• U.S.

Death of the Inspector

2 minute read
J.F.O. Mcallister

While British Prime Minister Tony Blair was still basking in the glowing reviews for his appearance before the U.S. Congress, a plot twist worthy of a John Le Carre spy novel was unfolding back home that could complicate his already shaky political standing. Three days after Dr. David Kelly, Britain’s leading expert on biological weapons and an adviser to the Ministry of Defense, testified before a parliamentary committee looking into whether intelligence on Iraq’s weapons program had been hyped, his body was found in a field near his home. Police said he had slit his left wrist.

The suicide kicks the already bitter fight over whether Blair oversold the case for war into more treacherous ground. At a news conference in Japan on Saturday, a reporter went so far as to ask a visibly drawn and shaken Blair if he had “blood on his hands”–because his communications director, Alastair Campbell, was instrumental in arranging for Kelly to testify. The committee was investigating whether Campbell had “sexed up” the dossier Blair released last September on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as a BBC reporter claimed. Kelly had denied being the source for that claim. After exchanges in which some M.P.s directed anger toward the government but little toward him, the committee concluded that Kelly wasn’t the story’s primary source, but the scientist clearly did not enjoy testifying. At first he mumbled so low the ventilation had to be turned off so that he could be heard, and he deflected some questions with vague answers and claims of imperfect memory. His family later said he had found recent events “intolerable.”

Kelly was no meek back-room brain. As former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, he was described by colleagues as a “consummate professional,” tough enough to grind down Iraqis who tried to stymie the inspections. Was he hiding something or being pressured to? Or, given what colleagues describe as his ironclad commitment to telling the truth, did he regret what he had told the BBC or the committee? Or was he simply the victim of crippling depression? Blair, asking for “respect and restraint,” announced a high-level judicial inquiry into Kelly’s death, as the rest of the country awaited the spy novel’s next twist. –By J.F.O. McAllister

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