The Trump administration on Thursday announced a series of sanctions against the International Criminal Court, the latest salvo in a battle with the Hague-based tribunal over investigating and prosecuting American service members for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
In an executive order President Trump declared a national emergency in response to the ICC’s efforts, which the organization first announced in March. After an appeal, a judge ruled in favor of investigating troops, U.S. intelligence officers, Afghan government personnel and the Taliban.
In an announcement during which he did not take questions from reporters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a “nightmare” scenario, in which a U.S. service member is arrested while on a family vacation abroad.
“The European country’s national police take that soldiers into custody, detaining him or her on politically-motivated charges,” he said. “A prison sentence abroad is a distinct possibility.”
Trump’s executive order includes authorizing economic sanctions against ICC officials and restricting visas for officials directly involved in investigations, as well as their family members.
Despite the U.S. not being subject to the ICC, whose 123 member countries first joined in 1998, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor first authorized investigations in 2017.
U.S. troops may have “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," Fatou Bensouda said at the time.
“Instead, we expect information about alleged misconduct by our people to be turned over to U.S. authorities, so that we can take appropriate action, as we have consistently done so in the past," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, rather than participating in these unsanctioned investigations.
A spokesman for the ICC did not respond to a Military Times request for comment.
“Rest assured that the men and women of the UNited States armed forces, will never appear before the ICC,” Esper added. “Nor will they be subject to the judgments of unaccountable international bodies.”
Beyond the U.S.'s lack of involvement with the ICC, officials pointed toward corruption and mismanagement as reasons not to comply with ICC investigations.
“This specific investigation of American service men and women in Afghanistan ― we have every reason to believe our adversaries are manipulating the ICC by encouraging these allegations," White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said.
Since its beginning, the court has opened 12 investigations and secured four convictions, at the cost of over $1 billion, Pompeo said.
The tribunal has been the subject of multiple calls for reform in recent years.
“There is now a perception in many quarters that the ICC has not fulfilled the expectations of its founders,” Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a fellow for the United Kingdom think tank Chatham House, wrote last year. The court’s proceedings are cumbersome and lengthy. Many of the accused are still at large, including Omar al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan."
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.