This afternoon, President Trump signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against prosecutors and staff members of the International Criminal Court should that organization follow through on its threat to investigate members of the US Armed Forces for ‘war crimes’ committed in Afghanistan. The way the announcement was delivered left no doubt that the administration was deadly serious, the executive order was unveiled in a news conference consisting of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bill Barr, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
This is how the Washington Post covers it:
In an unprecedented display of administration firepower, the secretaries of state and defense, along with the attorney general and the national security adviser, jointly announced sanctions against officials of what they called a “corrupt” and “politically motivated” court manipulated by Russia and other U.S. adversaries.
The announcement escalates a long-standing dispute with the Netherlands-based court, established 18 years ago under the Treaty of Rome. The United States has never ratified the treaty or recognized the court’s jurisdiction.
The Trump administration has taken a particularly tough stand against what it calls the court’s attempts to violate U.S. sovereignty and pose a national security threat. In 2018, when he was national security adviser, John Bolton vowed that the United States would not cooperate with the court and declared, “For all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
The measures announced Thursday include economic sanctions against any ICC officials involved in efforts to investigate “allied personnel without that ally’s consent” and an extension to family members of visa restrictions already in effect against those officials.
“Imagine an American soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or an intelligence officer is on leave with his or her family, maybe on a beach in Europe,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a brief appearance with the others at the State Department. “And over the course of two decades or more, this soldier honorably defended America in Anbar province, in Kandahar, taking down terrorists. Then, suddenly, that vacation turns into a nightmare.”
“We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” he added.
Standing at his side, Defense Secretary Mike T. Esper said, “We will not allow American citizens who have served our country to be subjected to illegitimate investigations.” The U.S. military and civilian justice systems are fully capable of taking “appropriate action” against alleged misconduct, including “alleged abuse of detainees or any other misconduct,” Esper said.
As the article says this is an escalation of an ongoing conflict. Back in April of last year, the Administration revoked a visa for an ICC prosecutor attempting to investigate what has become the Great White Whale of the ICC, US war crimes in Afghahistan:
Last Friday the United States revoked the entry-visa for the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia. In November 2017, Bensouda had asked ICC judges to authorize an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan by, among others, U.S. troops. Many human rights groups welcomed the request, but the court has not yet authorized an investigation.
The ICC is a discredited, politicized institution and we are not a party to the treaty that established it. The current list of investigations is much more notable for who is not on it (China, Russia, North Korea, Iran) than who is. While arguably there is need for some kind of venue for the adjudication of serious criminal charges emanating from failed states or state sponsors of terrorism, there is no role for the ICC to engage in the prosecution of members of the armed forces of functioning states. Say what you will about our role in Iraq and Afghanistan but to claim that our troops have been allowed to commit crimes with impunity is to mark oneself as an idiot. If anything, we had so many lawyers in the shoot/no-shoot decision sequence that it seriously hampered and degraded combat effectiveness.
As a kicker, this was thrown in:
Attorney General William Barr and national security adviser Robert O’Brien said U.S. adversaries such as Russia are exerting undue influence on the court. Mr. Barr said his department “has received substantial credible information that raises serious concerns about a long history of financial corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of the office of the prosecutor.”
So now the ‘news’ organizations that have spent the past four years claiming that the Trump administration benefited from Russian meddling in the 2016 elections will spend the next four spreading Russian propaganda about US war crimes in Afghanistan.