Human rights organizations and international lawmakers criticized the decision, saying it will further isolate the superpower.
In December 2000, President Clinton signed the treaty establishing the court, but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification.
Marc Grossman, under secretary for political affairs, said in a speech that participation in the court would threaten U.S. sovereignty.
“We believe that states, not international institutions, are primarily responsible for ensuring justice in the international system,” said Grossman.
“The international court claims the authority to detain and try American citizens, even though our democratically elected representatives have not agreed to be bound by the treaty.”
Grossman said President Bush decided to formally announce the country’s decision to avoid creating expectations of U.S. involvement in the future.
The U.S. ambassador for war crimes issues, Pierre-Richard Prosper, sent a letter outlining the decision to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The statement said the U.S. has no intention of ratifying the treaty and now considers itself “no longer bound in any way to its purpose and objective.”
According to Grossman, in lieu of the war crimes court, the U.S. favors working with non-government organizations, private industry and universities to help individual countries set up tribunals when needed.
Influencing the U.S. decision is the fear that the court could subject U.S. soldiers and officials abroad to politically motivated prosecutions.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the tribunal “means that our men and women in uniform –as well as current and former U.S. officials– could be at risk of prosecution.”
Reaction from U.S. lawmakers was mixed.
House Majority Whip Tom Delay, R-Texas, supported the decision, saying the court is “an institution of unchecked power that poses a real threat to our men and women fighting the war against terror.”
However, Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said the announcement casts “doubt on the U.S. commitment to international justice and accountability ? These steps actually call into question our country’s credibility in all multilateral endeavors.”
A coalition of organizations including Amnesty International and Physicians for Social Responsibility released a statement denouncing the decision, saying it “signals to the world that America is turning its back on decades of U.S. leadership in prosecuting war criminals since the Nuremberg trials.
The International Criminal Court gained the necessary international backing to come into force in April 2002, after 10 nations joined 56 others in ratifying the treaty, negotiated in Rome in 1998.