WASHINGTON — The United States will not issue visas to staff of the International Criminal Court involved in the investigations of abuses allegedly committed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, or investigations of troops of allies such as Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.
Pompeo said the United States has started restrictions on visas to ICC employees amid a pending request that the tribunal investigate potential war crimes in Afghanistan in which Americans may have been involved. The Palestinian Authority also has asked the court to investigate alleged Israeli crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.
“We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” Pompeo said. “We feared that the court could eventually pursue politically motivated prosecutions of Americans,” he said, saying the fears were borne out in 2017 when the ICC prosecutor requested approval to start investigating “the situation in Afghanistan.”
Pompeo declined to say how many ICC-related visas have been denied or name any officials affected. But he said the restrictions apply to anyone working for the court who requests or furthers an investigation into acts by the United States or its allies.
An exemption to the new restrictions can be made for ICC employees traveling on official business to the United Nations in New York.
The ICC, based in The Hague, was created in 2002 to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in territories where the perpetrators are unlikely to be tried.
The United States is not a member of the ICC, even though the Clinton administration signed a statue creating the body. Many in Congress believed it would infringe on U.S. sovereignty, and it was never submitted for the Senate to ratify. More than 100 countries recognize its jurisdiction, but another 23, including the United States, never ratified it.
Administration officials have been threatening for some time to ban ICC judges and prosecutors from visiting the United States, sanction their assets and prosecute them in U.S. courts.
In September, in a speech delivered on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, national security adviser John Bolton denounced the ICC’s legitimacy and called it a threat to national security.
“We will not cooperate with the ICC,” he said, adding that “for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
In December, Pompeo dismissed the ICC as a “rogue court,” and accused it of “trampling on our sovereignty . . . and all of our freedoms.”
“We will take all necessary steps to protect our people, those of our NATO allies who fight alongside of us inside of Afghanistan from unjust prosecution,” he said in a speech in Brussels. “Because we know that if it can happen to our people, it can happen to yours, too.”