October 9th, 2008

A certain John Bellinger, legal adviser to the State Department, has been complaining in London that British forces in Afghanistan have actually been applying European human rights standards to their Taliban foes and indeed not even taking them prisoners.

Leave aside the moral warp and look at this as practical foot-in-mouth diplomacy.

(a) The goal of the US is to increase European efforts in Afghanistan, but the war is not popular anywhere in Europe and especially not in Germany and Spain. American indifference to the laws of war is part of the problem, not the solution.

(b) The European Convention on Human Rights, embedded in national laws, is a cornerstone of the European constitutional order. Applied to military operations, it works SFIK as a backstop to the Geneva Conventions, adding individual remedies rather than new rights. Attacking it is offensive and stupid. The British Ambassador in Washington probably thinks that the USA should ditch the Second Amendment and ban handguns, but he’s not going to say so.

The London Ministry of Defence says Bellinger doesn’t know what he is talking about:

British defence officials expressed puzzlement at Bellinger’s remarks. “British forces are undergoing detention operations in Afghanistan; there is no suggestion that they have been scared off,” said one.

Finally we get to the real reason for Bellinger’s huff (my italics):

British commanders have asked for assurances any detainees handed over to the Afghan authorities will be treated properly, and not passed to the US.

McCain and Palin repeatedly describe America as “the greatest force for good in the world.” But conservative British Army officers, not human rights activists, place its government’s moral standing below that of Afghanistan.

In the the dire annual Eurovision Song Contest, some entries are so bad (against very stiff competition) that nobody votes for them. The announcement is “nul points”.

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