US Revokes Visa of ICC Prosecutor Investigating Torture

Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda waits for an accused jihadist leader to enter the courtroom at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on April 4, 2018. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court says she has had her U.S. visa revoked, in the first implementation of an American crackdown on the global tribunal. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)

(CN) — More than two years have passed since International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Fatou Bensouda first found “reasonable basis to believe” that U.S. military forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan and at CIA black sites.

With a three-judge panel at The Hague-based court still considering whether to formally open an investigation, Bensouda confirmed Friday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo retaliated against her by revoking her visa.

“The prosecutor and her office will continue to undertake that statutory duty with utmost commitment and professionalism, without fear or favor,” her office said in a statement.

Though the State Department action shocked the human rights community, it was not unexpected.

When Pompeo first threatened to block international prosecutors from entering the United States last month, Human Rights Watch’s international justice director Richard Dicker called the gambit an “outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of US conduct.”

“ICC member countries should publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate US obstruction,” Dicker said at the time.

Bensouda’s office asserted that that the visa revocation will not affect her travel to the U.S. for meetings, including regular briefings at the United Nations Security Council. Neither the State Department nor Bensouda’s representatives replied to inquiries about the practical repercussions of this decision by press time.

If authorized to proceed, Bensouda’s probe would look into crimes by Afghan, Taliban and U.S. officials in war-torn Afghanistan since May 2003, as well as at alleged CIA black sites in eastern Europe since July 2002.

Often described as the “court of last resort,” the ICC steps in only when countries that fall under its jurisdiction fail to prosecute war crimes on their own. The United States never rolled out the welcome mat for ICC prosecutors.

“Our view is clear: an ICC investigation with respect to U.S. personnel would be wholly unwarranted and unjustified,” a State Department spokeswoman under former President Barack Obama wrote in November 2016.

“More broadly, our overall assessment is that commencement of an ICC investigation will not serve the interests of either peace or justice in Afghanistan,” she had added.

Under the Trump administration, antagonism to the ICC’s mandate has escalated from stern words to harsh actions and reprisals on the world stage.

President Donald Trump savaged the international body before the U.N. General Assembly last year.

“As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority,” Trump said in an address steeped in themes of nationalism and sovereignty.

“The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process,” Trump had added. “We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy.”

Though the Clinton administration signed the Rome Statute in 2000, the Senate never ratified it.

The international court claims jurisdiction based on the facts that the U.S. military and the CIA operated in countries that have enacted the treaty, such as Afghanistan, Poland, Lithuania and Romania. 

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