Weapons Expert Foretold His Death

2003/7/15 David Kelly, British Ministry of Defence weapons advisor is questioned by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, London, Britain, video still
AP
Government weapons scientist David Kelly feared he might "end up dead in the woods" if a U.S.-led coalition attacked Iraq, a colleague testified Thursday at a judicial inquiry into his suicide.

As on previous days, the hearings into Kelly's death produced a confusing account of how the government marshaled its evidence against Iraq, how the BBC reported on that evidence, and how both the broadcaster and the government handled Kelly.

Kelly, identified as the source of a British Broadcasting Corp. report that questioned the integrity of the government's case for war, was found dead July 18 at the edge of a clump of woods near his rural home.

The judge directing the inquiry, Lord Hutton, also announced that Prime Minister Tony Blair would give evidence Aug. 28, a day after an appearance by Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.

David Broucher, a British representative to U.N. conference on disarmament in Geneva, testified that he met Kelly in Switzerland on Feb. 27 after requesting a briefing on Iraq and biological weapons.

Kelly, Britain's leading expert on Baghdad's weapons programs, said he had been urging his Iraqi contacts to allow full inspections to avoid the threat of attack, but the Iraqis feared that if they disclosed too much about their state of readiness, they might become more vulnerable, Broucher said.

"My impression was that he felt he was in some personal difficulty or embarrassment about this because he felt the invasion might go ahead anyway and somehow it was putting him in a morally ambiguous situation," Broucher said.

"As David Kelly was leaving, I said to him, 'What do you think will happen if Iraq is invaded?'

"His reply was, which at the time I took to be a throwaway remark, he said, 'I will probably be found dead in the woods.'"

Broucher said he didn't report the conversation to his superiors at the Foreign Office until Aug. 5 "because I didn't attribute any particular significance to it."

"I thought he might have meant that he was at risk of being attacked by the Iraqis in some way," he said.

Kelly apparently killed himself in July, a week after he was named as a possible source behind news reports that accused the government of manipulating intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs to make a stronger case for war.

A government pathologist reported earlier this month that the main cause of Kelly's death was bleeding from several cuts on his left wrist. Kelly also swallowed more than a prescription dose of painkillers.

His family said the scrutiny he endured after being revealed as a source made his life intolerable.

Donald Anderson, who headed a parliamentary committee that investigated the government's case for war, said Kelly had "shown no distress" during his appearance before the panel on July 15.

"I imagine that I would have responded in a humane way if I had seen any sign of distress," Anderson said.

But Sunday Times journalist Nick Rufford testified that a few days earlier, Kelly told him he was "a bit shocked" that he had been identified as a possible source behind the BBC report at the center of the controversy.

"'I was told it would all be confidential,'" Rufford quoted Kelly was saying.

"He said to me, 'It has been a pretty difficult time for me, as you can imagine,' and he was talking about the last few weeks," Rufford said.

He added that Kelly "looked perplexed at the prospect" of receiving intense media scrutiny.

The May 29 BBC report accused the government of "sexing up" a dossier about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to bolster its argument for war, including a claim that Saddam Hussein's forces could deploy some of those weapons on 45 minutes' notice.

The report sparked an acrimonious dispute between the BBC and the government, which denies manipulating intelligence.

Kelly told the parliamentary committee he had spoken to BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan but didn't believe he was the source for the reporter's story. He denied making the claims included in Gilligan's report.

Rufford said Kelly made a similar statement to him, insisting he had spoken to Gilligan only about "factual stuff." He said the government's dossier was "factual and credible," Rufford said.

"He said to me…that he had just had a telephone call from the MoD (Ministry of Defense) telling him that his name was going to appear in national newspapers the following day," Rufford said.

The inquiry has previously learned that the BBC worried that Gilligan's story had involved "sloppy reporting" and that Blair had taken part in discussing what to do about Kelly.

It has also heard that at least two senior intelligence officers were worried about the way Blair was making the case for war.

Even Blair's own aides expressed doubts about the strengths of the evidence.

"The document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam," Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, wrote to the chair of the government's overarching intelligence committee just days before the dossier was published.

"In other words it shows he has the means but it does not demonstrate he has the motive to attack his neighbors, let alone the West. We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he is an imminent threat. The case we are making is that he has continued to develop WMD since 1998 and is in breach of UN resolutions."

In his forward to the dossier, Blair wrote, "I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current."