Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley died in southern Iraq on March 13 2003. At the time his father, Peter, believed the government's reason for the war - the weapons of mass destruction - and that they would be found. He now says his son died for a lie, and wants Tony Blair and George Bush to be held accountable for every death or injury in the Iraq war and occupation. Ninety-seven British soldiers have died to date. Many of their families and loved ones now feel like Peter Brierley.
The truth about the reasons for war and its legality has been leaking out for some time. In his recently published memoirs, the former British ambassador to the US, Christopher Meyer, confirms that a confidential 2002 memorandum recorded Blair telling Bush in April that "the UK would support military action to bring about regime change". In that case, there was no intention to allow the UN inspectors to finish their work, or to analyze the 12,000-page document that Iraq had lodged with the UN in December 2002.
We also know now that there were profound concerns over the legality of regime change, and relying on resolution 1441 without a security council authorization. Indeed, Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of staff, made it a requirement of mobilizing the troops that he should be given an unequivocal assurance that the war would be legal - and the prime minister and attorney general both obliged.
The families' anger is triggered by the revelation of the full advice of the attorney general of March 7 2003. Far from being unequivocal, it is full of legal riders and cautionary statements: the language of resolution 1441 "leaves the position unclear", "arguments can be made on both sides", and "the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorize the use of force". Further, he advised that the government should "consider extremely carefully whether the evidence of non-cooperation and non-compliance by Iraq is sufficiently compelling to justify the conclusion that Iraq has failed to take its final opportunity".
Not surprisingly, the families want to establish why the attorney general ditched this opinion, why Tony Blair gave his unequivocal assurance, and whether regime change was the underlying purpose. Thus, they argue in a legal action next Thursday, an independent inquiry is required to establish why the military orders were issued.
It is a legal requirement that the state must hold an independent inquiry to establish how these soldiers died. The families argue that an inquest is not sufficient as its remit is narrow and incapable of examining broader issues. Indeed the families want key witnesses including Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon and the attorney general to give evidence.
A decision to go to war in these controversial circumstances raises the most pressing questions for our democracy. The possibility that we were misled, and that improper steps were taken to change the legal advice, is bound to lead to a further undermining of trust in our government, and the raising of tension both here and in Iraq. Given the chaos and destruction that is occupied Iraq, the numbers of Iraqi civilians killed and the numbers of servicemen killed and injured, the importance of this legal case cannot be overstated.
But there is a real risk that this case cannot be heard. The families have been refused legal aid and the government is playing hardball on its costs if the families lose. The public have one last chance to get the independent inquiry desperately needed. It is imperative that these families should not be gagged.
Phil Shiner is a solicitor acting for Military Families Against the War.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005