ICC Rejects Request for Investigation Into U.S. ‘War Crimes’ in Afghanistan

Afghan National Army soldiers
Afghan National Army soldiers / Getty Images

The International Criminal Court rejected petitions for it to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the United States in Afghanistan, the BBC reports.

ICC judges notified the media in a press release that because of Afghanistan's regional instability and the unwillingness of local investigators to cooperate, such an investigation "would not serve the interests of justice."

This update comes just a week after the United States revoked entry visas to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who had been examining on the court's behalf the possibility of war crimes committed in Afghanistan by the United States. This reversal is thought to be a response to that revocation, according to the BBC.

The ICC has been investigating abuses and war crimes committed in conflicted Middle Eastern regions for more than a decade. It began its formal examination into Afghanistan in November 2017.

According to the press release, although judges believe there is "a reasonable basis" to suspect that crimes occurred, right now the political and social state of Afghanistan "make the prospects for a successful investigation and prosecution extremely limited."

"Accordingly, it is unlikely that pursuing an investigation would result in meeting the objectives listed by the victims favoring the investigation," the press release continued.

The press release also stressed that the constantly changing political situation in Afghanistan makes it any sort of investigation a waste of resources, at the present moment.

"The Chamber noted the time elapsed since the opening of the preliminary examination in 2006 and the political changing scene in Afghanistan since then, the lack of cooperation that the Prosecutor has received and which is likely to go scarcer should an investigation be authorized hampering the chances of successful investigation and prosecution, as well as the need for the Court to use its resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed," the press release said.

Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, told the Washington Free Beacon that the decision was "very surprising," and an indication of the success of President Donald Trump's administration's efforts in opposing partisan courts like the ICC.

"It shows how the Trump administration has been hugely successful in opposing the investigations of international courts we are not beholden to," Kontorovich said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the decision "a victory for the rule of law," commending the ICC for not attempting to infringe upon the United States's sovereignty and ability to independently pursue justice in Afghanistan.

"The United States will always protect Allied and American military and civilian personnel from living in fear from unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation," Pompeo said in a statement.

The White House also commented, calling the decision a "major international victory" for the rule of law.

"We welcome this decision and reiterate our position that the United States holds American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards," the release said. "Since the creation of the ICC, the United States has consistently declined to join the court because of its broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers; the threat it poses to American national sovereignty; and other deficiencies that render it illegitimate. Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response."

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) also released a statement, calling the decision "a victory for the men and women who fought to protect our nation abroad."

"When and if American personnel deviate from that standard of conduct, they'll answer to their own democratically elected government," he said.

Update April 13, 7:12 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from Sen. Cotton.