British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he has no intention of stepping down after the death of a defense ministry expert widens the growing controversy over Britain’s justification for invading Iraq.
The front pages of London newspapers on Saturday July 19 focus on government involvement in the death of David Kelly.
Pressure continues to mount on British Prime Minister Tony Blair after the apparent suicide of defense ministry weapons expert Dr. David Kelly shocked the nation this weekend and raised uncomfortable questions about the government’s responsibility. The prime minister, who is currently touring East Asia, has called for an end to speculation on the circumstances of Kelly’s death until an independent inquiry is completed.
On Saturday, police investigating the case said the biologist and former UN weapons inspector had been found dead in the woods near his home of Southmoore in Oxfordshire with a slit wrist and a box of pain killers, most likely indicating suicide. They say there’s no evidence that anybody else was involved in the death.
"Many dark actors playing games"
Friends and family say the 59-year-old Kelly, who was thought to be the anonymous source for a May 29 BBC news report claiming Tony Blair’s government had grossly exaggerated the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons arsenal to justify war, was under a great deal of pressure. Kelly’s widow confirmed her husband’s distress after being thrust into the spotlight. In a statement read by a police spokesman she said, "Events over recent weeks have made David’s life intolerable and all of those involved should reflect long and hard over that fact."
The New York Times reported on Saturday that Kelly had e-mailed a reporter shortly before his disappearance describing "many dark actors playing games." The paper's reporter believed Kelly meant officials with whom he had often disagreed over intelligence assessments on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
David Kelly, British Ministry of Defense weapons expert is questioned by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, July 15.
Earlier in the week, Kelly had been called before a British parliamentary committee investigating his involvement in the televised report, which has cast a long shadow over Downing Street and its role in "sexing up" intelligence evidence in order to get the British public to rally behind a war on Iraq. Kelly denied that he was the main source of the BBC’s information, but the BBC on Sunday admitted Kelly was in fact their primary informant.
After recovering from the initial shock, Tony Blair said on Sunday he had ordered an independent judicial inquiry into Kelly’s death. Led by the respected judge Lord Hutton, the inquiry would have full governmental cooperation. "I can assure you the judge will be able to get to all the facts, and all the people and all the papers that he wants," Blair said in an interview recorded with Sky News in Japan.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, is welcomed by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as he arrives at the mountain hot spring resort of Hakone in Japan Saturday, July 19, 2003.
"What has happened is absolutely awful... I don’t think anybody in any quarter wanted or anticipated this happening," Blair explained and emphasized that the independent inquiry had to be allowed to carry out its full investigation before any conclusions were drawn.
"In the end the government is my responsibility," the prime minister said when asked if he would accept blame if the investigation pointed to any wrongdoing by members of his government. But at the same time Blair emphatically dismissed demands for his resignation and rejected calls to ask members of parliament to return from their summer recess.
"I don’t really think we would gain anything by having parliamentarians coming back and debating something before they have actually got the judge’s report," Blair said while brushing aside calls from opposition Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith that the prime minister cut short his Asian trip and recall parliament to discuss the matter.
On Saturday, Blair dramatically refused to speak to reporters when asked at a press conference in Japan, "Have you got blood on your hands Mr. Prime Minister? Are you going to resign over this?"
The failure to discover Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the public dispute over the BBC report and now Kelly’s death have plunged Blair into the worst political crisis of his six-year administration. Even members from his own party are criticizing him and calling for him to step down.
Glenda Jackson, a former junior minister in the Labor party, said Blair "should bite the bullet and resign." It will be nearly impossible for the government to continue working effectively while the inquiry conducts it’s investigation, she said.
Blair, for his part, is sticking to his government’s intelligence reports and the country’s involvement in the war on Iraq. "There is an assumption running that actually the whole issue... was just a strange invention of the CIA or British intelligence," he said in Japan and then added, "It certainly was not. I believe that intelligence to be genuine."