Although British Prime Minister David Cameron insists that he will not publish the legal advice that gave him the go ahead to end the lives of two British citizens fighting in Syria, if ever there was a time for transparency it is now. The British public is already frustrated by the no-show of the Chilcot Report, an inquiry ordered more than six years ago by another government, to investigate the role and decision-making which led to Britain going to war in Iraq in 2003.
There is a deep suspicion that the Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, and his legal, media and intelligence advisers concocted a cocktail of lies and spin in order to join the US in the invasion of Iraq. The war was launched because, we were led to believe, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he could unleash on the British public in less than 45 minutes. Saddam, we were informed, had already sent a team of Algerian-born Al-Qaida terrorists to unleash the deadly poison ricin on an unsuspecting public in London. There would, it was claimed, be mass murder and mayhem.
What we now know is that Saddam had no WMD and the ricin plot did not exist. That a million widows were created in Iraq from one lie and that the British public were terrified by another seems to matter not to the politicians behind the lies.
That was back in 2003 and here we are today with yet another British prime minister telling the British public that his order for drone attacks in Syria has saved the nation from an imminent terrorist attack. Using Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations as cover, Cameron gave the go ahead for an RAF drone to take out two Daesh fighters during the air strike on 21 August. Apart from the families of Cardiff-born Reyaad Khan and Aberdeen’s Ruhul Amin, I doubt that there will be many tears shed over the killing of the two young men who chose to leave these shores and join one of the most brutal terror organisations any one of us has seen.
However, the British public deserves to be shown the evidence which led to Cameron deciding to do away with due legal process and opt for what appear to be extrajudicial executions instead. We have, undoubtedly, been lied to in the past and so this government needs to demonstrate that the days of flawed, bad and shoddy intelligence are long gone and that everyone involved in making such decisions and carrying out the orders is above suspicion.
We also need to know why Cameron waited the best part of a month before informing MPs about the airstrikes. The news certainly shocked those sitting on both sides of the House of Commons although it has now emerged that the stand-in leader of the opposition knew a few hours ahead of yesterday’s statement. Perhaps Cameron thought he’d get less of a rough ride from Labour’s Harriet Harman by taking her into his confidence. I doubt, though, that anti-war campaigner Jeremy Corbyn (who looks like he will win the Labour leadership vote this weekend) would have been as acquiescent.
Of course there are some who believe that timing is everything in politics, as elsewhere. This too was demonstrated by the government, with the timing of yesterday’s announcement knocking off every front page Cameron’s other proclamation that Britain will accept a miserly 4,000 Syrian refugees this year.
The Iraq War of 2003 cast a very long shadow over Britain in terms of public trust and confidence in the government. That trust has, in reality, never been fully restored. It is vital that we know the truth about the decision to kill two British citizens and it is equally vital for us to see the evidence, and sooner rather than later. Such trust and transparency are vital in a democracy like ours; the government has no right to do away with them.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.