U.S. Vows Visa Limits Linked to International Criminal Court

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. would impose visa restrictions on anyone “directly responsible” for an International Criminal Court investigation into U.S. personnel, a move aimed at heading off a probe into American soldiers’ actions in Afghanistan.

“The ICC is attacking America’s rule of law,” Pompeo told reporters in a briefing Friday morning. “It’s not too late for the court to change course and we urge it to do so immediately.”

The announcement is aimed at getting the ICC to drop an Afghanistan investigation that could lead to indictments of American troops. In November, 2017, the court’s prosecutor asked for judges’ permission to open an Afghanistan-related probe that would focus on alleged atrocities committed by the Taliban, the U.S. military and Afghanistan’s own troops. The decision hasn’t yet been made.

Pompeo’s warnings matched what National Security Advisor John Bolton, long an opponent of the court, had warned of during a speech in September, when he called the ICC “ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous,” adding that “the ICC is already dead to us.”

In that speech, Bolton said that if the court were to go after American personnel, the administration would ban judges and prosecutors from entering the U.S., sanction their money in the U.S. financial system and prosecute them.

In his comments Friday, Pompeo said the U.S. was prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC doesn’t change course.

The aggressive U.S. stance met with swift condemnation from rights groups that have supported the court’s work and argue that, while the institution may have its flaws, the U.S. sends a bad signal by standing against it with such vehemence.

“The United States should be working to root out war criminals, not intimidate their prosecutors,” said Stephen Pomper, director of U.S. programs at the International Crisis Group and a former National Security Council director under President Barack Obama. “For another thing, using sanctions to interfere with a judicial proceeding, even one that the United States doesn’t like at all, should be out of bounds.”

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