John Bolton: “The ICC is already dead to us”

John R. Bolton speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

“The US has threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it goes ahead with prosecutions against Americans,” the BBC News reported on Monday.

National Security Adviser John Bolton, amid Code Pink yelling in the background outside the room, made his first major address in a speech hosted by the Federalist Society, and said he was there to “make a major announcement on U.S. policy toward the International Criminal Court, or ICC.”

“After years of effort by self-styled global governance advocates, the ICC, a super-national tribunal that could supersede national sovereignties and directly prosecute individuals for alleged war crimes was agreed in 1998…In theory, the ICC holds perpetrators of the most egregious atrocities accountable for their crimes, provides justice to the victims, and detours future abuses. In practice however, the court has been ineffective, unaccountable, and outright dangerous…”

“Today, on the eve of September 11th, I want to deliver a clear and unambiguous message on behalf of the President of the United States. The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC and we will certainly not join the ICC.”

“We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

You can listen to his full speech at the Federalist Society on C-SPAN, here.


The ICC’s prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced in a statement last November 3rd that she “had decided to request authorization to open a formal investigation” “into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” and that judges would then decide whether the situation meets with the court’s criteria.”

According to an NPR report at that time, while Bensouda did not specifically name any “parties or incidents” in her statement about who would be investigated, there was another ICC ‘preliminary’ report dated 2016 claiming there is “a ‘reasonable basis’ to believe the following crimes have occurred:

“Crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Taliban and their affiliated Haqqani Network;

“War crimes of torture and related ill-treatment by Afghan government forces, in particular the intelligence agency (National Directorate for Security), and the Afghan National Police;

“War crimes of torture and related ill-treatment, by US military forces deployed to Afghanistan and in secret detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, principally in the 2003-2004 period, although allegedly continuing in some cases until 2014.”

NPR November 3, 2017

By November 20 the ICC website posted its ongoing preliminary examination stating its’ “Focus” was on “Alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Afghanistan since 1 May 2003.” The update declared their ‘process of collection of representations of victims has now ended,” and that now the “Pre-trial Chamber,” i.e., judges, would assess that data to determine if prosecutor Bensouda’s request would be granted for an investigation.  

The BBC further reports Bolton then told his audience that if the ICC came after the US, “we will not sit quietly,” that the US “will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do to them the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans,” adding that “We will not allow the ICC or any other organization to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Bolton said the US would “retaliate by banning ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, imposing sanctions on any funds they had in the States and prosecuting them in the American court system,” adding we would “negotiate more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit countries from surrendering Americans to the court in The Hague,” the Guardian reported.

The ICC was established in 1998 and is one of a collection of UN treaties called the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, while Bill Clinton was president. It came into force in 2002 under former President Bush who opposed it. There are 123 nation states who have signed the Rome treaty; the United States is one of 70 countries who have not signed onto the treaty to date. However, the BBC reports, former President Obama “sought to develop co-operation with the ICC.”

There has been no statement made by the State Department’s present incumbent Ambassador Todd F. Buchwald who is the United States Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of Global Criminal Justice which is housed within the State Department. Buchwald was selected by former President Obama after a vacancy was created by the departure of the previous ambassador Stephen Rapp.

However, David Scheffer, the first one to serve in that position, nominated by former President Clinton, and for whom the position was created, the Guardian reported, said, “The Bolton speech today isolates the United States from international criminal justice and severely undermines our leadership in bringing perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice elsewhere in the world.”

“The double standard set forth in his speech will likely play well with authoritarian regimes, which will resist accountability for atrocity crimes and ignore international efforts to advance the rule of law.”

In another announcement Bolton also confirmed the US would close the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office located in Washington, D.C., as was announced by a State Department press release by spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Monday.

“We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017,” the statement says, adding, “However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel… To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise. As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point.”

The Guardian reported a ‘senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed that a US official had notified the Palestinian leadership that its diplomatic mission in Washington, DC, would be closed.”

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