PARIS — The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday formally requested authorization to investigate the U.S. military and CIA for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.
Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian jurist who has been the ICC's chief prosecutor since 2012, confirmed earlier suspicions that the United States would be implicated in the probe. The decision marks the first time the ICC under Bensouda will investigate American forces and operatives.
In a statement, Bensouda clarified that alleged "war crimes by members of the United States armed forces" and "secret detention facilities in Afghanistan" used by the CIA justified the court's investigation. Earlier this month, she had announced that "there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed" in Afghanistan but had declined to specify by whom.
On Monday, she named the U.S. armed forces and the CIA among a roster of probe targets that also included the Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani network, as well as the Afghan National Security Forces.
“Furthermore, the Office has determined that there are no substantial reasons to believe that the opening of an investigation would not serve the interests of justice, taking into account the gravity of the crimes and the interests of victims,” Bensouda said in her statement.
The statement noted that the investigation will focus on the alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan after May 1, 2003, and on other alleged crimes with clear connections to the conflict in Afghanistan that were committed on the territories of other member states after July 1, 2002. In the case of the American targets, Bensouda said, the investigation would focus primarily on 2003 through 2004.
The ICC, established in 2002, does not have the authority to investigate crimes committed in Afghanistan before those dates, the statement said.
The court’s jurisdiction is bound to investigating crimes in the territories of member states, although the U.N. Security Council can authorize extensions of those probes into other nonmember states. Earlier this month, Burundi — in an apparent attempt to avoid prosecution — became the first country to withdraw from the ICC, but the court ultimately authorized an investigation relating to alleged crimes the government had committed anyway.
The United States is one of few nations that never formally submitted to the ICC, which was established as the world’s highest legal authority for the prosecution of war crimes and human rights abuses. But U.S. citizens can still be charged for relevant crimes they commit in other member states.
Afghanistan has been a member state since the court’s inception.
No official deadline was given for the judges to respond to Bensouda’s request.