Washington did not ratify the Rome Treaty that established the ICC in 2002 and has always viewed this international institution with apprehension and mistrust. Now it has taken an openly hostile stance toward it and made its position known in order to stave off any attempts to bring Americans to justice. Why now? Has anything specific happened to cause this?
The United States wants to protect itself and its allies from “unjust” prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which is “illegitimate.” No investigations will be allowed into any alleged war crimes committed by US personnel in Afghanistan. This stance was presented by National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sept. 10 in his Federalist Society address, titled: "Protecting American Constitutionalism and Sovereignty from International Threats."
The ICC is considering an official probe into the crimes committed against civilians in Afghanistan by the US-led coalition after receiving over a million complaints. A 2016 report prepared by ICC prosecutors stated that the US military and the CIA may have committed war crimes by torturing detainees in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2014.
Washington will fight back against any attempts to investigate and may seek more bilateral agreements to prohibit individual nations from turning over any US citizens to the ICC. It will consider blocking the court’s judges and prosecutors from entering the country, imposing sanctions on any funds they have in the US financial system, and prosecuting them in American courts. The State Department has just announced the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, citing concern about Palestinian efforts to press for an ICC investigation into Israel’s activities. The move came after Washington slashed humanitarian assistance to Palestine.
So, the US believes the ICC is an evil to eliminate. Interestingly, Washington backed the idea of referring Syria to the ICC. It claimed Russia was obstructing justice by vetoing that decision! The US supported France when it wanted Russia referred to the ICC for alleged “crimes” in Syria. So, it’s all right as long as other countries are investigated, but the international body should not forget that the US is “exceptional” and exempt from the rules applied to others.
The US position is understandable. One thing leads to another. The court could start with an Afghanistan probe that would trigger other investigations into US operations in other places, such as Syria or Yemen. On Sept. 9, Russia accused the US of using phosphorus bombs in Syria. Human-rights watchdogs have frequently accused the American military of using that weapon in the conflict. The substance is not exactly a chemical agent, but it is an incendiary one. Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons “prohibits the use of said incendiary weapons against civilians (already forbidden by the Geneva Conventions) or in civilian areas.”
The American military has used white phosphorous shells in Iraq. In 2015, it used depleted uranium (DU) in Syria. DU is not prohibited by any international agreement, but its use runs counter to International Humanitarian Law (IHW), which prohibits weapons and means of warfare that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, have indiscriminate effects, or cause widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment.
US cluster bombs are being used against civilians in Yemen. The weapon is prohibited by the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). More than a hundred states have ratified or acceded to it, including the UK. The US is not a party to the CCM. In 2011, police used tear gas and other chemical agents against US citizens — the Occupy protesters in Oakland. The legality of using armed drones has been questioned by the international community. It’s one of the reasons the US has damaged its relationship with Pakistan.
To avoid criticism, the US left the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June — a step in keeping with the trend of the US pulling out of multilateral accords, international bodies, and forums, such as the Paris climate accords, the UN educational, scientific, and cultural organization (UNESCO), and the Iran nuclear deal. Washington has not ratified various international human-rights-related agreements. The idea to withdraw from the United Nations Organization altogether has been floating around in the US for quite some time.
The US is pursuing its own agenda. It has reversed its policy aimed at withdrawal from Syria and is preparing a military action to force a rollback of Iran. It won’t reduce its presence in the region in view of the ongoing unrest in Iraq. A short, victorious operation is one way to boost the GOP’s chances in the midterm elections in November. That’s how Bolton’s speech should be construed — as a building block of war preparations. The US military should not have its hands tied. Any way to make the operation more effective should be pursued, with no political complications to follow. Nothing should stand in the way of putting the “America First” concept into action.