White House cheers decision by international court to reject Afghanistan war crimes investigation

PHOTO: National security advisor, John Bolton, right, attends a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on Sept. 28, 2018, in Washington, D.C.PlayOliver Contreras/The Washington Post via Getty Images
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President Donald Trump on Friday celebrated a decision by the International Criminal Court to reject a request by the court’s prosecutor to investigate alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan including the role of U.S. forces.

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“This is a major international victory, not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law,” the president said in a statement. “We welcome this decision and reiterate our position that the United States holds American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards. ... Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”

National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has long been a critic of the ICC and declared in September “the ICC is already dead” as far as the United States is concerned, called Friday’s development a “vindication” of the Trump administration’s strong opposition to the international court.

“This is a vindication of the president’s support for American sovereignty, and a rejection of the idea that there can be accountability for American citizens by any authority other than American constitutional institutions,” Bolton said in a briefing with reporters Friday afternoon.

Human Rights Watch on Friday called the ICC’s decision a “devastating blow” to the victims of human rights violations.

In issuing its ruling not to proceed with the investigation, ICC judges said the investigation was unlikely to further the pursuit of justice because neither Afghanistan, nor the U.S., were expected to cooperate.

The court decision also comes a month after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US would put visa restrictions of any ICC personnel seeking to investigate allegations of war crimes involving US citizens. Last week, it was confirmed that ICC prosecutor’s visa had been officially revoked, barring travel to the US with the exception of official business at the United States. Bolton said Friday those visa restrictions would remain in effect.

Asked if he thinks the ICC’s decision was related to the United States' actions on visas, Bolton at first said he “can’t speak to the timing.”

“Why it happened today as opposed to some other day I think it’s just the final l crash of an inadequate process,” Bolton continued, suggesting the decision had more to do with the weaknesses in the case to investigate than the U.S. actions.

While human rights advocates have accused the administration of trying to bully, and even interfere in the court’s workings, Bolton defended the administration’s actions.

“I don’t think it’s bullying to stand up to protect innocent American service members, members of the intelligence community, who are unjustly accused. When Americans violate their training and doctrine, whether they’re in the military or intelligence community, as a democratic constitutional society we are capable of holding our own citizens accountable,” Bolton said.

In its decision, the judges cited the prosecutor's request claiming "there is a reasonable basis to believe that, since 2003, members of the US armed forces and the CIA have committeed the war crimes of torture and crule treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and other forms of sexual violence pursuant to a policy approved by the US authorities."

“The decision by the International Criminal Court's judges to reject an investigation in Afghanistan is a devastating blow for victims who have suffered grave crimes without redress,” Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “This sends a dangerous message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative.”

Bolton made clear that the administration’s opposition to the court is unequivocal and based on a belief that it inherently conflicts with the U.S. Constitution.

Asked if the thought the ICC should have authority to prosecute Sudan’s Omar al Bash -- who has been indicated by the court -- for genocide, Bolton replied plainly: “It’s the position of the United States that the court is illegitimate.”