John Bolton to Threaten Sanctions if International Criminal Court Investigates U.S.

"For all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us," Bolton reportedly plans to say.


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National Security Advisor John Bolton will reportedly take a hardline stance today against the International Criminal Court (ICC), which investigates allegations of war crimes and genocide.

In a speech at the conservative Federalist Society in Washington, Bolton will warn the the court not to probe the United States' wartime conduct in Afghanistan. "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," a draft of Bolton's speech reads, according to Reuters.

If the international body doesn't listen, the Trump administration could ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the country. That's not all: "We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system," Bolton will say, according to The Wall Street Journal. "We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans."

The Trump administration's stance against the ICC—also referred to as The Hague, after the city in the Netherlands where it is headquartered—isn't particularly surprising. The ICC was established in 2002 by the Rome Statute, but that treaty was never ratified by the U.S.

"It's a much more real policy matter now because of the potential liability in Afghanistan," a senior Trump administration official tells The Washington Post.

In addition to threatening sanctions against the ICC, Bolton will reportedly announce the closure of the D.C. office of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). According to the Journal, Bolton will claim the Palestinians aren't sufficiently committed to negotiating a long-term peace agreement with Israel.

Bolton's two announcements are tied together. Last September, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israeli officials. The Trump administration responded by threatening to close the PLO office in D.C. "The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel," Bolton will say today, according to Reuters.

Bolton has long opposed the ICC. The court "constitutes a direct assault on the concept of national sovereignty, especially that of constitutional, representative governments like the United States," he wrote in a Journal op-ed last November. Today, he'll say that "for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

As Reason's Matt Welch noted in 2013, residents of non-signatory countries such as the U.S. can only face trial before the ICC at the request of the U.N. Security Council. Bolton apparently plans to address that in his speech. "We will consider taking steps in the U.N. Security Council to constrain the court's sweeping powers, including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute," he intends to say, according to The Guardian.

It's not absurd to worry that the ICC violates U.S. sovereignty. There are several constitutional problems with international courts such as the ICC too.

Still, it's not crazy to entertain the possibility that the U.S. has committed war crimes. Those crimes should be investigated and all responsible parties punished, even if the ICC—which already has a hard time holding war criminals accountable—isn't right for the job.

In any case, Bolton's threats are a bit extreme. Refusing to cooperate with the ICC because you think it sets a bad precedent for national sovereignty is one thing. But threatening companies that dare to assist an investigation? That just seems over the top.

Bonus link: Click here to read about Welch's firsthand experiences with Bolton, including a contentious interview on the late, lamented Fox Business show The Independents.