US vows to prevent ‘corrupt’ ICC from probing Americans, Israelis for war crimes

Secretary of State Pompeo says there will be ‘series of announcements’ aimed at preventing The Hague from opening investigations in Afghanistan, Palestinian territories

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington on May 20, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington on May 20, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool/AFP)

The US is about to launch a concerted effort to prevent the International Criminal Court from opening war crime investigations that could see American and Israeli officials in the dock in The Hague, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.

“I think that the ICC and the world will see that we are determined to prevent having Americans and our friends and allies in Israel and elsewhere hauled in by this corrupt ICC,” he told a podcast hosted by the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the announcements we’re going to make in the coming days but I think you’ll see,” he said.

The ICC is currently weighing whether to open separate criminal investigations into the “situation in Afghanistan,” which could see UK and American troops tried for war crimes, and the “situation in Palestine,” which may result in Israelis and Palestinians being tried for war crimes.

“I’m very concerned about it,” Pompeo said. “You’ll see, in the coming days, a series of announcements, not just from the State Department, all across the United States government, that attempt to push back against what the ICC is up to.”

Neither the US nor Israel are members of the court and therefore reject the ICC’s attempt to exert criminal jurisdiction over their nationals.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence, May 13, 2020 (Kobi Gideon/PMO)

“And under international law, one of the key features of exercise of power by a body such as the ICC is that you say yep, I want to be part of that. We never signed up for the [Rome Statue, the ICC’s foundational document],” the US top diplomat said.

“And now this court has become corrupted and is attempting to go after the young men and women of the United States of America who fought so hard… And they think that the ICC ought to be able to haul these young men and women in. We will never let that happen. We’re working along many fronts to prevent it from happening.”

Pompeo added: “They’re doing this not just to us, but to Israel, where they’re beginning to look into what took place in the West Bank. Again, it’s completely inappropriate. It’s completely inconsistent with international law. And it puts our young men and women at risk and it’s something President [Donald] Trump and our team aren’t going to permit to happen.”

Pompeo has long fought the ICC’s efforts to pursue investigations into cases where Americans or Israelis are involved. Last month, after a brief visit to Israel, he issued a formal statement reiterating Washington’s “longstanding objection to any illegitimate ICC investigations” into Israel and threatening that any attempt to assert jurisdiction over Israelis would “exact consequences.”

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, center, and Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, right, attend the first audience with the chief of Central African Republic’s soccer federation Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the Netherlands on January 25, 2019. (Koen Van Well/Pool photo via AP)

On April 30, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reiterated her position that Palestine is a state for the purposes of transferring criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague.

It is now up to a pretrial chamber to rule on the matter. The three judges of that chamber — Péter Kovács of Hungary, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of France and Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou of Benin — have no set deadline to hand down their decision but are expected to do so in less than 90 days.

Israel argues that Palestine is not a sovereign state and therefore cannot transfer criminal jurisdiction over its territory to the Hague. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denounced the ICC and declared thwarting a possible war crimes probe one of the new government’s top priorities.

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