- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

NEW YORK The Bush administration has endorsed legislation to protect U.S. troops sent overseas from politically motivated and frivolous prosecution by the new International Criminal Court (ICC).

The legislation was modeled on a bill approved by the House last year, with changes that reflected White House concerns that it lacked flexibility for U.S. dealings with the court.

"This letter advises that the Administration supports the revised text of the ASPA [American Servicemembers Protection Act]," Paul Kelly, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote in a letter Tuesday to Sen. Jesse Helms, the bill's co-sponsor and ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"We commit to support enactment of the revised bill in its current form," the letter said.

The ASPA would prohibit any U.S. cooperation with the proposed International Criminal Court, which is being created to hear accusations of genocide, crimes against humanity and other grave abuses of human rights.

The legislation also blocks U.S. aid to allies unless they agree to shield American troops on their soil from ICC prosecution, and restricts U.S. troops from participating in U.N. peacekeeping missions unless soldiers are explicitly exempted from prosecution by the organization.

In addition, the bill authorizes "any action necessary" to free U.S. troops "improperly" handed over to that court.

The bill was introduced as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill. The Senate could vote on the legislation early next week.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd said the treaty creating the ICC was too flawed for the United States to ratify but warned against "sticking a finger in the eyes" of U.S. allies with the ASPA.

"I cannot believe that … at the very moment we are asking the world to join in apprehending the thugs and criminals who claimed 6,000 lives … we would say we will have nothing to do with the establishment of an International Criminal Court," the Connecticut Democrat said.

The treaty establishing an International Criminal Court was drafted three years ago to curb wartime atrocities committed against civilians, particularly genocide, rape and mass murders which many say could include terrorism.

It will enter into force when 60 nations have ratified it, perhaps as soon as early 2003.

Noting that the court would have jurisdiction even over nations that refused to join, President Clinton reluctantly signed the ICC statute on New Year's Eve, hours before the deadline to do so.

At the time, he recommended against sending the treaty to the Senate for ratification.

Mr. Helms an impassioned critic of both the United Nations and the ICC called his amendment "a sort of insurance policy for our troops."

"Instead of helping the United States go after real war criminals and terrorists, the International Criminal Court has the unbridled power to intimidate our military people and other citizens with bogus, politicized prosecutions," Mr. Helms said on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. "Similar creations have shown this is inevitable."

Mr. Helms was referring to such recent events as the fractious anti-racism conference in South Africa and the U.N. vote removing the United States from the Human Rights Committee seat it had occupied for more than 50 years.

In New York yesterday, scores of legal specialists from around the world were meeting to continue fine-tuning the ICC.

Most delegates said they regretted the revival of the Service Members Protection Act but were not expecting the United States to be an integral participant in the court.

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