“The many victims of atrocious crimes committed in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan deserve to finally have justice,” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a Thursday news release. “Today they are one step closer to that coveted outcome.”
“The ICC Appeals Chamber’s decision to greenlight an investigation of brutal crimes in Afghanistan despite extreme pressure reaffirms the court’s essential role for victims when all other doors to justice are closed,” Param-Preet Singh, the associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a Thursday tweet. The ICC’s reversal is widely viewed as bowing to pressure by rights groups after a lower chamber stopped the inquiry last April on the grounds that the US does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
The decision allows Bensouda to “commence an investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan since May 1, 2003, as well as other alleged crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan,” Piotr Hofmanski, the presiding judge of the appeals panel, said in the decision, according to Agence France-Presse.
That includes suspected cases in which US forces may have “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence” in Afghanistan and at clandestine CIA black sites in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, Bensouda argued.
“There is overwhelming evidence of war crimes having been committed,” Voices for Creative Nonviolence Co-Coordinator Kathy Kelly told Radio Sputnik’s Political Misfits Thursday.
“It’s been assembled in reports that Amnesty International has filed, with heartbreaking case studies. It’s been assembled by reports from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission,” Kelly said.
She noted as one example the case of the Azizabad airstrike on August 22, 2008, in which a US Air Force AC-130 gunship attacked the village in retaliation for an alleged ambush of Afghan soldiers, but which later turned out to be part of a quarrel between warlords competing for contract funds from private security firm ArmorGroup to run security on a nearby construction site. The attack killed 90 civilians, 60 of whom were children.
US Central Command “did their best to cover that story up, to bully people into not giving their reports - people like United Nations agencies,” Kelly told hosts Bob Schlehuber and Jamarl Thomas.
The Afghan War documents leak, which then-US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning stole and published in July 2010 via WikiLeaks, revealed numerous instances of civilian deaths, friendly fire incidents and special forces sweeps, as well as the practices inside of detention facilities.
“Military contractors have a vise-like grip on media and education in this country, so it still is relevant to talk about the military-industrial-congressional-media-Washington DC-complex,” she said. “I think we see that reflected in a kind of tolerance that the United States public seems to have for United States war crimes having been committed again and again in places all over the world.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the ICC’s decision on Thursday as “a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body. It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan, which is the best chance for peace in a generation.”
On Twitter, Pompeo called the move “illegitimate and unjustified,” noting the US “will take the necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and to protect our people.”
An #ICC investigation with respect to U.S. personnel is illegitimate and unjustified. The United States will take the necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and to protect our people.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 5, 2020
Pompeo has also strongly resisted attempts by the ICC to investigate either US conduct in Afghanistan or Israeli conduct in the Palestinian territories, threatening in March 2019 to withhold visas from ICC personnel involved in such a probe, including Bensouda.
Likewise, former US national security adviser John Bolton said in September 2018 the ICC ”unacceptably threatens American sovereignty and US national security interests … If the court comes after us, we will not sit quietly.”
In November, the ICC also announced a probe of possible war crimes by British Army soldiers in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, where London has been a close partner of the US.
The Afghan government in Kabul has also objected to the investigation, saying it has its own bodies for investigating war crimes, AP noted.