U.S. Will Sanction International Criminal Court Officials Who Investigate Troops for War Crimes

President Donald Trump has announced sanctions against International Criminal Court officials looking into allegations of war crimes committed by U.S. troops.

In a statement delivered Thursday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that President Donald Trump "has authorized economic sanctions against International Criminal Court officials directly engaged with any effort to investigate or prosecute United States personnel without the consent of the United States."

"The President has also authorized the expansion of visa restrictions against International Criminal Court officials and their family members," the statement added.

The statement accompanied an Executive Order, in which Trump extended the threat to include not only ICC probes targeting U.S. personnel but those involving "personnel of countries that are United States allies and who are not parties to the Rome Statute or have not otherwise consented to ICC jurisdiction."

The decision in is the latest retaliation to The Hague-based ICC's ruling in March to approve an investigation into "alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity" committed by parties to the war in Afghanistan since May 1, 2003, the date that Afghanistan became a party to the Rome Statute that established the court.

The investigation will also look into "similar crimes related to the armed conflict in Afghanistan allegedly committed in the territory of other States Parties to the Rome Statute since 1 July 2002."

us, military, afghanistan, war, helmand, province
A U.S. soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division keeps watch over Afghans April 8, 2003 during Operation Resolute Strike in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Specialist Jim Wagner/Pool/Getty Images

The United States signed the Rome Statute in 2000 but never ratified it and still does not consider itself a party to the ICC. Senior Trump administration officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have deeply criticized the judicial body, which he referred to as a "kangaroo court" during a press conference Thursday.

"We cannot allow ICC officials and their families to shop, travel and otherwise enjoy American freedoms while these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms," Pompeo said. "Never forget the American commitment to real justice and accountability."

Esper, who followed Pompeo's announcement, reiterated the fact that U.S. institutions were best-equipped to deal with their own citizens, and stated that "there is no force more disciplined and more compliant with the laws of war than the United States military, which has made lasting contributions to the laws of justice and accountability in armed conflict."

Also present at the press conference was White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien, who argued that "we do not need a corrupt and politicized international body to second guess our system of military justice or our system of civilian justice for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who've left the service and may be brought before a court." He called the ICC "corrupt" and accused of it trying to persecute U.S. service members.

Finally, William Barr spoke calling the court "little more than a political tool employed by unaccountable international elites."

In a statement sent to Newsweek, ICC spokesperson Fadi El-Abdallah said the court was "is aware" of the situation and would soon issue a statement. In a statement later sent to Newsweek, the ICC said it "expresses profound regret at the announcement of further threats and coercive actions, including financial measures, against the Court and its officials, made earlier today by the Government of the United States."

The court said it "stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate bestowed upon it by the Rome Statute and the States that are party to it."

"These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court's judicial proceedings," the statement read. "They are announced with the declared aim of influencing the actions of ICC officials in the context of the Court's independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings."

O-Gon Kwon, president of the Assembly of States Parties to Rome Statute, called the U.S. measures "unprecedented" in a separate statement sent to Newsweek by the ICC.

"They undermine our common endeavor to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities. I deeply regret measures targeting Court officials, staff and their families," he said. "The Court is independent and impartial. The ICC is a court of law. It operates in strict adherence to the provisions of the Rome Statute."

An extraordinary meeting of the Assembly of States Parties bureau is set to be convened next week to discuss the situation.

The U.S. has intervened in Afghanistan since at least the 1980s, when the CIA supported mujahideen rebels overthrow a Soviet-backed government, but it was the massive 2001 incursion led by the Pentagon and its allies that established a longstanding foreign military presence there. The operation followed the 9/11 attacks and targeted Al-Qaeda and its local ally the Taliban, which had taken control of most of the country in the wake of a 1990s civil war among competing mujahideen forces.

The U.S. and allies of the NATO Western military coalition have since sought to help Kabul-based government forces beat back a Taliban insurgency and, despite the U.S. striking a peace agreement with the Taliban in late February of this year, violence between warring factions continues in Afghanistan, where the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) is also active.

The ICC probe, led by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, concerns allegations of misconduct by the Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani network, by rival Afghan government security forces and by the U.S. military and CIA personnel active in the country.

This article has been updated to include statements by the International Criminal Court and Assembly of States Parties to Rome Statute President O-Gon Kwon.