Belfast Telegraph

Prosecuting Troubles soldiers is appalling, says ex-US General

General Petraeus
General Petraeus
Dennis Hutchings
John Pat Cunningham
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Former US General David Petraeus has said the risk of prosecution for soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles is "appalling".

General Petraeus, who led coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, was speaking after publication of a report by the right wing Policy Exchange think-tank in Westminster resisting the 'judicialisation' of war.

Professor Richard Ekins and Julie Marionneau, who wrote the report, say ministers must maintain the policy of derogating from the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) in future battles, as promised by the Conservative party.

The pair also argue that the Human Rights Act must be amended.

Former CIA chief General Petraeus stated that British soldiers are subject to a different legal regime from their American counterparts and that the extension of the ECHR to the battlefield made "litigation against British soldiers inevitable".

"This, in turn, risks promoting a culture of risk aversion in the ranks," he added. "The unfair pursuit of British soldiers and veterans in the aftermath of operations is particularly concerning.

"This has caused enormous stress and anxiety on those who are caught up in investigations, sometimes years or even decades after their combat service."

There are a number of cases involving Troubles veterans currently going through the courts.

'Soldier F' is due to go on trial next year accused of two murders and four attempted murders on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

Ex-soldier Dennis Hutchings is also to stand trial next year charged with the attempted murder of 27-year-old John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974.

"The extent to which those who served decades ago in Northern Ireland, including the highly distinguished soldier-scholar General Sir Frank Kitson, remain exposed to legal risk is striking and appalling," continued General Petraeus.

"This is not only unfair to those who have served and sacrificed for their country, it also gravely undermines the morale of those serving now and raises an unnecessary concern for potential recruits."

Between 2010 and 2017, a historical allegations team investigated more than 3,600 allegations of unlawful killings and ill treatment in Iraq.

British troops were found to have mistreated an Iraqi civilian who died in custody in 2003.

But the inquiry into claims of torture, murder and mistreatment in Iraq was closed in 2017 after allegations of vexatious claims.

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