- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

NEW YORK — The Bush administration yesterday opened the door to future cooperation with the International Criminal Court as the Hague-based court announced a probe into atrocities in western Sudan.

The ICC, established three years ago over U.S. objections, said it would investigate complaints of war crimes and mass violations of human rights in the Sudanese province of Darfur, the first step toward a full war crimes prosecution.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in The Hague that the court would undertake an “impartial and independent” investigation.

Last month, the court received a sealed list of 51 names from an international commission endorsed by the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The list is said to name officials in the Khartoum government, as well as military leaders and members of the government-backed Janjaweed militias.

The news puts the Bush administration in a difficult position, pressed between its frequently expressed contempt for the ICC and its desire to end what President Bush on Wednesday described as genocide in Darfur.

Congress in 2003 passed a law prohibiting any U.S. agency from contributing resources, intelligence or technical expertise to the court, which was established to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity where national governments fail to act.

But when the U.N. Security Council voted in late March to refer Darfur to the court, the United States abstained rather than veto the resolution.

“The ICC is tough,” said a State Department official who has experience dealing with the matter. “The issue of accountability is there for the atrocities, but law prohibits our participation.”

Nonetheless, the official said, “We are strong supporters of the Security Council resolution, and we are advocating that others support that. We can’t say ‘support the ICC,’ but we can say that all governments should support the Security Council resolutions.”

The U.S. law prohibiting cooperation with the ICC includes waivers and riders that, in theory, could allow government agencies to assist the court, said the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I know there are waiver opportunities out there, but how and what, I couldn’t say,” the official said.

Both Congress and the Bush administration have been hostile to the international court from its inception, fearing it could be used to prosecute American soldiers on politically motivated charges.

American faith-based groups, energized by their support of Christian and other rebels in southern Sudan, have taken up the cause of Darfur’s indigenous black peoples as they have come under attack by mainly Arab militias backed by Khartoum.

At least 180,000 Darfur residents are thought to have perished in the past three years, victims of the Janjaweed militias as well as hunger and disease.

Another 2 million people have been displaced, with tens of thousands seeking refuge in neighboring Chad, U.N. relief agencies report.

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