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ICC claims US may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan

November 15, 2016

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor has suggested the US may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan. An investigation would expose US forces to ICC scrutiny for the first time.

Niederlande Timbuktu Gerichtsprozess gegen Al Mahdi Anklägerin Fatou Bensouda
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Czerwinski

Delivering her annual report to members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Monday, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she would decide "imminently" whether to ask judges for permission to launch a full-blown investigation as to whether US military forces and CIA operatives may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan through the "cruel or violent" interrogation of detainees.

Bensouda said the Taliban, Afghan government forces and US troops as well as the CIA all appeared to have carried out war crimes. "At least 61 detainees" were subjected to "torture (and) cruel treatment" by US armed forces in Afghanistan between May 1, 2003 and December 31, 2014, according to ICC initial findings.

The judge said there had been allegations of "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."  The alleged crimes were "not the abuses of a few isolated individuals" but were committed as part of "a policy or policies aimed at eliciting information through the use of interrogation techniques involving cruel or violent methods" the ICC reported, suggesting aim was to "support US objectives in the conflict in Afghanistan."

Bensouda said there was a "reasonable basis to believe that" during the interrogation of detainees "members of the US armed forces and the US Central Intelligence Agency resorted to techniques amounting to the commission of the war crimes of torture" as well as cruel treatment and rape.

US- und afghanische Soldaten in Afghanistan
US and Aghan soldiersImage: Getty Images/AFP/W. Kohsar

The US has not ratified the ICC's founding Rome Statute while Afghanistan recognised the court's jurisdiction in February 2003 and gave the ICC authority to investigate atrocities on its territory. US citizens could face prosecution if they are found to have committed crimes in a country that is an ICC member, such as Afghanistan.

Gambia withdraws

In a separate move, Gambia has become the third country after South Africa and Burundi to leave the ICC. The West African nation notified the UN on Monday that its withdrawal would take effect from November next year.

Last month, Gambia's Information Minister Sheriff Bojang described the ICC as "an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans."

The ICC's Bensouda is Gambian and was an adviser to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh after he seized power in a coup in 1994. She later served as justice minister.

Last week Bensouda thanked retiring UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his "firm and principled support" of the ICC and the international rule of law:

Ban Ki-moon has expressed regret that South Africa, Burundi and Gambia were leaving the ICC. He said it could "send a wrong message on these countries' commitment to justice."

jm/bw (Reuters, dpa)