MANHATTAN (CN) — Now that the International Criminal Court has found “reasonable basis to believe” that U.S. military forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan and at CIA black sites, a prominent human-rights attorney predicts action on the horizon.
“Within a year or so, we could be seeing indictments,” said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who has taken on atrocities around the world, from Iraq to the former Yugoslavia to Kosovo.
Courthouse News reached out to Gallagher for context after the International Criminal Court released an explosive preliminary examination on Nov. 14, subjecting the United States and United Kingdom to the same prosecutorial gaze as the Taliban, Burundi, Guinea, the Gabonese Republic and other human-rights abusers.
“Members of U.S. armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity on the territory of Afghanistan between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2014,” the 74-page report says.
Gallagher explained such a report allows the Office of the Prosecutor to have the case moved “from the preliminary examination stage to the investigation stage.”
“And what we know from the report is that the prosecution hopes to do this ‘imminently,’” said Gallagher in a one-hour phone interview.
Between two sections on investigations in the Ukraine and Colombia, November’s blistering report says CIA members “appear to have subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon human dignity and/or rape” in Afghanistan and so-called “black sites” in Poland, Lithuania and Romania.
For Gallagher, the lumping of these countries together signals that the court’s top prosecutor Fatou Bensouda takes seriously her role to carve out no exceptions about its human-rights goals.
“I think we see an International Criminal Court that is truly international in its scope and its objectives of ending impunity,” she said.
Gallagher’s background adds weight to that forecast. During the negotiations that set up the International Criminal Court in 2002, Gallagher had been a member of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice. She also worked International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, before Liberian despot Charles Taylor had been brought to the dock.
The Hague-based tribunal has come under criticism for what critics believe to be an excessive focus on the African continent, but Bensouda’s wide-ranging investigations suggest she will not be cowed by detractors from any corner.
“She is also not backing down from looking at crimes going on in the African continent, but her view is global,” Gallagher said. “It can usher in a new era for the ICC.”
After the world learned about torture at Abu Ghraib and the Nissour Square shooting, it was Gallagher who took three of the military contractors associated with those incidents to court.
Gallagher has pursued George W. Bush administration officials around the globe – including in Canada, Switzerland, France, Spain and Germany – and the U.S. case against the Virginia-based contractor CACI remains ongoing.