Do Trump’s ICC Threats Mean He Fears Being Held Accountable For War Crimes?

Written by Dana Sanchez

The Trump administration has threatened to take action against any countries or companies that cooperate with the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which proposes an investigation of U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

The administration also threatens sanctions against the ICC if it pursues investigations against Israel or other U.S. allies.

U.S. troops have been engaged in conflict in Afghanistan for nearly 17 years and there have been allegations against U.S. personnel of torture and illegal imprisonment.

The George W. Bush administration admitted to isolated incidents of human rights violations of detained prisoners but said it was not indicative of general U.S. policy. Humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch disputed this, asserting a wider pattern of torture and brutal treatment at American overseas detention centers, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay.

The proposed ICC investigation is “utterly unfounded,” White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday during a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump walks up the steps of Air Force One at Sioux Falls Regional Airport, in Sioux Falls, S.D., Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


The ICC exists to ensure that crimes against humanity and mass atrocities do not occur with impunity. “While national governments often have capable systems to enforce laws, in occasions of mass atrocity national governments are often unequipped to deal with such grave issues. These incidences fall far outside the capacities of most legal systems,” according to Invisible Children.

The Clinton administration signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC. The ICC court was founded in 2002 and then-President George W. Bush “unsigned” the U.S. from the statute. Bolton, who worked in the Bush administration, helped lead the U.S. diplomatic opposition to the ICC, according to NPR.

A U.S. law passed that same year authorized the president to use whatever authority necessary to protect U.S. service members from prosecution by the ICC.

The Trump administration will ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the U.S. if they try and prosecute Americans, prosecute them in U.S. criminal courts, and sanction ICC officials’ funds, the Trump administration said.

“The International Criminal Court unacceptably threatens American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests,” Bolton said during the speech before conservatives and libertarians.

Bolton’s comments came after the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s office in Washington, D.C. was closed on Monday — a move described as “yet another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people,” according to Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.

The Trump administration cited Palestinian leaders refusal to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the office.

In August, the U.S. canceled more than $200 million in aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the weekend, it announced it was cutting $25 million in assistance for hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide critical care to Palestinian patients.

“The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense,” Bolton said.

Palestinian chief negotiator Erekat said Tuesday that he had filed a claim with the ICC over Israeli war crimes at a West Bank Bedouin village that is due to be demolished Wednesday, Times of Israel reported:

“There has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans to raze the village, which Israeli authorities say was built illegally. Sitting east of Jerusalem, the village is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

The state says the structures, mostly makeshift shacks and tents, were built without permits and pose a threat to the village residents because of their proximity to a highway.”

Trump’s attack on the ICC is his latest challenge to international institutions. Last year he withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. This year he pulled the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Council and threatened to pull out of the World Trade Organization, CNN reported.