Trump Authorizes Sanctions on ICC Over Probe of U.S. War Crimes

Netanyahu congratulates decision to sanction 'corrupt and biased' court that he says is 'obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights'

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Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, November 28, 2019
Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, November 28, 2019Credit: Tom Brenner/ REUTERS
Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that his administration is placing sanctions on the International Criminal Court in retaliation for the court’s intention to probe the conduct of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

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On June 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an interview that “You’ll see in the coming days a series of announcements not just from the State Department, from all across the United States government that attempt to push back against what the ICC is up to.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the Trump administration on the decision to impose sanctions on the "corrupt and biased International Criminal Court," calling it a "politicized court obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights." Netanyahu said the court "fabricates outlandish charges," such as that "Jews living in their historic homeland constitutes a war crime."

According to a source, the U.S. decision was coordinated with Israel and was discussed in Netanyahu's meeting with Pompeo in Jerusalem last month. 

Israel was not mentioned in Trump’s executive order, but it was mentioned in a White House press statement that explained the decision.

“Despite repeated calls by the United States and our allies to reform, the International Criminal Court has taken no action to reform itself and continues to pursue politically-motivated investigations against us and our allies, including Israel,” the statement said.

The statement also said that “the President’s Executive Order makes clear - the United States will continue to use any means necessary to protect our citizens and our allies from unjust prosecution by the International Criminal Court.”

The statement also made the claim – without providing evidence – that “adversary nations are manipulating the International Criminal Court by encouraging allegations against United States personnel.”

The sanctions announced by Trump could hurt not just the ICC as an institution, but also specific prosecutors and officials who work for the court. Their assets in the U.S. could be frozen, blocked or confiscated. In addition, their entry to the United States may be blocked by the State Department.

Trump wrote that “any attempt by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States, or of personnel of countries that are United States allies... constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

A senior Trump administration official, who did not elaborate on the claim, said the ICC investigation is "being pushed forward by an organization of dubious integrity" and accused Russia of having a role.

Trump has repeatedly assailed The Hague-based ICC set up to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It has jurisdiction only if a member state is unable or unwilling to prosecute atrocities itself.

Afghanistan is a member of the ICC, though Kabul has argued that any war crimes should be prosecuted locally. The U.S. government has never been a member of the court, established in 2002. The Trump administration imposed travel restrictions and other sanctions against ICC employees a year ago.

The ICC decided to investigate after prosecutors' preliminary examination in 2017 found reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed in Afghanistan and that the ICC has jurisdiction.

The senior administration official, describing the order to a group of reporters on a conference call, said the probe threatens to infringe on American sovereignty and that while the ICC was established to provide accountability, "in practice the court is an unaccountable, ineffective and out-of-control international bureaucracy that threatens American service members and intelligence officers and those of our allies."

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and, to a lesser extent, by U.S. forces and the CIA.

"We have reason to believe there is corruption and misconduct at the highest levels of the ICC's office of prosecutor, calling into question the integrity of this investigation into American personnel. We are concerned that Russia may be manipulating the ICC by encouraging these allegations into U.S. personnel," the U.S. official said.

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