WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump imposed new travel and property sanctions Thursday on International Criminal Court officials, attempting to penalize them for investigating alleged wrongdoing by U.S. military personnel and intelligence operatives fighting against terrorism in Afghanistan over the past 18 years.
Trump declared a national emergency, calling the ICC investigation at The Hague “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Trump’s order blocks an untold number of unnamed ICC officials from entering the U.S., and it keeps them from carrying out financial and property transactions in the U.S.
Trump and his top aides all emphasized the U.S. is not a party to the Treaty of Rome that created the ICC and would not allow the international body to investigate and prosecute American military and intelligence personnel.
Attorney General William Barr told a news conference at the State Department that the U.S. is “also concerned that foreign powers like Russia are manipulating” the ICC investigation into alleged U.S. wrongdoing to hurt American standing in the world.
The ICC began its probe into alleged U.S. war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2017 and said last year it had received about 700 complaints from alleged victims.
Trump, in his order, said the ICC had made “illegitimate assertions of jurisdiction over personnel of the United States and certain of its allies,” which he said “threatens to subject current and former United States Government and allied officials to harassment, abuse, and possible arrest.”
He said the U.S. “remains committed to accountability and to the peaceful cultivation of international order,” but that the ICC “must respect the decisions of the United States and other countries not to subject their personnel to the ICC's jurisdiction, consistent with their respective sovereign prerogatives.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the news conference, “We stand for our government. We stand for our citizens.”
He posed a possible scenario resulting from the ICC investigation.
“Imagine an American soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or an intelligence officer’s on leave with his or her family, maybe on a beach in Europe,” Pompeo said. “And over the course of two decades or more, this soldier honorably defended America in Bahar province and Kandahar taking down terrorists. Then suddenly that vacation turns into a nightmare. The European country’s national police takes that soldier into custody, detaining him or her on politically motivated charges.
“A prison sentence abroad is a distinct possibility, a spouse behind bars for defending freedom, a son or daughter robbed of their mom or dad. All on the initiative of some prosecutor in the Netherlands,” the top U.S. diplomat suggested.
“Making sure this doesn't happen is the essence of America First foreign policy. Sadly, this isn't a hypothetical. This nightmare could become reality if the International Criminal Court follows through with its ideological crusade against American service members,” Pompeo said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the ICC probe an “illegitimate investigation” and said the U.S. has never shied from investigating alleged wrongdoing by its military and intelligence personnel. He said 800,000 U.S. personnel had served in the fight against terrorism over the past 19 years, with 2,000 Americans losing their lives.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien called the ICC “ineffective and unaccountable. We know there is corruption at the highest levels of the ICC. We will never allow our American soldiers to be subject to it.”