Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned a decision by the International Criminal Court to authorize an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan by US armed forces, the CIA, and the Taliban.
“This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body,” Pompeo said Thursday during remarks at the State Department. “It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan, which is the best chance for peace in a generation.”
“The United States is not a party to the ICC, and we will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, so-called court,” he said.
Chief prosecutor Fatou 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.
On Thursday, the ICC Appeals Chamber ruled unanimously in favor of allowing the investigation. Bensouda’s initial request for authorization to open the investigation was denied in April 2019. At that time, the three judge panel “concluded that an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice.”
However, the appeals judges disagreed with this conclusion.
“Having considered the Prosecutor’s grounds of appeal against the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision, as well as the observations and submissions of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, representatives of victims and other participants, the Appeals Chamber found that the Pre-Trial Chamber erred in considering the ‘interests of justice factor’ when examining the Prosecutor’s request for authorisation to open an investigation,” an ICC media release about the decision said.
Pompeo on Thursday claimed that the US had “evidence suggesting that there have been efforts to provide misinformation to the court by foreign parties,” but did not elaborate on this claim.
The Trump administration had taken a series of steps to deter the investigation. Last March, Pompeo warned that the US would deny or revoke visas for International Criminal Court staff, and last April, prior the appeals court decision, the US revoked the chief prosecutor’s entry visa
Asked Thursday whether the US would take similar actions against the ICC appeals court judges, Pompeo said he didn’t “want to get in front of what actions we might take.”
“We’re going to take all the appropriate actions to ensure that American citizens are not hauled before this political body to settle a political vendetta,” he said.
The Coalition for the ICC on Thursday called on the US to respect the appeals court decision and not to take punitive action against ICC officials. The American Civil Liberties Union praised the ICC decision to authorize the investigation.
“While the road ahead is still long and bumpy, this decision is a significant milestone that bolsters the ICC’s independence in the face of the Trump administration’s bullying tactics,” Jamil Dakwar, the director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, said in a statement. “Countries must fully cooperate with this investigation and not submit to any authoritarian efforts by the Trump administration to sabotage it. It is past time perpetrators are held accountable for well-documented war crimes that haunt survivors and the families of victims to this day.”
CNN’s Richard Roth and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.