Back in November of 2016, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, founded in 2002, stated that she had reason to believe that American soldiers were guilty of war crimes, including torture, in Afghanistan. The ICC statement said there was “a reasonable basis to believe” that
“members of United States of America (US) armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 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 the 2003-2004 period.”
The ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in 2016 that a full investigation into U.S. war crimes in the long-running war was likely.
President Trump was elected in November 2016 and made clear he was a supporter of torture and no fan of international governing organizations like the U.N. and ICC. So it was no surprise when, two years later, the Trump administration sent new national security adviser John Bolton out to a podium to threaten the ICC with fighting words:
“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court . . . ”
Unjust. Illegitimate.– Proof? No.
Such means, according to Bolton, include economic sanctions and criminal prosecution in U.S. courts of ICC members should the ICC decide to conduct an official, full investigation into U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan or Israeli war crimes in Gaza. And just to be really mean and petty, Bolton also announced that the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, D.C. would be closed because the PLO had requested that the ICC investigate, God forbid, Israel.
Bolton said that the ICC was conducting an “utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation” and the Trump administration would just let the ICC die. Not that the U.S. had ever really supported it in the first place, having decided not to ratify the treaty under President Clinton (who signed it) and to refuse outright in 2002 when George W. Bush occupied the White House. The Obama administration didn’t sign on officially either, but did support and cooperate with the mission of the ICC as an observer.
Then came the belligerent Trump and Bolton, for whom the ICC is an obstruction in the march of “America First.” America, as we all know, can, like Trump, do no wrong, though Afghan human rights groups are not thrilled with the U.S. decision to threaten the ICC. For if the world’s largest democracy will not support an independent, international investigation into possible atrocities committed in the war in Afghanistan, why should any other nation submit to human rights laws and attempts at achieving justice for the wronged?
Until war itself is outlawed as a violation of humane democracy and human rights, the ability to prosecute war crimes, no matter which nation is involved, must be upheld by all democracies, and the ICC is the best institution we have for that purpose.
It’s time for a new national and international slogan: “Liberty and Justice for All.” It is no crime to seek the truth.