WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is barring International Criminal Court officials from entering the United States, a move intended to shield American military and intelligence personnel from an investigation into alleged torture in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move Friday in response to a pending investigation – launched in 2017 by the international court's prosecutor Fatou Bensouda – into what she said were possible "war crimes" committed in Afghanistan.
"I’m announcing a policy of U.S. visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of U.S. personnel," Pompeo told reporters.
He declined to say how many would be blocked from coming to the U.S.. He also said visa confidentiality rules prohibited him from naming the people affected.
In response, the ICC said it would "continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law."
Pompeo said the visa restrictions are intended to get the ICC to drop its probe and the administration is ready to ratchet up the pressure to achieve that outcome.
"We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change course," he said.
He said the U.S. military system handles any wrongdoing by its personnel. "When U.S. service members fail to adhere to our strict code of military conduct, they are reprimanded, they’re court-martialed, and sentenced if that’s what’s deserved," he said.
The ICC has provided few details about the allegations. But the court prosecutor's office said it has "found a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were and continue to be committed by members of Afghan and foreign government forces, and by anti-government forces such as the Taliban."
The ICC has long been controversial, with critics suggesting it's a threat to American sovereignty. Supporters say the Netherlands-based court offers recourse for victims of genocide and other war crimes in lawless countries.
It was first envisioned in 1998 by the Rome Treaty as a tribunal to prosecute genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. The ICC calls itself “a court of last resort" that seeks to "complement, not replace" domestic judicial systems.
In a speech last year, Trump's national security adviser John Bolton blasted the court and said the administration would "use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pompeo: State Dept. bars war crimes court members from the U.S., citing torture probe