The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by the Rome Statute in 2002 in order to prosecute war crimes and genocide or crimes against humanity when nations are unable or unwilling to do so on their own. Just days ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued threats against the intentions of the ICC of opening investigations into possible American war crimes in Afghanistan.
Pompeo said, “I’m announcing a policy of US visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel.” He added, “These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent.”
Addressing the ICC judges directly, he said, “If you are responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of US personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have or will get a visa or will be permitted to enter the United States.”
Last year, when the ICC showed an interest in investigating Israeli war crimes on the request of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Trump administration ordered the Washington office of the PLO to be closed. At that time, National Security Advisor John Bolton warned, “If the court comes after us, Israel, or other US allies, we will not sit quietly” and would “fight back”. I want to remind everyone that these threats are not idle. These threats are quite real.
President Clinton signed the Rome Statute but had serious concerns about the court’s jurisdiction and never put it up for Senate’s ratification. When the Bush administration came into office, a new law was enacted called American Service Members Protection Act (ASPA). The law allows the United States to even invade the Netherlands, which is where the ICC is situated, if it ever brought any American or a citizen of an American allied country for prosecution of any war crimes. In the Netherlands, they call it “The Hague Invasion Act”. So, Pompeo and Bolton are speaking very much in line with the domestic US law which can be applied globally. Yet, global laws and global courts can’t reach the United States because it is seen as a sovereignty violation issue. While the United States is not a member state of the ICC, Afghanistan is, which is where the war crimes have been committed.
By warning the court, the United States is speaking to it in a code language which means that the world system is designed to catch only the pirates of the world not the emperors. When anyone in the world commits or intends to commit a crime against the United States, they are brought to be prosecuted in the US courts if they are lucky enough not to become prey to the hellfire missile of the US drones. But when Americans commit crime anywhere in the world, no court in the world is capable of prosecuting them, except the American court.
The ICC is compelled to understand this logic unless it wants to be immediately destroyed. Because Pompeo very clearly said, “These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts, we’re prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course.” Bolton said, “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”
In response to these gangster-style threats, the ICC in its statement said, “The court is an independent and impartial judicial institution crucial for ensuring accountability for the gravest crimes under international law.” It added, “The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law.” That sounds great but only on paper. The judges aren’t any match for an invading American army, which President Trump can use legally.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2019.