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Sanction-Happy Trump Slaps Some on U.S. War Crime Investigators

Embargoes are the tools of empire in its late stage, but they are also starting to smack of temper tantrums.

“This is about empire in its late stage,” said one sage student of military history in a recent conversation about the growing use of sanctions to bring countries and international people we don’t like to heel.

I would tend to agree. The most recent administrations have racked up the number of sanctions at a dizzying pace. According to regular TAC contributor Doug Bandow, the number of individuals under some sort of U.S. embargo is now up to 8,000—some 3,100 were added by the Trump Administration alone! When George W. Bush took office, five countries were under sanctions—now there are 21.

All despite a bounty of evidence that they don’t work, and are counterproductive. They strengthen the hand of the regime we are trying to hurt while condemning ordinary people with no political power to change anything to grinding poverty and a growing animus towards the U.S. (see Iran).

Now the Trump Administration is adding—get this—International Criminal Court workers, to the long list of embargoed souls.

According to the Associated Press today, the president has signed an executive order “authorizing economic sanctions and travel restrictions against court workers directly involved in investigating American troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.” More:

The executive order authorized the secretary of state, in consultation with the treasury secretary, to block financial assets within U.S. jurisdiction of court personnel who directly engage in investigating, harassing or detaining U.S. personnel. The order authorizes the secretary of state to block court officials and their family members involved in the investigations from entering the United States. The ICC-related travel restrictions go beyond what the State Department issued last year….

…(White House press secretary Kayleigh) McEnany said that, despite repeated calls by the United States and its allies, the ICC has not embraced reform. She alleged the court continues to pursue politically motivated investigations against the U.S. and its partners, including Israel.

The U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC. Washington has always, to varying degrees, been a strong opponent of the court and a critic for the reasons raised by McEnany. According to a report by The New York Times this morning, the latest fracas surrounds an investigation into accusations of torture and violence by U.S. troops during the Afghanistan War, as well as U.S. use of “black sites” in Eastern Europe, to which terror suspects were spirited, outside the laws of the Geneva Convention and internationally accepted rules of war, to be tortured in clandestine CIA facilities.

From the NYT: 

Last year, (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, after she had signaled her intent to pursue the allegations. He also vowed to revoke visas for anyone involved in an investigation against American citizens.

Ms. Bensouda has said that the court had enough information to prove that U.S. forces had “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence” in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and later in clandestine C.I.A. facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania — all three countries that are party to the international court.

TAC has written exhaustively about the torture during the Global War on Terror, war crimes committed by civilian parties and soldiers under the authority of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere. There has been zero accountability or punishment for those who had committed these crimes, except for low-level perpetrators and those who blew the whistle on it.

So, it comes to no surprise that the Trump Administration is actively shutting down any attempts to investigate this and that he and Pompeo are especially attacking the ICC for making it a priority. What is extraordinary is the repeated use of sanctions to punish those we do not agree with, as if that will magically disappear the underlying disagreements and force silence on our international critics. There must be other ways to not comply with an investigation by a court to which we have no party. But we have allowed our diplomatic tools to rust and degrade while we used the military to solve our problems for the last 20 years. Now, we deploy crushing economic punishments like a cudgel to get our way. The ‘do as we say not as we do’ approach to war and international order has made us a paper tiger among our enemies, and our allies too. 

Embargoes (agree with them or not) once announced Washington’s position with a weight incomparable on the world’s stage. Now they are as numerous as Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous “snowflakes” and outside of the aforementioned harm they do to real people, look more like temper tantrums than serious policy. Late stage of empire indeed.




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