Former US military chief General David Petraeus has warned that pursuing British veterans through the courts could threaten the UK’s military alliance with the States.
Gen Petraeus, who commanded forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, yesterday said Britain’s military capabilities could be “greatly diminished” if human rights laws cannot be balanced against the law of warfare.
“I fear that an overly expansive interpretation of the European Convention of Human Rights could place the United Kingdom in an untenable position, where British forces have to fight under a different legal framework than that of United States’ forces, potentially limiting the use of force by British armed forces engaged in combat, targeting activities, and detention operations,” he said.
“The very special relationship between our two militaries, which has been built over decades of serving shoulder-to-shoulder in the hardest tests of battle, could be put at risk by the present situation,” he added.
“The UK’s armed forces are, of course, among the most accomplished and capable in the world, recent reductions in their numbers notwithstanding ... But Britain’s considerable fighting capacity will be greatly diminished if it cannot reform the legal framework within which it fights, restoring the primacy of the law of armed conflict.”
His comments come as debate continues over investigations into allegations of crimes including murder against veterans of the Troubles, as well as those who served in conflicts in the post 9/11 wars.
Gen Petraeus, one of America’s most high-profile military figures of recent years, told the event for the centre-right Policy Exchange think tank in Westminster that the historic Northern Ireland investigations were “relentless and seemingly unending”.
He was joined by Conservative MP and former Army officer Johnny Mercer, who was under the general’s command in Afghanistan, and former chief of the naval staff Lord West of Spithead.
Labour peer Lord West disagreed with Gen Petraeus that recruitment was being hampered by the current situation, but said retention of personnel and their morale has been damaged.
“It is outrageous that we shouldn’t look after our people - that should be the absolute driving thing,” he said.
But, he added, if personnel fall foul of the Geneva Convention, they “should be hammered”.