Over the last several years, the British Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of Bush administration policies towards detainees stemming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has condemned the detention system created in Guantánamo using rather sharp language, and he has repeatedly stated that the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions applied.
While British forces have not been subject to abuse charges either as numerous or severe as their American allies, there have nevertheless been a number of incidents reported in the press. And there have been a number of court-martials, some with curious outcomes – dismissals following what appears to have been intervention from the Attorney General’s office.
London’s Independent now reports that Lord Goldsmith had a difference of opinion with the British Army’s chief law officer in Iraq, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, over the applicability of the Human Rights Act of 1998 to those taken into custody in Iraq. Colonel Mercer argued for the higher standard, in part out of concern for the migration of harsh tactics used by the Americans. The English Court of Appeal ultimately sustained his view as correct. Lord Goldsmith is now taking an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, where he is expected to make arguments much like those made by American authorities against the applicability of international treaty standards.
The airing of the underlying correspondence today in the Independent does more damage to Lord Goldsmith’s reputation, already tarnished by his mixed advice on the legality of the Iraq War from the outset.