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US doesn’t even need to bully the International Criminal Court — it can’t do a thing about the war crimes in Afghanistan anyway

U.S. President Donald Trump answers a question during the daily coronavirus task force briefing.

5 Mar, 2020

Despite bullying and threats from Trump, the ICC will investigate war crimes including cruelty, sexual violence and torture by US and Afghan soldiers and intelligence services during the nearly 20-year-long conflict.

The US thought it had avoided facing the music over claims of cruelty, rape, torture and other war crimes during the Afghanistan conflict, but now Donald Trump’s military chiefs will be asked politely to answer for their alleged misdeeds. The International Criminal Court has made a brave decision — but ultimately a futile one.

The ICC investigators will call US soldiers and their secretive intelligence service colleagues who served in the Afghan conflict to explain the alleged breaches of human rights, but no answers will be forthcoming. The US is more likely to face down the embarrassment of the accusations and simply stonewall its inquisitors.

While thousands of victims came forward to tell their stories to the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during her preliminary inquiry, the US and Afghan military personnel and those who operate in the shadows are not at all inclined to do so and without their co-operation, the ICC investigation will just crumble.

It was this lack of cooperation from those under investigation that led to the ICC originally deciding not to proceed with a full-scale inquiry, until that decision was overturned on appeal this week. So if the US refuses all help and there is nothing the ICC can do to force them to oblige, then what is the point of the inquiry?

In April last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington would revoke or deny visas to ICC staff investigating alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by US forces in Afghanistan, having already revoked the visa of prosecutor Ms. Bensouda earlier that month.

She had irritated the US administration in 2017 by recommending a full investigation into allegations of war crimes against not only the US, but Afghan forces and the Taliban after a 10-year preliminary inquiry. This did not go down well in Washington but it waited patiently for nearly two years before striking back with the visa denial.

Then, in November last year, Trump showed where his inclinations lay by pardoning two officers and restoring the rank of a third, all accused of war crimes during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In taking that step, the President cut short the judicial process, deciding the investigations against the three army officers should not be pursued because he felt they were “unfair.” It’s a decision that should be in the hands of a legally constituted court, but Trump proved it to be a paper tiger.

According to the UN human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, at the time, Trump’s decision sent a “disturbing signal to militaries all around the world.“ That signal? Kill without fear of accountability.

One question is this: why does Trump care?

Afghanistan was not even his fight. Just after it began in 2001 and for the next 14 seasons, Trump was too busy starring in reality TV programme, “The Apprentice” to care about some crazy conflict in a place most people would struggle to find on a globe.

It was Dubya and then Barack Obama that made a hash of things in Afghanistan — peaking with the deployment of 100,000 US troops, with 12,000 still in site today.

Once in the Oval Office Trump, who like his predecessor, vowed to bring US troops home, could simply have blamed the whole mess on previous administrations, and let the ICC investigation run its course and cash in on the political capital that comes when someone else is to blame for a massive cock-up.

But that is not in The Donald’s DNA. 

He wants to Make America Great Again, and while that means a broadly nationalist agenda, of which the recent deal signed with the Taliban to finally bring home the troops is part, it also means that no one gets away with badmouthing him or his beloved US of A. Anywhere, anytime.

No UN, ICC, Kim Jong-Un or even “Mini” Mike Bloomberg.

So if he can circumvent the judicial process, allegedly bribe foreign leaders to help smear his enemies, or stymie The Hague’s investigation into war crimes by simply refusing to cooperate with them, then he will. Because that’s what America wants.

To a US serviceman, woman or their buddy who has been a little trigger-happy while at war in a far-off place, so they might prefer a lack of scrutiny on their actions, this is the sort of president they want with them behind the sandbags.

And this all might just help come that election in November. Not that anyone’s thinking about that, of course.

Report. Damian Wilsonis a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU

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