David Randall: Baffling death, a bluffer's demise, BP's mates, and the banality of evil

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The Independent Online

Surprisingly little attention – given the international hoo-ha his death caused – has been given to Thursday's results of toxicology tests on the body of MI6 mathematician and code expert Gareth Williams. He was found, remember, naked, in a kneeling position, inside a large sports holdall which had been padlocked. The tests showed no trace of poison, alcohol, or drugs in his body, which knocked on the head the idea that Mr Williams had been sedated, bagged up, and left to die.

Other theories, however, continue to flourish, among them the persistent one that Mr Williams was afflicted with a sexual kink only satisfied by severe confinement. The Sun reports that he had recently visited websites on claustrophobia and sadomasochism, allowing them to headline their story: "Bag spook died in 'Houdini' game". Similar reports have been denied in the past, and all police will say is that they continue to seek a couple who were let into Mr Williams's flat shortly before the assumed time of his death.

Five years ago, Stephen Wilce was appointed New Zealand's chief defence scientist with access to military secrets. Officials there were impressed when he told them how he had: served as a helicopter pilot in both the Falklands conflict and the first Gulf War; played rugby for Wales; was a member of the Royal Society; and competed as an Olympic bobsleigher. All, it turns out, were brazen lies, as was his claim to have been chief executive of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (he was, instead, its bar and restaurant manager); so too was his claim to have swum for England at the Commonwealth Games. Exit Mr Wilce.

The wonder is that it took five years for this Walter Mitty to be unmasked, and required the attentions of television journalists – rather than New Zealand's security services – to do so. What we have here, one suspects, is one of the great rules of career life in operation: that the last people capable of spotting a bluff, blazered, outgoing bullshitter are other bluff, blazered, outgoing bullshitters. A woman, or a geek, on the appointments board would, one suspects, have rumbled him in seconds.

The idea that BP was solely responsible for the Gulf oil spill was always preposterous. As we pointed out in June, of 126 of the people on the Deepwater Horizon rig, only eight worked for BP; and at least six other companies were involved in the operation. These facts did not stop the hand-on-heart, flag-salutin' US press blaming "British Petroleum", as they erroneously called the company, for all the oily ills befalling the Gulf and its coast.

Sure enough, that much nationalistic certitude is bound to come a cropper, and three days ago the president's own oil spill commission revealed that large questions now surround Halliburton (ex-boss, one Dick Cheney), who carried out the cementing at the site. The US firm skipped a crucial test on the cement used to seal the well, while an independent test for the commission questioned the stability of the cement mix used. The commission has many more issues on which to report. Expect BP to be far from alone in the dock.

Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister and the man who, in the first Gulf War, also seemed to be the least unhinged member of the Baghdad government, has been sentenced to death by Iraq's high tribunal. He was convicted of being party to the persecution, torture and killing of Shia Islamist party members, by dint of his role on the Saddam-era Revolutionary Command Council. This regularly issued decrees ordering the torture and extermination of scores of thousands of Shias and their families. The 74-year-old can still appeal, but, if that fails, he will hang after 30 days.

Several groups have questioned the tribunal's impartiality, but there is no doubt that Aziz was a member of the council, nor the reign of terror over which it presided. Part of this reaction is perhaps explained by Aziz failing what might be called the "ogre test": because he looks like a kindly bookshop owner, it seems harder to believe he connived at evil. Time, if so tempted, to scan the banalities in the dock at Nuremburg.