WASHINGTON – International Criminal Court may open an investigation into allegations that members of the United States armed forces and the CIA committed war crimes by torturing detainees during interrogations in Afghanistan.
There is a “reasonable basis to believe that” U.S. military troops and members of the CIA in Afghanistan “resorted to techniques amounting to the commission of the war crimes of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape” during the course of the 13-year of war there, the office of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a report issued Monday.
Prosecutors said they would decide “imminently” whether to seek authorization to open a full-scale investigation in Afghanistan that could lead to war crimes charges.
If the ICC decided to proceed with the investigation it would be a major rebuke to the counterterrorism policies under former President George W. Bush. The use of secret CIA “black sites” and so-called enhanced interrogation techniques remain controversial aspects of Bush’s time in office.
In 2014, after years of investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the torture and secret black sites. The vast majority of the 6,700 page report remains classified, but that which is public reveals the CIA tortured suspected terrorists in a program that produced little valuable intelligence.
“These alleged crimes were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals,” the report said. “Rather, they appear to have been committed as part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract ‘actionable intelligence’ from detainees.”
At least 61 people were subjected to torture and other illegal treatment by the military on the territory of Afghanistan, and at least 27 were subjected to the treatment by the CIA in Afghanistan or at black sites in Eastern Europe, the report claims. The bulk of the torture took place between 2003 and 2004, the report alleges, though some allegedly continued until 2014.
The United States. is not a party to the ICC, but Afghanistan and some of the countries in Eastern Europe – including Poland, Romania and Lithuania – are. Since the alleged activity took place inside these countries, not U.S. soil, the alleged torture may be within the court’s jurisdiction.
The U.S. State Department maintained Tuesday that the investigation is not warranted or appropriate because the United States is not party to the ICC, having never signed the treaty that established the court.
“We have made public reports of detention operations. We have extensively examined our own activities. We have been as transparent as possible,” State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said Tuesday. “In many cases people were held accountable.”
“We cooperate with the ICC, we support the ICC … We have supported the ICC when we believe in cases of, for example, accusations of genocide where you have these grave violations of grave atrocities – but we are not signatory to the Rome statue, we are not members, we have our own system of accountability,” she said.
The U.S. Defense Department echoed the State Department, saying that the U.S. military has a system already in place to hold troops accountable.
“We are, as ever, deeply committed to complying with the law of war,” Pentagon spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Tuesday. “We have a robust system, both nationally within our criminal justice system and within the military, with our uniform code of military justice to be able to investigate and hold accountable our people. And those standards more than meet international standards.”
The ICC announcement, part of a larger report on potential investigations, came as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take over the White House come Jan. 20. Trump has called for the United States to resume the use of waterboarding, which President Barack Obama banned shortly after taking office, and “a hell of a lot worse.”