The charade that the US is a law-abiding nation has been exposed (once again) by the statements made by Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton that the US will retaliate against the International Criminal Court if it proceeds with its investigations of war crimes committed by the US and its allies in Afghanistan and by Israel in Gaza.
Recent statements from the Trump administration suggest that the United States is now preparing to go to war against the ICC itself, motivated largely by an effort to silence investigations into alleged American war crimes committed in Afghanistan, as well as alleged crimes committed by Israel during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. In a speech at a D.C. event held by the Federalist Society on Monday, Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton denounced the ICC as “illegitimate” and expressed his intentions toward the institution in no uncertain terms. “We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton said. “We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
In addition to this death wish against the court, Bolton said that the United States would retaliate against any ICC investigations into U.S. activities by sanctioning the travel and finances of ICC officials, even threatening to prosecute them in American courts.
Because it involves U.S. officials themselves, at the center of the campaign against the ICC is a 2016 report by ICC prosecutors that deals in part with the war in Afghanistan. That report alleges the commission of widespread crimes by the Taliban and Afghan government forces. But the report also makes allegations of serious crimes committed by U.S. military forces and the CIA, including “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape.”
Given longstanding U.S. refusals to cooperate with ICC investigations, it’s unlikely that the 2016 document — a preliminary report from the prosecutor’s office — would have succeeded in bringing U.S. officials to trial at the Hague. Bolton’s campaign thus seems intended on solidifying the fact that the United States is free of international norms on human rights conduct, with those who even investigate its actions subject to threat.
The unwillingness or inability of U.S. courts to seriously investigate war crimes carried out by American citizens is part of why the ICC mandate in Afghanistan has been viewed as an important effort to bring a minimum level of accountability over the conflict. This past November, the court announced that it planned to move forward with investigations stemming from its 2016 report.
“The ICC is not stepping in just for the sake of how Bolton put it, just to undermine U.S. sovereignty. This is really nonsense. They are stepping in because we failed — the United States failed to uphold the rule of law,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, in a television segment on Democracy Now! Tuesday morning about Bolton’s comments. “This is the same Trump administration that has an abysmal record of human rights here in the United States and is trying to encourage other countries to follow its pattern.”
Those who helped create the ICC are appalled.
David Scheffer, who established the ICC on behalf of the US and served as the country’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said: “The Bolton speech today isolates the United States from international criminal justice and severely undermines our leadership in bringing perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice elsewhere in the world.
“The double standard set forth in his speech will likely play well with authoritarian regimes, which will resist accountability for atrocity crimes and ignore international efforts to advance the rule of law. This was a speech soaked in fear and Bolton sounded the message, once again, that the United States is intimidated by international law and multilateral organizations. I saw not strength but weakness conveyed today by the Trump Administration.”
Scheffer’s suggestions that in the past the US brought “perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice elsewhere in the world” and that this move “will likely play well with authoritarian regimes” ignores the fact that the US is itself an authoritarian government and acts against perpetrators of war crimes only only if they are perceived as its enemies, while it coddles its friends.
This is just further evidence, if anyone needed it, that the US is a rogue nation, acting like a global thug that feels it should be subject to no constraints whatsoever.