US Attacks Global Court as Its Soldiers Sanctioned
United States is poised to punish some of its closest friends overseas
for supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a growing
number of its soldiers are being sanctioned for abusing prisoners
in the "war on terrorism," said U.S. human rights groups
measure inserted into the current omnibus appropriations bill in
Congress would ban tens of millions of dollars in U.S. economic
aid to some of its allies unless they formally agree to exempt U.S.
citizens from the ICC's jurisdiction.
move, made at the insistence of the right-wing leadership of the
House of Representatives two weeks ago, was opposed by the State
Department and more moderate Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
the White House, which had used its political clout in the House
over the past week to persuade reluctant Republicans to back an
intelligence reform bill, apparently decided against trying to strip
the ban the so-called Nethercutt Amendment named for
its chief sponsor, outgoing Rep. George Nethercutt (R, Wash.), from
the overall bill.
activists noted that the timing of the ban's approval is particularly
unfortunate, given ongoing courts martial of U.S. soldiers accused
of war crimes in Iraq and ongoing disclosures of abuses committed
by U.S. troops against detainees both in Iraq and at detention facilities
at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
the latest revelations, documents released Tuesday by the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showed that U.S. special operations
forces (SOF) threatened Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials
who witnessed evidence of abuses inflicted on detainees in Iraq
if they reported what they had seen.
accounts of U.S. abuse of prisoners keep surfacing, the United States
is ratcheting up pressure on states to place U.S. citizens beyond
the reach of a court that can only be used as a last resort,"
said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program
of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
revelations of abuses continue, U.S. insistence on immunity strikes
a particularly raw nerve," he added in a statement.
ICC, whose mandate is to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes
against humanity, genocide, and other atrocities, was established
at The Hague two years ago under the 1998 Rome Statute.
statute, which has been signed by 139 countries and ratified by
97 including all members of the European Union and all of
Washington's NATO allies except Turkey was also signed by
the United States under President Bill Clinton, but the Bush administration,
in an unprecedented action in May 2002, explicitly renounced the
the same time, it launched a major diplomatic offensive to press
countries that adhered to the statute to conclude "bilateral
immunity agreements" (BIAs) with Washington that would shield
U.S. nationals or foreign nationals working for the United States
from the ICC's jurisdiction.
Bush administration also sought and initially obtained
a United Nations Security Council resolution that provided blanket
exemption from the ICC for soldiers and officials serving in UN
peacekeeping operations whose home country had not signed the treaty.
But in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal last spring, council
members refused to extend the exemption.
here agreed that the ban will also further aggravate U.S. ties to
the United Nations and Europe, the ICC's major champions, at a time
when a growing number of Republican lawmakers are clamoring for
the resignation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and for cutting
U.S. financial support to the world body because of the scandal
over the oil-for-food program in Iraq under former President Saddam
is a time when the U.S. should be reaching out to assist countries
interested in developing a more democratic and peaceful world,"
said Raj Purohit, legislative director of Human Rights First (HRF),
the New York-based group formerly known as the Lawyers Committee
for Human Rights.
the Nethercutt Amendment, the U.S. is sadly withdrawing its support
for such activities because of a shortsighted campaign against the
ICC," he added in a statement.
administration has insisted that the ICC threatens U.S. sovereignty
and that, given Washington's global military dominance and the unique
responsibilities for maintaining international peace that go with
it, U.S. nationals would be particularly vulnerable to politically
inspired prosecutions by the ICC.
the recent presidential campaign, Bush himself repeatedly denounced
the ICC, which he said would be dominated by "unaccountable
judges and prosecutors."
supporters, including Bush's closest foreign ally, British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, have argued that Washington has nothing to
fear from the tribunal so long as its government is willing to investigate
and prosecute serious crimes that might otherwise fall under the
the Rome Statute, the ICC can only take jurisdiction if the country
involved is either unable or unwilling to pursue prosecutions on
put pressure on countries to sign a BIA with Washington, Congress
passed a law in 2002 that gave the administration the discretion
to cut off military aid to countries not belonging to the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that ratified the ICC. Over
the past year, the administration has done precisely that with about
three-dozen countries, almost all of them poor nations in Latin
America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Central Europe.
Nethercutt Amendment would deprive the same nations of economic
support funds (ESF), a category of economic assistance that accounts
for about $2.5 billion in the current foreign-aid bill.
written, the legislation could waive the ban for national-security
reasons for Washington's NATO or "non-NATO allies," which
include Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Argentina,
and South Korea. The amendment also exempts from the ban beneficiaries
of the new Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which goes to poor
countries that adhere to political and economic policies approved
even if Bush exercised his waiver authority in every case, a number
of key U.S. partners in the developing world and hundreds
of millions of dollars in economic assistance would be affected
by the Nethercutt ban, including South Africa, Costa Rica, Ecuador,
Jordan, Mali, Liberia, Benin, Niger, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and
several other Caribbean island-states, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
for example, could lose $13.5 million for the promotion of reconciliation
between its Greek and Turkish communities, while South Africa, Ecuador,
Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela stand to lose millions of dollars
earmarked for democracy promotion, economic growth, health, and
a key U.S. ally that adjoins both Iraq and Israel, stands to lose
as much as $250 million in economic support, a loss that the Republican
chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Operations Subcommittee,
James Kolbe, warned last summer could have serious consequences
for Washington's interests in the region.
don't see how that will help us in the war against terrorism,"
Kolbe said at the time.
move is also certain to feed growing international concerns about
Washington's unilateralism. On his trip to Canada last week, Bush
tried to allay these concerns, but, as one congressional aide said
this week, "actions speak louder than words."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service