12 Jun 2020
President Donald Trump authorized sanctions Thursday on International Criminal Court officials who take part in investigations targeting the U.S. and its allies, delivering on a long-time promise to punish a body that his administration calls a threat to American sovereignty.
The executive order, which would deny visas and block funds for ICC employees and immediate family members, was done chiefly in response to an ICC plan to investigate allegations of war crimes by all sides committed during the conflict in Afghanistan, as well as a possible investigation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
“We cannot and we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a briefing at the State Department, where he was joined by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Attorney General William Barr. Each official gave some remarks but none took any questions.
Pompeo and other senior administration officials have long inveighed against the International Criminal Court, which they view as a symbol of globalist overreach and unjust interference in American affairs. The U.S. has never been a party to the ICC, which began its work in 2002 as a “court of last resort” for victims of genocide, war crimes and other atrocities, although the Obama administration cooperated with some cases.
The administration’s move followed a March ruling by ICC judges allowing it to investigate allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, including by U.S. troops. While the main target of the investigation is Taliban and Afghan forces, it would mark the first time American forces would come under ICC scrutiny.
“Our nation and this administration will not allow American citizens who have served our country be subjected to illegitimate investigations,” Esper told reporters. He said the U.S. justice system could handle any such complaints.
Officials also offered new grievances, saying that the office of ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was riddled with corruption and incompetence. The U.S. says it also has evidence that adversaries including Russia have sought to use their influence to sway the court to investigate American troops.
“This institution has become, in practice, little more than a political tool,” Barr said.
In a 2017 submission to the court, Bensouda said prosecutors had found credible evidence that U.S. forces had subjected at least 54 detainees to rape, torture and other cruel treatment in 2003 and 2004 in Afghanistan. CIA officers operating at sites in Poland, Romania and Latvia subjected at least 24 more people to such treatment, Bensouda said.
While the administration had subjected Bensouda to visa restrictions before, Thursday’s executive order broadens the list of officials who could face travel limits and asset freezes. It also covers anyone who has “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support” to the officials targeted by the ICC.
By Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg, 11 June 2020
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