STATE DEPARTMENT - The Obama administration may be feeling additional pressure to designate Islamic State atrocities as genocide, in the wake of a House vote Monday overwhelmingly in favor of the label.
The State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry is collecting and evaluating information as part of a legal review and is expected to have a decision "soon."
"The argument that somehow it [a decision] is being slow-walked or slow-rolled because of the likely pressure that it might result in further calls for military action just is baseless." said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
However, officials cautioned that Kerry may not have a decision by the March 17 deadline set by Congress last year.
At issue is whether Islamic State's mass murders, beheadings, torture and other crimes carried out against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria meet the U.N. definition of genocide: "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
Genocide designation could result in further US action
Analysts say a U.S. designation could have legal and political implications.
"It highlights to not only our political leaders but also to the people of the United States that this is the crime of crimes that they are committing. This is the worst. You can't get worse than genocide," said Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch.
Stanton, who is a genocide studies professor at George Mason University, said the State Department could proceed with several options, including no decision on whether Islamic State is guilty of genocide.
"It may simply decide that there is enough evidence to investigate what they have done and then eventually have charges brought against them," he said.
Under this plan, he said, the U.S. would only be required to prosecute Islamic State members who came to the United States.
He said other options included labeling the group as guilty of genocide and referring the case to the U.N. Security Council to work with allies to get the case referred to the International Criminal Court.
The last State Department designation of genocide was in 2004, by Secretary of State Colin Powell, in response to murders and mass rapes in Sudan's Darfur region.