A group of 175 legal scholars and attorneys specializing in international law have urged President Donald Trump to rescind his authorization of sanctions and visa denials for International Criminal Court staff members investigating war crimes in Afghanistan, including those allegedly committed by U.S. forces.
In a statement sent to the White House on Friday and released Monday, the lawyers said that sanctioning prosecutors and investigators of alleged war crimes, rather than perpetrators, is "wrong in principle, contrary to American values, and prejudicial to U.S. national security."
"Seeking to intimidate investigators and punish prosecutors perverts the purpose and undermines the legitimacy of sanctions," they wrote.
The statement, which comes amid news that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill coalition troops in Afghanistan, was signed by former ambassadors, assistant secretaries of states for human rights, prosecutors and judges at war crimes tribunals held in other countries.
Among the signatories is Ben Ferencz, the last surviving U.S. prosecutor of Nazis at Nuremberg. Now 100 years old, Ferencz was the lead prosecutor in the Einsatzgruppen case, which involved roving killing squads during World War II.
Though successive U.S. administrations have considered the International Criminal Court an attack on U.S. sovereignty, the dispute over the court has come to a head in the two years since it announced an inquiry into allegations of crimes against humanity by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2003 an 2004 and at secret CIA "black sites," interrogation facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania.
The International Criminal Court investigation encompasses alleged crimes by all sides, including Afghan security forces and the Taliban, as well as a small number of U.S. personnel.
Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revoked the visa of the court's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, when she announced plans to pursue investigations into what happened, and threatened to revoke visas for other court officials investigating the actions of U.S. citizens.
An International Criminal Court appeals panel approved the investigation on June 5. Less than a week later, Trump signed an executive order authorizing the sanctions, and Pompeo signaled a sustained U.S. campaign against the court would begin in upcoming weeks.
"We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court," Pompeo said, standing at a State Department podium alongside Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Robert O'Brien, the national security adviser.
The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands has been controversial since it was created by the Rome Statute of 1998. Though the Clinton administration favored the treaty, it has never been submitted to the Senate for ratification. So the United States has never joined the 123 countries, including many democracies and U.S. allies, in recognizing its jurisdiction over atrocities committed during war time.