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U.S. and Israel snubbing world court probes

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Mar 11, 2020 - 9:34:57 AM

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague is embroiled in legal conflict with the United States on one hand and separately with the Zionist state of Israel—both being investigated for alleged war crimes.


In a unanimous decision March 5, the Appellate Chamber re-opened the door to a request by ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by the U.S. military, pro-government, and anti-government Afghan forces in the Afghanistan war since May 2003. The crimes occurred in Afghanistan and CIA-run prison sites in other countries.

“Today, is an important day for the cause of justice in the situation of Afghanistan, for the court, and for international criminal justice more broadly,” said Ms. Bensouda in response to the decision.

The authorization to investigate was first requested in November 2017 and ICC judges subsequently turned the request down saying, “an investigation would not be in the interests of justice” which the prosecutor appealed.

In a statement Ms. Bensouda said she counts on the “full support and cooperation of all parties” throughout the investigation. However, since beginning the investigation process, the U.S. has rebuffed the attempt.

Initially the U.S. imposed adverse policies like U.S. visa restrictions on “individuals directly responsible” for ICC investigations of U.S. personnel including revoking Ms. Bensouda’s visa in April 2019.

In response to the ICC granting the greenlight to investigate, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the decision “reckless” pointing out the timing, just days after the U.S. signed a peace deal, with the Afghan government and the Taliban.

“The United States is not a party to the ICC,” said Mr. Pompeo. “We will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, unlawful, so-called court.”

Rights advocates laud the decision as a move in the right direction. “This is a decision that will be extremely popular with those fighting for justice and deeply unpopular with the parties to the conflict, including powerful states that attempted to bully the court and who have eluded it for so long. It deserves everyone’s support,” said Solomon Sacco, Amnesty International’s head of international justice in a statement.

Other critics of U.S. foreign policy have said the U.S. has always flouted international accountability. “This is a reflection of the arrogance of imperialism,” said Roger Wareham, a human rights lawyer at the International Secretariat of the New York-based December 12th Movement in a recent interview with The Final Call.

“Justice as far as they are concerned is a one-way street, and only in the sense when it works towards benefiting or protecting U.S. national interests,” said Mr. Wareham.

On the part of the ICC, looking to drag Americans and Israelis before the court is unprecedented. Previously, decisions were against leaders of smaller nations. Charges were never levied against those with veto power or those under their protection at the United Nations.

The ICC announcement about the U.S. comes on the heels of another case involving America’s little brother, Israel. It’s being called on the carpet for crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Palestinian people. Prosecutor Bensouda sought authorization from court judges in December 2019 to begin a probe after a preliminary examination of the “situation in Palestine” over several years showed enough credible evidence for the action.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu, the embattled Israeli Prime Minister has been lobbying support from foreign nations to place sanctions on the ICC and its officials, it’s Israeli clapback after the prosecutor’s request. The crimes were from 2014 in the occupied territories.

Like the U.S., Israel vehemently rejected the notion of being investigated and embarked on a public campaign against the court and the prosecutor. In January Mr. Netanyahu called for “concrete actions” while being interviewed on an American Christian television network.

“I think that everybody should rise up against this,” said Mr. Netanyahu. “I urge all your viewers to do the same, and to ask for concrete actions, sanctions against the international court, its officials, its prosecutors, everyone,” he added.

Mr. Netanyahu also used the interview to point out the support of the Trump administration in condemning the move, that he further described as a “full frontal attack” on democracies and their right to defend themselves. The prime minister who was recently indicted for fraud and corruption accused the court of infringing on “Jewish people’s right,” to live in “their ancestral homeland” of Israel.

Ms. Bensouda’s request included the court determining jurisdiction because Palestine is an ICC signatory, while Israel is not. In late January ICC judges delayed the case by asking Ms. Bensouda to resubmit her jurisdiction request, saying her original request was too long.

Israel and the U.S. are not ICC signatories and argues the court has no jurisdiction in Israel. Since the court has been deliberating on the prosecutor’s request, Israel has been on an international “campaign of impunity” to gain support for disavowing any efforts to be investigated.

Playing the “anti-Semite card” Mr. Netanyahu has accused the court and Ms. Bensouda of being driven by anti-Semitism, which she dismissed as unfounded.

Other countries have signed on to support Israel’s contention against the court. German Chancellor Angela Merkel filed a petition to be “a friend of the court” (amicus curiae) in an attempt to curtail the charges. Canada sent a similar letter in mid-February threatening to withhold financial support of the ICC if it moved forward with the probe. Canada and Germany are ICC signatories and echoed the claim the ICC holds no jurisdiction in Israel. Hungary, Austria, Australia and the Czech Republic have also joined the Israeli bandwagon against the court.

While it appears incongruous for other countries to obstruct the exercise of justice by the ICC for Palestinians, siding with Israel allows the “rogue regime” to continue committing war crimes and violations of international humanitarian laws, said Iqbal Jassat, a South Africa-based political analyst in a Middle East Monitor op-ed.

“Israel will continue to treat such laws with contempt in the full knowledge that the backing it enjoys from the Trump administration in Washington and the soft landing provided by Germany, immunizes it from accountability,” Mr. Jasat wrote.

The U.S. and ICC relationship has been unbalanced since the beginning. Although former U.S President Bill Clinton initially signed the Rome statute that helped the court come into existence, he balked at giving the statute to Congress for ratification. Former President George W. Bush, removed the signature completely and President Barack Obama developed cooperation with the ICC, sending observers, but never ratifying membership.

When Mr. Bush took office, his administration passed the “American Service Members Protection Act,’ which sought to immunize U.S. troops from potential prosecution by the ICC.

The ICC can legally move against the U.S. and Israel as non-signatory states to the court because the alleged crimes happened in territories of other states parties to the Rome Statute that established the court. The U.S. and Israel have a long track record as international snoopers and meddlers in the affairs of other nations. What is not as long is the record of accountability which both has defied as in their responses to the ICC. Both countries demonstrate contempt for international law, argue critics

Since assuming power in 2017 Mr. Trump policy was anti-cooperation with established global institutions like the ICC. At one point while addressing the UN General Assembly, Mr. Trump dismissed the ICC as having, “no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority,” and pledged never to “surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.”

America has been a vocal instigator to pressure the court to charge other nations, while consistently rejecting any effort for accountability of its own violations. The U.S. and Israeli position has been that rights violations were the sole property of developing nations, not them.

“It is a travesty of what justice is supposed to be about,” said Mr. Jasat.