WASHINGTON — The International Criminal Court has decided not to investigate potential war crimes allegations against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, saying Friday that such a probe “would not serve the interests of justice.”
At issue are alleged abuses by U.S. troops that would be given a preliminary examination by the ICC as part of a wider investigation of potentially criminal behavior committed by all parties in Afghanistan’s long conflict.
Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, sought authorization in November 2017 to open a formal investigation into possible crimes in Afghanistan. The ICC statement then said a preliminary probe “determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe” that members of the US armed forces and the CIA committed “war crimes,” particularly in 2003-2004.
In retaliation, the U.S. State Department said in March 2018 that it would deny or revoke visas for ICC staff if the investigation continued. Bensouda’s office told Reuters last week that the U.S. revoked the entry visa for the Gambian native.
The ICC’s three-person pre-trial judge panel at the Hague in the Netherlands unanimously rejected Bensouda’s request to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan. In a statement the ICC said “that an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice.” The judges also said political and military events in Afghanistan have changed since the preliminary examination was conducted in 2006.
They also noted that “the lack of cooperation that the Prosecutor has received” to date was “likely to go scarcer should an investigation be authorized,” according to the release.
Pentagon officials had no comment on the ICC decision.
The ICC was established by a United Nations treaty in 2002, and has been ratified by 123 countries. Among those not ratifying are the United States, China, India, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia, Libya, and Pakistan.
The Trump administration hailed the decision.
“This is a major international victory, not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law,” President Donald Trump said in a statement released by the White House. “Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”
However, Amnesty International eviscerated the decision. In a statement, the organization called the decision “a shocking abandonment of the victims” that was “a craven capitulation to Washington’s bullying and threats.”