- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

The Bush administration's decision this week to renounce the treaty creating the International Criminal Court (ICC)is a victory for U.S. sovereignty, sending a message to the rest of the world that Washington will protect its citizens and defend its national interests despite international pressure to do otherwise.
The ICC treaty has been ratified by 66 nations and will come into effect on July 1. The ICC is designed to serve as a court of last resort to investigate war crimes and human rights violations in areas of the globe where national authorities either cannot or refuse to do so. ICC proponents claim that the court follows the precedent set by the Nuremberg trial held after World War II and is a major step toward constructing a system of international humanitarian law.
President Bush's decision has revived criticisms that the United States has once again embraced a unilateralist foreign policy and rejected its international commitments. Human rights groups and European governments insist that the administration's repudiation of the ICC treaty signals a lack of support for prosecuting crimes against humanity. This is false.
As Mr. Bush stated in a recent letter to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, the United States continues to demand that Belgrade cooperate with the United Nations war crimes tribunal that is investigating atrocities committed during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The problem with the ICC, however, is that its mandate is open-ended. The court is not accountable to anyone but an elite class of international bureaucrats.
The ICC represents a serious threat to U.S. national interests because like all international bodies it could be used by critics of American foreign policy as a tool to prosecute U.S. servicemen, military officials, statesmen and even presidents for alleged crimes against humanity. By ratifying the ICC treaty, the Bush administration would be granting an international court in The Hague jurisdiction over American citizens. Such a move would not only violate the Constitution, but more ominously, could imperil the ability of future administrations to conduct military operations and troop deployments overseas.
Ironically, then-President Bill Clinton signed the treaty in December 2000, and remains a strong supporter of the ICC. Yet, had the court been established while he was in office, Mr. Clinton most likely would have been one of its first defendants: He could have been prosecuted by an anti-American leftist on trumped-up charges of having ordered war crimes. If this sounds far-fetched, it isn't.
That the ICC is likely to be politicized and hostile to the United States is illustrated by the current U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Considerable media attention has focused on the trial of former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who is accused of having masterminded ethnic cleansing campaigns in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Yet an overlooked but far more consequential case is that of Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina. The case reveals the danger to U.S. interests by international war crimes bodies.
Gen. Gotovina was indicted in June 2001 by the prosecutor's office at The Hague on charges that he exercised "command responsibility" over a 1995 military operation that resulted in the expulsion of 150,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia. Supported by the Clinton administration, Croatian forces launched a three-day massive military offensive known as "Operation Storm" on Aug. 5, 1995, in which Croatia recovered territories occupied by rebel Serbs following the country's drive for independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Gen. Gotovina is not accused of committing or ordering war crimes, but simply of being in charge when atrocities were committed.
By this standard, America is also guilty. The United States provided military and technical assistance to Operation Storm in order to deliver a decisive defeat to Milosevic's genocidal goal of forging an ethnically pure "Greater Serbia." The Clinton administration viewed Croatia's military campaign as pivotal to tilting the strategic balance of power in the region against Serb forces, paving the way for the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in neighboring Bosnia. Washington's involvement in the operation was not only legitimate, but significantly advanced U.S. interests in the region by putting an end to Serbia's expansionist ambitions.
Yet American support and approval for the military offensive means the indictment against Gen. Gotovina could lead to the prosecution by The Hague tribunal of Mr. Clinton and other high-ranking U.S. officials on charges of having command responsibility for alleged war crimes that were committed during the operation. Some in the prosecutor's office now want to call Mr. Clinton and former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to answer questions about their role in Operation Storm. It is only a matter of time before the two men are ordered to testify before the tribunal.
As the Gotovina case demonstrates, future U.S. presidents are no longer safe from being called before a war crimes court to answer for actions committed by America's allies. Therefore, the Bush administration is right to reject participation in the ICC. Any other decision will jeopardize Washington's ability to project its power around the globe, and will allow a transnational elite of U.N. bureaucrats to decide whether the United States can act as the world's sole policeman. This decision should be made by American voters, and not left-wing globalists based in The Hague. Score one for American democracy.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is an assistant national editor at The Washington Times.

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