The Trump administration has warned the International Criminal Court in The Hague that if it tries to prosecute U.S. or allied countries’ military personnel for alleged crimes, it will be hitting the ICC back with economic sanctions and visa restrictions against officials involved in such efforts. The visa restrictions will also apply to the officials’ families.
In a press briefing on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the ICC of an “ideological crusade against American service members” and said it “cannot subject Americans to arrest, prosecution, and jail” for the simple reason that “the U.S. is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC.”
Founded in 2002 to tackle cases of genocide and war crimes, the ICC has racked up an unenviable record. Calling it “grossly ineffective and corrupt,” Pompeo noted that “in 18 years of operation, the court — staffed by nearly 1,000 people — has secured only four convictions for major crimes, despite spending well over a billion dollars.”
Its mostly ineffectual investigations so far have dealt with alleged crimes committed within the boundaries of Burundi, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, Sudan, the Congo, Georgia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Uganda, and Bangladesh/Myanmar.
More recently, though, the ICC has turned its sights on, and threatened proceedings against, the U.S. and Israel — neither of which has signed the Rome Statute, and both of which, as democracies with independent judiciaries that can and do investigate military misdeeds where necessary, are supposed to be outside its jurisdiction in any case.
“Even if a prosecution [against U.S. personnel] were to proceed,” Pompeo pointed out, “it would make a mockery of due process” because of some peculiar features of the ICC’s modus vivendi:
There’s no requirement for unanimity for a conviction.
The prosecution can rely on hearsay to obtain a conviction.
There’s no real guarantee of a speedy trial.
And instead of facing a jury of one’s peers, it’s a panel of judges who aren’t subject to any American accountability.
The ICC, though, can move effectively when it needs to: recently, Pompeo remarks, “the judges of the ICC…brought suit against their own court, seeking a 26 percent pay raise from their 180,000 euro tax-free annual salary. That’s about a quarter-million dollars U.S., give or take.”
The Israeli daily Haaretz reports that Washington’s decision to threaten the ICC with sanctions “was coordinated with Israel” and that Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the issue during Pompeo’s visit to Jerusalem in May. Netanyahu indeed welcomed the decision, calling the ICC a “kangaroo court” and a “politicized court obsessed with conducting witch hunts.”
In laying out the case for investigating Israel for alleged “war crimes,” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda went so far as to include the building of communities in the West Bank. It’s a safe bet that the ICC will not threaten to go after any other country for the “war crime” of constructing homes, and the singling-out of Israel is so blatant here that antisemitism can fairly be added to the charge sheet against the ICC.
Or as Pompeo put it in the press briefing:
We’re also gravely concerned about the threat the court poses to Israel….
Given Israel’s robust civilian and military legal system and strong track record of investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by military personnel, it’s clear the ICC is only putting Israel in its crosshairs for nakedly political purposes. It’s a mockery of justice.
As the secretary of state also mentioned, last month over 300 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle urged him to keep supporting Israel against the ICC’s efforts to put it in the dock.
The idea behind the ICC was indeed laudable: to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of grave crimes in lawless countries. But like other international institutions before it, the ICC has itself turned into a lawless body that attacks rather than defends civilization.