The United States on Monday warned the International Criminal Court against prosecution of US or Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in the Middle East.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton called the Hague-based rights body “unaccountable” and “outright dangerous” to the United States, Israel and other allies, and said any probe of US service members would be “an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation.”
In the same speech, Bolton confirmed that the US is closing the PLO’s office in Washington, DC.
In his remarks to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington, Bolton said: “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly… The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”
Bolton pointed to an ICC prosecutor’s request in November 2017 to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the US military and intelligence officials in Afghanistan, especially over the abuse of detainees. Neither Afghanistan nor any other government party to the ICC’s Rome Statute has requested an investigation, Bolton said.
He said the ICC could formally open the investigation “any day now.”
He also cited a recent move by Palestinian leaders to have Israeli officials prosecuted at the ICC for human rights violations.
While “in theory, the ICC holds perpetrators of the most egregious atrocities accountable for their crimes, provides justice to the victims, and deters future abuses,” he said, “In practice… the court has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.
“For all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us,” he stated.
Bolton added that “While the court welcomes the membership of the so-called state of Palestine, it has threatened Israel, a liberal, democratic nation, with investigation into its actions in the West Bank and Gaza to defend its citizens from terrorist attacks.”
He noted recent suggestions “that the ICC will investigate Israeli construction of housing projects on the West Bank” and said “The United States will always stand with our friend and ally Israel.”
“Israel too has sharply criticized the ICC,” he said.
Israel last month lodged a formal protest with the ICC for launching a campaign to reach out to “victims of the situation in Palestine,” an unusual step which Jerusalem officials charge casts doubt on the court’s ability to treat the Jewish state fairly.
Bolton said the State Department’s decision to close the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington reflected “congressional concern with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel.”
“The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” he added.
“The United States supports a direct and robust process,” he went on, “and we will not allow the ICC or any other organization to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”
Congress in 2015 mandated that the PLO mission be shut if the Palestinians initiate or support an investigation by the court against Israelis.
Bolton also threatened to arrest and prosecute judges and other officials of the International Criminal Court if it moves to charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes.
“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system,” he said. “We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans,” he said.
The ICC, which is based in the Hague, has a mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute that established the court, but his successor, George W. Bush, renounced the signature, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.
The condemnation of the ICC added to the White House’s rejection of many supranational institutions and treaties the president does not believe benefit the United States.
Bolton also condemned the record of the court since it formally started up in 2002, and argued that most major nations had not joined.
He said it had attained just eight convictions despite spending more than $1.5 billion, and said that had not stemmed atrocities around the world.
“In fact, despite ongoing ICC investigations, atrocities continue to occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Libya, Syria, and many other nations.” he added.
But Bolton said the main objection of the administration of President Donald Trump is to the idea that the ICC could have higher authority than the US Constitution and US sovereignty.
“In secular terms we don’t recognize any higher authority than the US constitution,” he said.
“This president will not allow American citizens to be prosecuted by foreign bureaucrats, and he will not allow other nations to dictate our means of self defense.”
The State Department earlier said it was ordering the closure of the Washington mission of the PLO, saying the Palestinians were not supporting peace talks with Israel.
“We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
“However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel… To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise. As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated to reporters on Monday the Trump administration remained “very much committed” to advancing an Israeli’Palestinian peace agreement.
“We’ve been very upfront throughout the process that we want to see peace,” she said. “We are very much committed to the process and we’re still hopeful we can get there.”
Israel welcomed the move to close the PLO’s DC office, with the Prime Minister’s Office saying “The Palestinian’s appeal to the ICC and their rejection of negotiations with Israel and the US are not the way to achieve peace, and it is good that the US is taking a clear stance in the matter.”
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat called the move a “dangerous escalation” that “shows that the US is willing to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine as well as against peace and security in the rest of our region.”
He also reiterated calls for the ICC to probe “Israeli crimes” and vowed the Palestinians would not “succumb to US threats and bullying.”
The PA has boycotted the Trump administration and rebuffed its peace efforts since the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December of last year. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem — which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed — as the capital of their future state.
In May, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said the White House was weighing closing the PLO mission after the PA’s foreign minister submitted a “referral” to the ICC calling for an investigation of Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and the violent clashes on the Gaza border.