LONDON — The former commander of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan warned Friday that the United States’ military co-operation with the U.K. could be threatened by the growing use of human rights laws to target British soldiers.
Writing in the Times of London, retired Gen. David Petraeus says the European Court of Human Rights is increasingly extending domestic human rights legislation to the battlefield. This has led to British soldiers being charged with human rights abuses sometimes decades after the events in question.
“The current ‘fog of law’ may undermine the operational effectiveness of British troops engaged in multinational coalitions,” he wrote. “The very special relationship between our two militaries, which has been built over decades of serving together in the hardest tests of battle, could be put at risk by the present situation.”
He said Britain’s fighting capacity will be reduced if it can’t reform the legal framework under which it operates.
He said the United States has not had to deal with situations such as that of Northern Ireland, which he said was marked by “the relentless and seemingly unending pursuit of veterans from the 1970s.”
“No court, and especially no international court, can force our authorities to subject U.S. personnel to the legal processes that have confronted some British soldiers and veterans in recent years,” he wrote.
Britain’s political and military establishment has expressed concern in recent years over allegations of abuse by U.K. troops in war zones. Britain’s 2003-2009 military deployment in southern Iraq, for example, spawned multiple allegations of torture and abuse.
Some of the claims have also proven to be true. Nicholas Mercer, the army’s chief legal adviser in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, said last year that the Ministry of Defence had paid 20 million pounds ($29 million) to settle 326 abuse cases.
In the most notorious case, 26-year-old hotel receptionist Baha Mousa died while in custody at a British base after being detained in a raid in Basra in September 2003. Six soldiers were cleared of wrongdoing at a court martial, while a seventh pleaded guilty and served a year in jail.
Last year, former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon shut down the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, which was set up by the government in 2010. The Parliament’s Defence Committee said the investigations had become “a seemingly unstoppable self-perpetuating machine” and had empowered lawyers “to generate cases against service personnel at an industrial level.”