Stop Investigating American War Crimes, Trump Administration Will Tell International Criminal Court

President Donald Trump’s administration will announce a new hard-line stance toward the International Criminal Court on Monday, in response to the court's proposed investigation of alleged war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton will outline the White House’s new approach to the ICC at a meeting of the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative lawyers, in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

According to a draft of Bolton’s speech seen by Reuters, Bolton will assure the audience that America “will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”

RTX2QTCY (1) The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 3, 2011. Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton will outline the White House’s new hard-line approach to the ICC at a meeting of the Federalist Society on Monday. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the ICC was established in 2002 by the Rome Statute. It was designed to prosecute those suspected of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is legally independent of the United Nations, though the two bodies cooperate closely.

The U.S. did not ratify the Rome agreement, as then-President George W. Bush was opposed to the court. Though President Barack Obama took steps to improve cooperation with the court, it still does not have U.S. backing.

The ICC is considering opening an investigation into alleged war crimes by American troops and intelligence officials during the war in Afghanistan, as the 17th anniversary of the U.S. invasion approaches. In a 2017 report, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda suggested Americans might be guilty of torturing detainees between 2003 and 2014.

Bolton’s speech will include a warning that the White House will “fight back” against the court if it decides to proceed formally with a probe. It will also raise the threat of direct sanctions against ICC judges and prosecutors, including banning them from entering the U.S., sanctioning money kept in the country’s financial system and even prosecuting them in U.S. courts.

“We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton will reportedly say. “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.”

Trump’s team is also considering putting pressure on individual nations to stop them from sending any Americans to The Hague to face trial. “We will consider taking steps in the U.N. Security Council to constrain the court's sweeping powers,” Bolton will say in his speech, “including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute.”

Other nations that  have signed but not ratified the treaty include Israel, Russia and Sudan. Nations that have neither signed nor ratified the agreement include China and India. 

According to Reuters, the speech will also address Trump’s controversial decision to close the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, which was made public this weekend.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which also reviewed a copy of Bolton’s planned speech, Bolton will announce that the Trump administration “will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

Palestinian diplomats are pressuring the ICC to begin an investigation of Israel for alleged crimes committed against the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Bolton suggested such a move would not be tolerated, and plans to say, “The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel.”

The office closure comes as the international community awaits Trump’s peace plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though White House officials have said compromise will be required from both sides, the administration has shown near-total support for Israel since Trump took office.

Meanwhile, relations with the Palestinians have deteriorated. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is boycotting any American efforts to mediate peace, claiming the White House is hopelessly biased in favor of Israel. 

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