Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

US Denies Visas, Threatens Arrest of War Crimes Investigators

This month, the United States declared its intent to either cancel or deny visas for personnel affiliated with the International Criminal Court, or ICC. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated that this was retaliation for the organization’s stated intent to investigate possible war crimes committed by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and potentially elsewhere — of which there have been at least a dozen accusations.

In his statement, Pompeo argues that these restrictions are meant to protect Americans “from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” adding that such measures would extend to include ICC investigators probing alleged war crimes committed by U.S. allies, such as Israel.

Last year, the International Criminal Court recently announced its intent to examine allegations of various war crimes committed by the U.S., local U.S.-backed forces, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network during 2003 and 2004. This include accusations of “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and rape” among other acts of mistreatment against combatant detainees during this period. The ICC indicated that it is also considering pursing probes of similar allegations made against the United States in other regions.

Pompeo’s announcement follows National Security Adviser John Bolton’s threats against International Criminal Court investigators late last year after declaring their intent to investigate the U.S., who went so far as to threaten to arrest and prosecute ICC investigators. Bolton, who has held various positions in the federal government under the past three Republican presidencies, has been highly vocal of his opposition to the United States’ participation in the ICC during the Bush Administration, eventually pushing through the successful withdrawal of the U.S. from the ICC in 2002.

The International Criminal Court was established in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2000, its creation supported by then-President Bill Clinton. Over 100 countries, including Afghanistan, have signed ICC agreements which, among other things, permit independent investigations into war crimes when warranted. The U.S. never ratified these clauses and any hope that it would do so died in 2002.

The United States has long shielded both its military and civilian personnel operating in war zones from being held accountable for their crimes, the argument being that the U.S. is the only authority that should be allowed to do so, as a matter of independent sovereignty — a policy advanced in no small way by Bolton himself.

It is hardly a secret that the U.S. military and the CIA participated in war crimes in the early years of the War on Terror, the best known example being the various U.S.-operated or backed black site detention centers used across the world. The only repercussions resulting from this revelation came in the form of a lawsuit, which was eventually settled out of court, against the psychologists which designed the programs used by the CIA — no one in the CIA was prosecuted or sued.

No country should be above the law, including the United States. This heavy handed response to the ICC investigation speaks volumes: Bolton and Pompeo both know that these investigations would likely yield embarrassing if not shameful discoveries about U.S. and allied forces’ actions, but ironically, revoking visas and threatening arrest demonstrate to the international community not only that the U.S. is aware of its crimes, but that it doesn’t care to see justice served.

This article was originally published on on March 27, 2019.

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