US bars entry to International Criminal Court investigators

By MATTHEW LEE – Associated Press – Friday, March 15, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States will revoke or deny visas to personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by U.S. forces in or elsewhere, and may do the same with those who seek action against Israel, Secretary of State said Friday.

, acting on a threat delivered in September by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, framed the action as necessary to prevent the international body from infringing on U.S. sovereignty by prosecuting American forces or allies for torture or other war crimes.

“We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” said.

U.S. officials have long regarded the Netherlands-based with hostility, arguing that American courts are capable of handling any allegations against U.S. forces and questioning the motives of an international court.

The and its supporters, including human rights groups that denounced ’s announcement, argue that it is needed to prosecute cases when a country fails to do so or does an insufficient job of it.

The visa restrictions would apply to any employee who takes or has taken action “to request or further such an investigation” into allegations against U.S. forces and their allies in that include forced disappearances and torture.

said the restrictions “may also be used to deter efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without the allies’ consent,” he said.

The , the first global tribunal for war crimes, said it would continue to operate “undeterred” by the U.S. action.

The prosecutor has a pending request to look into possible war crimes in that may involve Americans. The Palestinians have also asked the to bring cases against Israel.

Speaking directly to employees, said: “If you are responsible for the proposed investigation of U.S. personnel in connection with the situation in , you should not assume that you still have or will get a visa or will be permitted to enter the United States.”

That comment suggested that action may have already been taken against the prosecutor who asked last year to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in since May 2003.

The prosecution’s request says there is information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”

The United States has never been a member of the . The Clinton administration in 2000 signed the Rome Statute that created the but had reservations about the scope of the ’s jurisdiction and never submitted it for ratification to the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration promoted and passed the American Service Members Protection Act, which sought to immunize U.S. troops from potential prosecution by the . In 2002, Bolton, then a State Department official, traveled to New York to ceremonially “unsign” the Rome Statute at the United Nations.

This past September, Bolton said the was a direct threat to U.S. national security interests and he threatened its personnel with both visa revocations and financial sanctions should it try to move against Americans. said Friday that more measures may come.

The said in a statement it was established by a treaty supported by 123 countries and that it prosecutes cases only when those countries failed to do so or did not do so “genuinely.” is a signatory.

“The is an independent and impartial judicial institution crucial for ensuring accountability for the gravest crimes under international law,” the statement said. “The , as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law.”

Supporters of the slammed ’s announcement.

Human Rights Watch called it “a thuggish attempt to penalize investigators” at the .

“The Trump administration is trying an end run around accountability,” it said. “Taking action against those who work for the sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked.”

Amnesty International described the move as “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents three people before the who say they were tortured in , called the decision “misguided and dangerous” and “an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day.”

“It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses,” it said.

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Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Brussels contributed to this report.

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