Nepali Times
Here And There
Nothing but the truth


The beleaguered Blair government in Britain has resorted to a time-honoured technique to blur the outrage over the David Kelly affair. The row over BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan and his stories about "sexing-up" an Iraq arms dossier has been referred to a judicial inquiry headed by Lord Hutton of the Law Lords. And, crucially, it's summertime. Brits are bored with politics and media infighting. They're heading for the beach. When they come back, unfortunately, this episode will be distant history. Kaput. But it shouldn't be. Much about the situation remains deeply troubling.

For Blair. For Britain and, of course, for the BBC, my alma mater.

Journalism is often a tightrope. Especially reporting, which is largely a matter of fossicking through the claims, counterclaims, blatant attempts to manipulate and other clumps of filth in our in-trays. Occasionally something gleams pure gold but even then, it's best to be suspicious. As I found out in March of 1993 as a somewhat damp-behind-the-ears South Asia correspondent in Pakistan, finding the glittery lump in the dirt can be a risky business.

By March of that year, it was clear that we were in for a wild ride in the Islamic Republic. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's battles with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan made the Gilligan spat look like a love-in. So I tuned in to Khan's Pakistan Day speech on 23 March with some interest. I don't remember the exact wording but in impeccable Urdu, the bureaucrat-president seemed to be dissing his prime minister. At the time my Urdu was-ahem-poor. So I made a few calls to what I admit were interested parties. All gave me the line. Yes, Khan was preparing to dump Sharif.

I reported that, much in the manner that Andrew Gilligan told BBC audiences that the Blair government had deliberately "sexed-up" the Iraq arms report. Khan was livid with me, apparently. Not that I was wrong, but he'd deliberately said what he said on a national holiday. No newspapers on the following day. No nasty questions in the press about improprieties. And you can guess what happened. Like Andrew Gilligan, I became the story. 'Who was the BBC's source' screamed one Urdu paper. 'BBC schemes against Sharif' said another.

In the end, I was proven right. And I didn't need a senior judge to exonerate me. But I still remember with a shudder of fear how it felt to be out on that limb on that day. Unable to take back my broadcast analysis of Khan's speech. Praying to gods I don't believe in that I was right.

I don't say Andrew Gilligan went too far out on any limb. He is one of the Beeb's more tenacious hacks, with a long record of breaking troublesome, and true, revelations about the people in power. No, I believe that the villain of the piece is Tony Blair's government, no matter what Lord Hutton's findings about the behaviour of Gilligan and the BBC. It has to be asked: have we lost sight of the main point here? Blair and his team, in dogged support of Washington, told self-evident lies to justify the invasion of a country that was no direct threat to Britain or the United States.

Of course they "sexed-up" the dossiers, speeches and justifications for war. They had to. There were no smoking germs, no missiles, no mobile labs making anthrax, no Ebola, TB or Sarin gas. Nothing. The Saddamites had destroyed it all. Or hidden it. Whatever.

Lies of historic proportion-Goebbelsian in their audacity and scope-spewed forth from the likes of Powell, Blair, Straw and, of course, Bush. Each was supposed be decent, conviction politicians, a cut above the rest. No more, no longer. They used information they knew to be false to wreak unholy havoc in a country already on its knees because of a decade of sanctions, a country that, yes, had an evil government, but deserved better than the slapdash invasion and occupation that it has suffered.

Of course none of this is within Lord Hutton's remit. Tony Blair has been careful to specify, respectfully of course, that Milord will confine himself to the case of the late David Kelly, his words to Andrew Gilligan and how the Ministry of Defence handled the aftermath. No chance of proving whether or not what Kelly is alleged to have told Gilligan was true. That's water under the bridge. Or so Blair thinks. So he hopes.

What I hope as a journalist-not as a citizen or a political animal, but as a member of a profession too often scape-goated by politicians-is that Tony Blair and colleagues suffer the sanction of democracy for their perfidy, their cynicism, their lying. I hope they continue to see their stock plunge in the market of British public opinion.

And I pray that history marks them down as the Great Liars, along with Bush and Co in Washington. Long after Andrew Gilligan is forgotten, and David Kelly's family is done with righteous grief.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)