The United States authorized sanctions against the leaders of the International Criminal Court, accusing the group of improper politicized targeting of Israel and of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and claiming it is corrupt and manipulated by U.S. foes.
President Trump signed an executive order dated Thursday proclaiming that “any attempt by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States … constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and national security adviser Robert O’Brien held a press conference Thursday to announce that the U.S. rejected the “kangaroo court” and denied the legitimacy of its “politically motivated” investigations into the U.S. and Israel. They claimed the ICC was undermining U.S. foreign policy through malign influence by U.S. adversaries, placing the focus on Russia.
Although much of recent foreign policy focus in recent months has been on the Chinese Communist Party, a persistent source of concern for the U.S. government has been Russia. The U.S. intelligence community concluded the Kremlin attempted to undermine U.S. elections in 2016 and 2018, and the Trump administration’s National Counterintelligence Strategy warned that “Russia remains a significant intelligence threat to United States interests.”
The U.S. officials pointed out Thursday that the U.S. is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, the international treaty adopted in 1998 creating The Hague-based ICC. Earlier this year, the ICC opened an investigation into “alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Afghanistan” and another into “alleged crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
“The ICC’s recent decision to authorize an investigation into the conduct of U.S. personnel who were fighting to defeat terrorists in Afghanistan and bring peace and prosperity to the Afghan people validates our longstanding concerns about the ICC,” Barr said. “This institution has become, in practice, little more than a political tool employed by unaccountable international elites. These people wield this tool to manipulate and undercut the foreign policies of a democratically accountable sovereign nation.”
Barr said that “we are concerned that foreign powers, like Russia, are also manipulating the ICC in pursuit of their own agenda.” Barr did not elaborate on the role of Russia, which withdrew from the ICC in 2016. Russia has long sought to undermine NATO, the broad American and European alliance founded during the Cold War, which emerged as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and has increasingly expanded toward Russia’s border. And the international coalition in Afghanistan dubbed “Operation Resolute Support” is NATO-led.
The attorney general said the U.S. “has reason to doubt the honesty of the ICC” and that the Justice 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,” which “calls into question the integrity of the ICC’s investigations.” Barr said the Justice Department “is investigating — and we are committed to uncovering and, if possible, holding people accountable.”
Barr said the U.S. sanctions “will ensure that those who assist the ICC’s politically motivated investigation of American service members and intelligence officers without the United States’s consent will suffer serious consequences.”
O’Brien asserted, “The ICC is a failed institution” and that “the court is ineffective, unaccountable, and a politically motivated bureaucracy.” He argued, “We have every reason to believe our adversaries are manipulating the ICC by encouraging these allegations” related to U.S. actions in Afghanistan. The national security adviser also said, “We know that there is corruption and misconduct at the highest levels of the ICC and in the office of the prosecutor.”
Pompeo said the ICC’s decision to initiate an investigation into U.S. actions in Afghanistan “was a persecution of Americans.”
“We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” Pompeo said. “I have a message to many close allies around the world: Your people could be next, especially those from NATO countries who fought terrorism in Afghanistan right alongside of us.”
The U.S. signed a tenuous deal with the Taliban earlier this year in an effort to draw down U.S. troops by next year, although the Pentagon’s inspector general has pointed out the Taliban’s reluctance to break with al Qaeda.
Pompeo said the U.S. is “also gravely concerned about the threat the court poses to Israel.” The secretary of state said, “It’s clear the ICC is only putting Israel in its crosshairs for nakedly political purposes.” He pointed to a bipartisan letter signed by dozens of senators and congressmen last month, which criticized the ICC’s actions.
Pompeo said the ICC had spent over $1 billion and had over 1,000 staff members yet has only achieved four major convictions, saying that “this record of botched prosecutions and poor judgment casts grave doubt on the court’s ability to function at the most basic level and demonstrates [its] highly politicized nature.”
The secretary of state said the U.S. was “authorizing the imposition of economic sanctions against ICC officials directly engaged in the ICC efforts to investigate U.S. personnel or allied personnel against that allied state’s consent, and against others who materially support such officials’ activities.” He said the U.S. would be expanding visa restrictions against these ICC officials and their families too.
“Today’s announcement is yet another assault on vital institutions that help people look after one another and provide survivors of rights abuses with justice,” said Daniel Balson, the advocacy director for Amnesty International USA.
Andrea Prasow, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said, “The U.S. assault on the ICC is an effort to block victims, whether in Afghanistan, Israel, or Palestine, from seeking justice.”
Esper argued that “our justice system ensures that our people are held to account under the United States Constitution, not the International Criminal Court.” He added that “there is no other force more disciplined and committed to compliance with the laws of war than the United States military.”
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