Why we are all left clueless

‘They’re not and have never been British and the fact this murderous little thug won’t be setting foot in Cardiff again, well done RAF, well done, now waste the rest of them…’

This was the first of the readers’ comments below a report this morning on The Guardian’s website about the use of an RAF drone to kill two Britons fighting alongside Islamic State in Syria.

I guess this shows that not everyone who reads that newspaper/website comes from the expected liberal mould.

The attack followed the US model of drone strikes, an aspect of modern warfare that leaves some people feeling morally queasy (and which, incidentally, features in the BBC2 thriller Odyssey).

David Cameron announced in the Commons yesterday on its first day back after the summer break that he had authorised the unprecedented aerial attack. The prime minister justified the killing of Reyaad Khan, who was 21, on the grounds that he had presented a “clear and present danger” to British citizens. Khan, who appeared in an Isis recruiting video last year, was said to have been planning terrorist attacks around two events: the VE Day commemorations attended by the Queen in May, and a ceremony to mark the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in June.

In his statement, Cameron said: “In an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqah in Syria.”

Another Briton travelling with him, Ruhul Amin, was also killed in the attack. Cameron said both men were involved in actively recruiting Isis sympathisers and were “seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the west”. “We should be under no illusion. Their intention was the murder of British citizens.”

This may well be true – but does not avoid the heavy irony that what the state has done is murder British citizens. Whether this was a right or legal act can be argued about until the horizon ties itself in a knot, and Cameron certainly believes he had the law behind him.

The average person watching the news has no idea, they are clueless drones responding to whatever they are being told. And I count myself among those without a clue.

This state of not knowing anything is because the legal advice to attack was based on secret intelligence which was not made public – because it was secret – or discussed in Parliament.

In practical terms, you couldn’t have a debate about such attacks, as decisions have to be made quickly and in secret. But the last vote in Parliament on whether or not there should be a military strike on Syria was lost by the government – which went ahead with this attack anyway.

So all we can do is believe what we wish to believe – and that’s all that leaders such as David Cameron do anyway. And Tony Blair before him. Blair is probably deeply envious that there weren’t RAF Reaper drones so readily to hand in his day.

This isn’t a party-political thing; it’s a leader thing, the burden/thrill of heavy responsibility. This is the point where politics tips beyond the everyday grind of argument, posturing and pretending to give a toss. This is the big important stuff that is so big and important it can happen without encumbrances such as debate or telling people anything beforehand.

Maybe this attack was legally justified, maybe it wasn’t: we don’t know because the intelligence used to justify the attack stays hidden. Everything rides on that intelligence: get that wrong and you’ll be sending in anonymous drones to kill innocent people, or people innocent of what you think they’ve done or were planning to do.

It’s not unusual for people to assume that politicians are lying to them or presenting versions of the truth more bent and full of holes than a Curly-Wurly bar. So was David Cameron telling it to us straight and uncurled? Well, you have to trust that he was because you don’t have any other option. And whether you feel like trusting Cameron on this matter depends on how you feel about him on other matters. And so the spiral deepens.

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