(GPA) Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court are reportedly ready to open a thorough investigation against the U.S. war crimes and human rights abuses committed in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2005. The investigation is expected to begin before the end of this year but will conveniently follow next week’s U.S. presidential election. This will be the first time an ICC case has been officially opened pertaining to the United States’ actions in Afghanistan.
The investigation will specifically focus on the inhumane treatment of detainees carried out by military service personnel at U.S.-sponsored foreign detention facilities in Afghanistan. Although the ICC states they plan to focus on U.S. atrocities between 2002 and 2005, prosecutors may also extend the investigation to include the U.S. attack on the Doctors Without Borders Kunduz location in 2015 which killed roughly 50 people.
Until now, the Pentagon was expected to thoroughly prosecute military personnel at their own discretion for said U.S. war crimes and deplorable human rights abuses. However, a report last year from the ICC says that the Pentagon never lived up to its promise. The U.S. deliberately avoided punishing anyone “higher than the brigade commander level” and instead punished lower-rank personnel. Furthermore, these individuals were prosecuted for “administrative” charges rather than “criminal” charges.
But the detention centers in Afghanistan are only one small part of a broader U.S.-controlled foreign prison system which includes the infamous Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Similar to Afghanistan, U.S. military personnel were punished for crimes at Abu Ghraib after photos drew international attention but once again, these were mostly low-ranking military service members. No one at the top of the chain-of-command saw any kind of criminal charges. And once again, these were cases that took place within the Pentagon’s scope of control.
Unfortunately the ICC is embarking down a bumpy road: prosecutors are not optimistic that they will have enough physical evidence and eye-witness accounts to follow-through with criminal charges against the United States. Also, the U.S. never ratified the Rome Statute– which created the ICC– and therefore claims any ruling against the U.S. by the ICC is completely irrelevant. However, the ICC claims that since Afghanistan ratified the Rome Statute and the crimes took place on Afghan soil that the U.S. is still subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction.
The U.S. is one of only seven countries (Israel, Yemen, Qatar, China, Iraq, and Libya) that voted against the creation of the ICC. Indeed, inhumane treatment carried out in foreign prison systems is one of the defining reasons the U.S. refused to join the ICC in the first place. Refusal to join allows the U.S. to continue using torture techniques on detainees and denying prisoners the same rights that are typically granted to prisoners in any civilized country.
Any possible indictment in this current case regarding Afghanistan will be months if not years in the future. So expect to hear about this investigation for a while. Unfortunately since Iraq never ratified to join the ICC, U.S. war crimes committed by service members at Abu Ghraib will go virtually unpunished. Optimistically this new ICC investigation into Afghanistan will set an important precedent for U.S. foreign policy– a country which desperately deserves consequences for its war crimes not only in Afghanistan, but Syria, the rest of the Middle East, Latin America, and the rest of the world under Washington’s thumb.