- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

The Bush administration yesterday pulled out of the U.N.-backed effort to create a permanent international court on war crimes, saying it recognized "no legal obligations" to the court.
The administration said it was acting because the court could become a tool for politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. servicemen and officials serving abroad.
"It's over. We're washing our hands of it," Pierre-Richard Prosper, the State Department's ambassador-at-large for war-crimes issues, said of the 1998 treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC).
President Clinton signed the treaty in December 2000, just weeks before he left office, but neither he nor President Bush ever submitted it to the Senate for ratification.
Mr. Bush, who had long made clear his dislike of the treaty, stopped short of formally erasing Mr. Clinton's signature but informed U.N. officials yesterday that the United States "has no legal obligations" to the ICC because it intended never to become a party to the founding treaty.
The decision was hailed by conservatives long skeptical of the ICC but was immediately attacked by leading human rights groups and many of the 66 nations including almost all of America's NATO allies that had ratified the treaty.
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, said the Bush administration "showed real courage and leadership today in refusing to sacrifice America's constitutional principles to those bent on creating a one-world government."
House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, said the United States "simply cannot accept an international institution that claims jurisdiction over American citizens superior to that of our Constitution."
But officials in Canada, who spearheaded the effort to create the global court, expressed sharp disappointment at the decision, as did leaders of the European Union.
Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham told reporters in Ottawa, "I think there's a certain irony in the fact that the United States, which tends to extraterritorially apply its laws rather widely, is not willing to participate in a truly international consensus" for the ICC.
Officials in the State Department's office of international organizations and legal affairs office resisted the decision to withdraw from the court, a senior administration official said.
"Even now, some in the State Department are in denial about the president's action," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. William H. Taft IV, the State Department's top legal adviser, has been a key advocate of keeping the United States involved in the treaty.
The action is viewed as a victory for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "that has been long in coming," the official said. "This has been actively frustrated by the State Department bureaucracy."
Mr. Prosper, asked why the United States did not renounce Mr. Clinton's signature on the treaty, said Mr. Bush "made the decision not to aggressively attack or undermine the ICC. This was a better way to go."
But Mr. Rumsfeld made clear that the Pentagon would resist any efforts by the ICC to assert legal authority over U.S. armed forces.
"The United States will regard as illegitimate any attempt by the court, or state parties to the treaty, to assert the ICC's jurisdiction over American citizens," Mr. Rumsfeld said in a statement.
The product of years of negotiations, the ICC is designed to serve as a court of last resort to investigate and prosecute genocide, war crimes, "aggression" and other crimes against humanity, replacing the ad hoc systems of judicial panels set up for such crisis spots as Rwanda and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Unlike the current Hague-based World Court, the ICC would not be restricted to cases involving governments. It could try individual citizens in cases referred by the U.N. Security Council, by the government of an ICC member or by the court's own prosecutors.
The United States is not alone in its doubts about the ICC.
Major powers such as China, India, Indonesia and Turkey have not signed the 1998 Rome treaty establishing the court, while Russia, Israel and Egypt are among those, like the United States, that have signed but not ratified the accord.
Backers say the court would intervene only when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute massive human rights violators.
But Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said in a speech yesterday that U.S. efforts to define the court's mandate and check its powers were rebuffed consistently in negotiations.
Mr. Grossman said the ICC's potential to go after U.S. military personnel in "politicized prosecutions and investigations" could disrupt the Bush administration's global war on terrorism or other military and peacekeeping deployments around the globe.
"In the rush to create a powerful and independent court in Rome, there was a refusal to constrain the court's power in any meaningful way," Mr. Grossman argued.
Gary Dempsey, an international affairs specialist for the libertarian Cato Institute, said the administration's unwillingness to "unsign" the treaty was a reflection of the murky international legal landscape. But he said the U.N. letter "removed any doubts about our position that the treaty is beyond repair."
Tom Malinowski, head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, said the administration's move was a "purely symbolic step" that would not stop the ICC effort but would remove any U.S. leverage to shape the court's powers.
"The more real this court becomes, the sillier this decision is going to look," Mr. Malinowski said.
Nicholas Kralev and Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

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