Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump on Thursday authorized sanctions and additional visa restrictions against International Criminal Court personnel — the latest attempt by the administration to strong-arm the international body out of an investigation into a potential war crimes by US military and intelligence officials.
Under the new executive order, any individuals who “have directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States” or have attempted the same against a US ally without that country’s consent may be subject to sanctions.The latest move comes months after the ICC authorized a probe into alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan by US and Afghan forces as well as alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban. It also follows a push by the court’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate potential crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians — a prospect about which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they were “gravely concerned.” The green light to sanction ICC officials has already drawn concern from officials at international institutions and human rights organizations. ‘Any means necessary’Read MoreTrump administration officials have long rejected the authority of the ICC — noting that the US is not a party to the international tribunal — and had already taken steps meant to deter the investigation, including revoking Bensouda’s entry visa last year.“The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. “As the President’s Executive Order makes clear, the United States will continue to use any means necessary to protect our citizens and our allies from unjust prosecution by the International Criminal Court,” she said.Speaking at the State Department Thursday, Pompeo said, “We cannot and we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court.”Pompeo said the economic sanctions would be determined on a case by case basis. He also said the visa restrictions would include family members of the targeted officials.”It gives us no joy to punish them, but we cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop, travel, and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms,” the top US diplomat said.CNN has reached out to the ICC for comment.Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the administration expected “information about alleged misconduct by our people to be turned over to US authorities so that we can take the appropriate action as we have consistently done so in the past.””Ultimately, our justice system ensures that our people are held to account under the United States Constitution, not the International Criminal Court or other overreaching intergovernmental bodies,” Esper said at the State Department alongside Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and national security adviser Robert O’Brien. None of the officials took questions from the press.In his remarks Thursday, Barr said “the US government has reason to doubt the honesty of the ICC.” He claimed the Justice Department had “substantial, credible” information about longstanding “financial corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of the office of the prosecutor” and expressed concern “that foreign powers like Russia are also manipulating the ICC in pursuit of their own agenda.” Barr did not elaborate on or provide evidence for those claims, which were also contained in McEnany’s statement. Russia withdrew as a signatory to the ICC’s founding statute in 2016.’Matter of serious concern’In early June, The Military Coalition, “a group of 34 military, veterans and uniformed services organizations,” wrote to Trump to express “deep concern” at the ICC’s Afghanistan investigation. In mid-May, dozens of bipartisan lawmakers from the House and Senate wrote to Pompeo in opposition of the international court’s potential probe into Israel.However, the administration’s moves to deter these investigations through sanctions has already drawn condemnation on the world stage. On Thursday, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell called Trump’s executive order a “matter of serious concern.”UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the reports of the planned sanctions were “concerning to us,” adding that they would “continue to closely follow developments” on the matter.Human Rights Watch’s Washington Director Andrea Prasow denounced the action, saying it “demonstrates contempt for the global rule of law.””Countries that support international justice should publicly oppose this blatant attempt at obstruction,” Prasow said in a statement.Bensouda sought authorization in November 2017 to open an investigation into crimes connected to the conflict in Afghanistan. According to a statement from the time, Bensouda’s office “determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe” that members of the Afghan National Security Forces, the US armed forces and the CIA had committed “war crimes,” and that members of the Taliban had committed both war crimes and crimes against humanity.Although Bensouda’s initial request for authorization to open the investigation was denied in April 2019, in March, the ICC Appeals Chamber ruled unanimously in favor of allowing the investigation.This story has been updated to include additional reaction.
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