WASHINGTON (AP) — In a broadside against the International Criminal Court, President Donald Trump on Thursday authorized economic penalties and travel restrictions against court workers involved in investigating American troops and intelligence officials and those of allied nations, including Israel, for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Watch Pompeo’s remarks in the video player above.
Trump’s executive order was his administration’s latest attack against international organizations, treaties and agreements that don’t hew to its policies. The order would block the financial assets of court employees and bar them and their immediate relatives from entering the United States.
The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide in places where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. The court has 123 state parties that recognize its jurisdiction. The U.S. has never been an ICC member.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the tribunal as a “kangaroo court” that has been unsuccessful and inefficient in its mandate to prosecute war crimes. He said that the U.S. would punish the ICC employees for any investigation or prosecution of Americans in Afghanistan and added that they could also be banned for prosecuting Israelis for alleged abuses against Palestinians.
“It gives us no joy to punish them,” Pompeo said. “But we cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop and travel and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms.”
Pompeo’s comments were echoed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General Wiliiam Barr and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who spoke at a State Department announcement of the new measures. Barr announced that the U.S. would investigate possible corruption within the ICC hierarchy that he said raised suspicions that Russia and other adversaries could be interfering in the investigatory process.
“Rest assured that the men and women of the United States armed forces will never appear before the ICC, nor will they ever be subjected to the judgments of unaccountable international bodies,” Esper said.
Human rights groups deplored the administration’s move.
“The Trump administration’s latest action paves the way for imposing sanctions against ICC officials and demonstrates contempt for the global rule of law,” said Andrea Prasow, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “This assault on the ICC is an effort to block victims of serious crimes whether in Afghanistan, Israel or Palestine from seeing justice.”
Akila Radhakrishnan of the Global Justice Center said “this reckless attack” was the latest attempt by the U.S. “to evade accountability for human rights abuses and undermine critical international institutions.” The U.S., Radhakrishnan said, was “further cementing its belief that it is beyond reproach and above the law.”
Thursday’s announcement was the latest action putting the administration at odds with allies in Europe and elsewhere. Since taking office, Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and two arms control treaties with Russia. He has pulled the U.S. out of the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, threatened to leave the International Postal Union and announced an end to cooperation with the World Health Organization.
Unlike those treaties and agreements, though, the U.S. has never been an ICC member. Administrations of both parties have been concerned about the potential for political prosecutions of American troops and officials for alleged war crimes and other atrocities.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Trump’s order “is a matter of serious concern” and he described EU members as “steadfast supporters” of the tribunal. “It is a key factor in bringing justice and peace,” he said. “It must be respected and supported by all nations.”
The executive order authorizes the blocking of assets within U.S. jurisdiction of court personnel who directly engage in investigating, harassing or detaining U.S. personnel. It authorizes visa bans on court officials and their family members involved in the investigations. Those restrictions go beyond what the State Department issued last year.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that, despite repeated calls by the United States and its allies, the ICC has not embraced change. She alleged that the court continues to pursue politically motivated investigations against the U.S. and its partners, including Israel.
“We are concerned that adversary nations are manipulating the International Criminal Court by encouraging these allegations against United States personnel,” McEnany said. “Further, we have strong reason to believe there is corruption and misconduct at the highest levels of the International Criminal Court office of the prosecutor, calling into question the integrity of its investigation into American service members.”
The U.S. has extracted pledges from most of the court’s members that they will not seek such prosecutions and risk losing U.S. military and other assistance.
But ICC prosecutors have shown a willingness to press ahead with investigations into U.S. service members and earlier this year launched one that drew swift U.S. condemnation.
Last year, Pompeo revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda after she asked ICC judges to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan that could have involved Americans. The judges initially rejected the request, but the denial was overturned after Bensouda appealed the decision and the investigation was authorized in March.
The appellate ruling marked the first time the court’s prosecutor has been cleared to investigate U.S. forces. Bensouda pledged to carry out an independent and impartial investigation and called for full support and cooperation from all parties. But Pompeo called the decision “a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body.”
The case involves allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003. Bensouda say there’s information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence.”