoyment from the government’s discomfiture which at best would lead to the resignation of Tony Blair. Happy though we would be to see him go, he will only be replaced by some similar flunkey in the abject service of British imperialism, prepared to commit any crime – never mind utter the odd big fat porky – which he believes will be of benefit to his masters’ interests. Those who, like the Trotskyite Socialist Worker and the revisionist Morning Star, are claiming it will be a big victory for the working class if Tony Blair is given the push are only themselves defending the interests of imperialism by attributing the crimes of imperialism merely to the aberrations of a nasty flunkey and creating illusions in that flunkey’s successor. But then that is what Trotskyism, revisionism and left social-democracy in general always do. This points to the need, the absolute necessity, of fighting against opportunism in the form of social-democracy and its left-wing hangers-on.