U.S. prevents ICC team from investigating its ‘war crimes’ in Afghanistan

March 17, 2019

TEHRAN - It is common knowledge that the U.S. industrial military complex has been involved in horrendous war crimes in war-ravaged Afghanistan since invading the country in 2001.

Despite the attempts to cover-up, the U.S. war crimes have been widely documented by many international rights groups over the years.

Now, in another blatant move to prevent the expose of its war crimes in Afghanistan, the U.S. government has banned the International Criminal Court (ICC) team from visiting the country.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said his government will revoke or deny visas to ICC officials seeking to investigate war crimes by U.S. forces or its allies in Afghanistan.

“The ICC is attacking America's rule of law,” Pompeo told a news conference. “I'm announcing a policy of U.S. visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of U.S. personnel.”

“We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” he further added.

Pompeo said the move is to “prevent the international tribunal from infringing on U.S. sovereignty”, without elaborating on how an internationally recognized group can be prevented from doing its job.

“These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies' consent,” he added, adding that the U.S. government may look at the option of “economic sanctions” if ICC does not “change its course”.

However, in a direct rebuff to U.S. threats, the Hague-based court, the first global tribunal for war crimes, said in a statement that it would continue to operate “undeterred” by the U.S. action.

“The court is an independent and impartial judicial institution crucial for ensuring accountability for the gravest crimes under international law,” said the statement.

“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,” it added, in response to Pompeo’s threats.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked judges in November 2017 to initiate an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban, as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.

Bensouda said there is 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 against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in 2003-2004 period.”

According to reports, ICC judges are reviewing all material submitted by the prosecutor, and will accordingly decide whether to initiate an investigation.

The Palestinians have also asked the court to bring cases against Israel, which is also likely t face opposition from the U.S., as is evident from Pompeo’s statement.

Meanwhile, global watchdog bodies, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, slammed Pompeo's announcement.

Human Rights Watch called it “a thuggish attempt to penalise investigators” at the ICC.

“The Trump administration is trying an end run around accountability,” it said. “Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked.”

Amnesty International described the move as “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents three people before the ICC who were tortured in Afghanistan, called the decision “misguided and dangerous” and “an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day.”

James Goldston, Open Society Justice Initiative executive director, said Pompeo's remarks reflect the administration's view that international law matters “only when it is aligned with U.S. national interests.”

ICC, which presently has 123 member states, including the European Union, was formed in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity when a country is unable or unwilling to prosecute perpetrators.

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