ICC wants to investigate CIA over Afghanistan 'war crimes'

ICC seeks probe of CIA, US military personnel over allegations of torture, rape in Afghanistan
4 min read
21 November, 2017
The International Criminal Court prosecutor asked for authorisation on Monday to investigate reported human rights abuses in Afghanistan, including allegations of rape and torture by US military and the CIA.
The request marks the first time US personnel are targeted for alleged war crimes [Getty]
An International Criminal Court prosecutor sought on Monday authorisation to investigate CIA and US military personnel over allegations of rape and torture in Afghanistan.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's request marks the first time US personnel are targeted for alleged war crimes.

According to Bensouda, there is reason to believe that at least 54 detainees were abused by US military personnel and at least 24 by CIA operatives.

The alleged abuses included waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and was allowed by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks. President Barack Obama banned such practices after taking office in 2009. 

In a summary of her request, Bensouda said "information available provides a reasonable basis to believe" that US military personnel and CIA operatives "committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period".

The 16-page summary said the people likely to be targeted in any future investigations "include persons who devised, authorised or bore oversight responsibility for the implementation by members of the US armed forces and members of the CIA of the interrogation techniques that resulted in the alleged commission of crimes".

Bensouda's filing said alleged abuses of detainees in CIA custody, "appear to have been committed with particular cruelty, involving the infliction of serious physical and psychological injury, over prolonged periods, and including acts committed in a manner calculated to offend cultural and religious values, and leaving victims deeply traumatised."

Information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that US military personnel and CIA operatives 'committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence'

An investigation under the auspices of the international tribunal could break through what she called "near total impunity" in Afghanistan, according to Bensouda. 

As well as alleged crimes by US troops in Afghanistan, Bensouda wants to investigate the activities of CIA operatives in secret detention facilities in Afghanistan and in Poland, Romania and Lithuania.

She also intends to investigate crimes against humanity by the Taliban as well as war crimes by Afghan security forces.

Bensouda's application for investigation authority states that Afghan security forces also are suspected of involvement in "systematic patterns of torture and cruel treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan detention facilities, including acts of sexual violence", Bensouda said

The Taliban and its allies are suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes "as part of a widespread and systematic campaign of intimidation, targeted killings and abductions of civilians", the detailed document stated.

The victims - an estimated 17,700 during 2009-2016 - usually were perceived as supporting the government or opposing the Taliban rebels, according to the request. 

 Showdown with Washington

Bensouda's formal request to judges at the ICC sets up a possible showdown with Washington.

The US United States is not a member state of the court, but its citizens can be charged with crimes committed in countries that are members.

The US State Department said it was reviewing Bensouda's authorisation request but opposes the ICC's involvement in Afghanistan.

"Our view is clear: an ICC investigation with respect to US personnel would be wholly unwarranted and unjustified," the State Department's statement said.

"More broadly, our overall assessment is that commencement of an ICC investigation will not serve the interests of either peace or justice in Afghanistan."

A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, said the Defence Department does not accept that an ICC investigation of US personnel is warranted.

"The United States is deeply committed to complying with the law of war, and we have a robust national system of investigation and accountability that more than meets international standards," Andrews said.

"We do not believe that an ICC examination or investigation with respect to the actions of US personnel in Afghanistan is warranted or appropriate."

Established in 2002, the ICC is the world's first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

In a statement, Richard Dicker, the international justice director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the appeal for investigative authority.

"The request to pursue abuses by all sides, including those implicating US personnel, reinforces the message that no one, no matter how powerful the government they serve, is beyond the law," Dicker said.

The ICC is a court of last resort, intended to mete out justice to high-ranking suspects considered most responsible for grave crimes and only when national authorities cannot or will not take legal action.

Agencies contributed to this report.