The Trump administration threatened to sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its staff yesterday on the eve of an impending announcement where The Hague-based tribunal will decide if it will investigate American soldiers for war crimes committed in Afghanistan dating back almost two decades.
Speaking at a Federalist Society event in Washington DC, National Security Advisor John Bolton outlined a series of retaliations the U.S. would take if the investigation is opened. “If the court comes after us, Israel or our other allies, we will not sit quietly,” he cautioned.
“We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law,” Bolton said, “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, we will sanctions their funds in the us financial system and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists in ICC investigation of Americans,” he said.
Bolton added, the U.S. will be keeping tabs on countries that support the ICC.
“We will take note if any counties cooperate with the ICC investigations of the United States and its allies and we will remember that cooperation when setting us foreign assistance, military assistance and intelligence sharing level.”
Additional action at the UN Security Council from countries that supported the ICC, Bolton said.
One casualty has already been announced, the PLO Mission in Washington DC, the diplomatic representative office for the Palestinians, was ordered closed yesterday by the Trump administration. The Palestinians have pursued their own war crimes investigation into Israel for settlements in the West Bank as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and for violations committed in the Gaza Strip.
“The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negations,” Bolton said, to applause from the audience and distant shouts of protesters, “we will not allow the ICC or any other organization to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”
“If the court comes after us, Israel or other us allies, we will not sit quietly,” Bolton warned. He said the U.S. would seek to undermine the court’s reach by establishing additional agreements with other countries that guarantee they will not support charging the U.S., or turn over U.S. citizens at the request of the court.
The ICC was founded in 2002 as a multi-national system of justice where genocide and crimes against humanity could be charged by a body representing many nations. Since it’s founding, only 11 official investigations have been opened. If the ICC decides to investigate the U.S., it will be a first time the U.S. has ever been prosecuted by a foreign court for war crimes.
The U.S. is not a member of the ICC, but in the past it has endorsed individual inquiries on a case-by-case basis. In rare circumstances the court will grant itself permission to hold a non-member accountable. Bolton described the overreach as an a danger to “American sovereignty and U.S. national interest.”
“I ask everyone in this room today, would you consign the fate of American citizens to a committee of other nations including Venezuela, and the Democratic Republic Congo and entities that are not even states, like the Palestinian Authority? You would not, I would not and this administration will not,” Bolton said, assuring U.S. soldier who may have committed offensives should be prosecuted by a “more vigorous” American court.
It is “farcical” that the ICC could do a better job, Bolton said.
“To African nations,” Bolton continued, the ICC is “just the latest European, neocolonial enterprise.”
He charged the jurists and lawyers are of an “essentially political nature,” marred by “recent allegations of mismanagement and corruption.” The ICC chief prosector “shared confidential court documents with Angelina Jolie—I can’t imagine why,” he said. (Last year leaked emails showed Jolie offered to set a honeypot trap on Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, using herself as bait.)
A decade of allegations of atrocities in Afghanistan
Last November court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda filed a formal request to investigate the U.S., the Taliban, and the Afghan military for “war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed in in Afghanistan beginning in 2002. Forbes reported more than a million allegations of abuses were reviewed.
At the time the U.S. decried the ICC’s for considering prosecuting the U.S., but there was no serious attention at a coming confrontation until Bolton was appointed last March. While Ambassador to the UN under President George W. Bush, Bolton led a campaign against the ICC. He spearheaded the signing of more than 100 treaties with foreign nations assuring him they would not support investigations or indictments of Americans.
“The U.S. will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution from this illegitimate court,” Bolton guaranteed, “We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide not assistance to the ICC, and we certainly will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on it’s own. After all, for all intensive purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”