Wednesday, August 13, 2003

You can't help being confused if, like me, you're a non-Briton and you're trying to keep up with the story of Dr. David Kelly. Dr. Kelly was the weapons expert who committed suicide after he was identified as the source of a BBC report by Andrew Gilligan on the Blair government's "dodgy dossier," a report that was (choose one) (a) mildly hyperbolic (b) or scurrilous and utterly unsubstantiated. (The Sun, for instance, is solidly in the latter camp, to the delight of the knuckle-draggers at Lucianne Goldberg's Web site.)

The issue here is whether Andrew Gilligan was telling the truth when he reported that his source (Dr. Kelly) had named Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's communications director, as the person responsible for inserting into the dossier the claim that Iraqi could deploy a weapon of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

Susan Watts, a BBC reporter who also spoke to Dr. Kelly, has now appeared before the British government's inquiry into the matter, and has played a tape recording of her conversation with Dr. Kelly -- and here's where the confusion comes in. Here are three headlines from today's online Guardian:

Watts: 'Kelly did not blame Campbell'

Second BBC reporter [Watts] says Kelly told her Campbell 'sexed up' dossier

Kelly blamed 'someone' at No 10

All of these stories describe what the inquiry learned from one witness.

This makes my head swim -- but look at the third story, which discusses the tape-recorded conversation between Watts and Dr. Kelly. Here's some of the conversation in detail:

Watts then asked: "But on the 45 minutes?"

Dr Kelly replied: "Oh, that I knew, because I knew the concern about the statement. It was a statement that was made and it just got out of all proportion. You know someone, they were desperate for information. They were pushing hard for information which could be released.

"That was one that popped up and it was seized on and it was unfortunate that it was, which is why there is the argument between the intelligence services and the Cabinet Office/No 10, because things were picked on, and once they've picked up on it you can't pull back, that's the problem."

Watts went on to ask Dr Kelly if the 45 minute claim was published against his advice, to which he replied: "I wouldn't go as strongly as to say, that particular bit, because I was not involved in the assessment of it. No. I can't say that it was against my advice.

"I was uneasy with it. I mean my problem was that I could give other explanations which I've indicated to you. That it was the time to erect something like a scud missile or it was the time to fill a 40 barrel, multi-barrel rocket launcher."…

Watts asked Dr Kelly to expand on the issue of the 45 minute claim: "So would it be accurate then, as you did in that earlier conversation, to say that it was Alastair Campbell himself who..?"

Dr Kelly replied: "No I can't. All I can says is the No 10 press office. I've never met Alastair Campbell so I can't," Watts interrupted: "They seized on that?"

The scientist continued: "But I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he's responsible for it."

The big issue for BBC-bashers on both sides of the Atlantic is whether Andrew Gilligan, presumably hearing similar things from Dr. Kelly, leapt to a conclusion Dr. Kelly would not have endorsed (that Alastair Campbell was personally responsible for sexing up the dossier). The stories suggest that Gilligan did go too far -- but Dr. Kelly does detect Campbell's hand in the sexing-up.

And, more important, it's clear from this tape-recorded conversation that the Blair government seized on intelligence that could be interpreted several ways -- and then spun it in a way that made Saddam look far more dangerous than he was. (Sound familiar?) And it's clear that this troubled Dr. Kelly. As well it should have.

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