ICC prosecutor requests probe into US military, CIA for ‘war crimes' in Afghanistan

US did not sign the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court in 2002

News Desk November 21, 2017
Fatou Bensouda speaks at a news conference in Abidjan. PHOTO: REUTERS

The International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor took an important step on Monday in pursuing a war-crimes case related to Afghanistan, requesting permission to investigate torture, rape and other atrocities — including those possibly committed by Americans.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, signalled earlier this month her intention to seek permission from the court for such an investigation which could possibly include scrutinising missions which the United States military had carried out since it invaded the country back in 2011, directly implicating American soldiers in an international inquiry.

If the panel of justices at the court, which is based in The Hague, gives her permission to open an investigation, it would be a historic moment, as it could possibly be the first time Americans will be prosecuted at the 15-year-old institution.

The International Criminal Court was established 15 years ago for victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. An investigation into American military's behaviour at war could set up a clash with the US, which hasn't signed the Rome Statue, the treaty that created the court in 2002.

Bensouda has already revealed that based on a preliminary examination of evidence that began in 2006, she had “determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe” that crimes had been committed by members of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network militant group, Afghan National Security Forces, US armed forces, and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

ICC calls for an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan

The CIA in the US has already been accused of committing abuses at secret detention facilities and prisons in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania. The focus of the inquiry, however, will be Afghanistan, where most of the abuse cases detailed by the  prosecutor took place.

It must be mentioned that the US does not recognise the Rome Statute, and the court's authority to indict its personnel,  but the other four countries mentioned in the investigation have all signed the treaty.

American citizens can be charged with crimes they committed in those countries.

Numerous rights groups have welcomes Bensouda's announcement, which they said has been long overdue.

“The ICC prosecutor’s investigation request is a strong signal to those who thought they could escape justice for serious crimes in Afghanistan,” Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Investigating abuses by all sides, including those implicating US personnel, reinforces the message that no one, no matter how powerful the government they serve, is beyond the law.”

American officials said they would not oppose any attempt by the ICC chief prosecutor to implicate US citizens in her investigation.

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“Our view is clear: an ICC investigation with respect to US personnel would be wholly unwarranted and unjustified,” the State Department said in a statement quoted by The Associated Press.

“More broadly, our overall assessment is that commencement of an ICC investigation will not serve the interests of either peace or justice in Afghanistan.”

Lawyers have argued that even if Bensouda gets the nod from the court, it could take weeks or months for the inquiry to go ahead. The scope of her investigation, as to how far she would go, is also yet unclear, they say.

"Bensouda probably would focus first on suspected Taliban abuses because they constitute the majority of crimes," Alex Whiting, a former prosecutor at the court and now a teacher at Harvard Law School, said.

But unwillingness by others to cooperate with her inquiry, Whiting said, would "make it very difficult for her to progress from the stage she is at now — sufficient evidence to justify opening an investigation — to actually being able to charge anyone with crimes”.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times


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