In England, they shot the messenger. True, the death of British biological weapons expert David Kelly was a suicide. But if the reserved scientist took his own life, it was in response to the British Ministry of Defense outing and reprimanding him as the alleged whistle-blower behind the BBC's controversial report that the government “sexed up” its intelligence information to make the case for war.
The BBC charge against the government in this instance was quite mild, because what Tony Blair did was not merely hype the case for preemptively invading Iraq. Rather, he deliberately lied to his public about the certainty of his claims to frighten the people into sending their children off to war. In this case, the Brits said—wrongly— that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons in 45 minutes, a lie also employed by our president as one of his hysterical claims to justify the invasion of Iraq.
But in England, Kelly's death and the unraveling justifications for war have created a governmental crisis and prompted calls for Blair to resign.
The prewar confetti of frightening claims about Iraq has been exposed as nothing more than cherry-picked snippets from intelligence reports that generally regarded that nation’s threat to the world as modest and shrinking. Instead of admitting this now obvious fact, the Blair government unleashed a witch hunt against the BBC and anyone in the Blair administration who might have been a source for the news agency’s reporting.
Kelly was the first victim of the government’s revenge against the British Broadcasting Corporation, which had—until Kelly was found dead—refused to name its source. The BBC has been a target of the Blair-Bush partnership ever since they decided to invade Iraq.
During the Iraq war, the BBC, in stark contrast to leading U.S. news outlets, distinguished itself for objective coverage of its own government, even during a time of heightened patriotism. This should be a great advertisement for the model of a free society that we claim to be eager to export to, or impose on, the rest of the world. In most countries, publicly subsidized broadcasting is an important source of news, and the BBC serves as the premier example that such reporting can withstand official government assaults on its independence. The BBC’s reporting on the doctored intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction followed its notable report debunking the U.S. military propaganda tale of the battle and rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
Remember, the BBC was not taking the safe route that so many news organizations prefer. Yet, time and again, they have been proved right with each new revelation of half-truths, outright lies and data manipulation on the part of the coalition’s leaders-in-chief.
As Paul Reynolds, a veteran BBC military affairs analyst, said of the British intelligence dossier cited as the source for Bush’s now-repudiated claim about Iraq’s nuclear program: “Of the nine main conclusions in the British government document ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction,’ not one has been shown to be conclusively true.”
Blair last week told the U.S. Congress that he and Bush were right to invade Iraq even if no weapons of mass destruction are ever found. Left unmentioned is that it was the coalition that chased U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq, claiming they weren’t doing their job and that the Iraq threat was growing. Clearly the immediacy of the threat from Hussein was a phony claim that Blair and Bush should have known full well was not backed up by any substantial evidence.
What’s left is the idea that we are in Iraq to build a democracy by force. Yet the people on both sides of the Atlantic were adamantly opposed to this sort of nation-building, smacking as it does of past disasters, from the collapse of the British Empire to the U.S. war in Vietnam. In essence, we are now told to be happy with a rationale for war that we didn’t find convincing before the war started.
This is a denigration of the core ideal of representative democracy—rule by an enlightened public—as are vindictive attacks on journalistic watchdogs and whistle-blowers who keep our representatives honest. Last week in his speech, Blair smugly claimed the favorable judgment of future historians, but it is the BBC that history will celebrate for its pursuit of truth.
Robert Scheer is a Berkeley resident.