- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday slammed the International Criminal Court as an “unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body,” after the organization said its may soon open cases against American troops for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

The Hague-based ICC announced that it would allow prosecutors to open an investigation targeting not only current and former U.S. military, CIA and diplomatic personnel, but also the Taliban, and Afghan government forces for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the nearly two-decade long conflict.

The decision, marking the first time the court’s 18-year history that prosecutors have been authorized to investigate U.S. forces, flew in the face of longtime rejections by American officials to the court’s jurisdiction.

“The United States is not a party to the ICC,” Mr. Pompeo said in a pointed statement to reporters at the State Department. “We will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, unlawful so-called court.”

He said the Trump administration will fight any investigation targeting Americans.

“We’ll have some announcements, probably in a couple weeks, about the path that we’re going to take to ensure that we protect American soldiers, airmen, Marines, our intelligence lawyers, [and] the diplomats that worked for the State Department over the years — to ensure that the ICC … doesn’t impose pressure on them.”

The ICC was conceived in part to provide a judicial avenue to weigh crimes in countries without a functioning judicial system or no real source of legal recourse. U.S. officials say that does not apply to American forces and personnel in Afghanistan, a point echoed by a number of Republican lawmakers.

“I support the administration’s efforts to defend our sovereignty and protect U.S. personnel from unjust actions by the ICC,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch, Idaho Republican, said in a statement. “We remain committed to protecting our personnel from these political efforts spearheaded by the ICC’s prosecutor.”

Thursday’s ICC decision was an about-face on its jurisdiction in the Afghanistan fight. Pretrial judges had rejected an investigation on grounds a potential lack of cooperation would make convictions unlikely.

Human rights organizations fiercely criticized that decision, saying it effectively rewarded states that refused to cooperate with The Hague-based court.

Several rights groups applauded Thursday’s ICC announcement.

“This decision vindicates the rule of law and gives hope to the thousands of victims seeking accountability when domestic courts and authorities have failed them,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said in a statement. “While the road ahead is still long and bumpy, this decision is a significant milestone that bolsters the ICC’s independence in the face of the Trump administration’s bullying tactics.”

The ACLU currently represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim, and Mohamed Ben Soud — all of whom the rights organization claims were tortured in Afghanistan.

Mr. Pompeo sharply disagreed, calling the decision a “reminder of what happens when multilateral bodies lack oversight and responsible leadership and become, instead, a vehicle for political vendettas.”

He said the ICC move was “all the more reckless for [coming] just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan, which is the best chance for peace in a generation.”

ICC prosecutors have cited data that the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan have killed more than 17,000 Afghan civilians since 2009, including some 7,000 targeted killings, and that security forces of the U.S.-backed Afghan government are accused of torturing prisoners at government detention centers.

Prosecutors have also claimed there is information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies committed acts of torture and cruel treatment, including rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.

— Lauren Meier contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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