The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has asked judges to authorize an investigation in Afghanistan of allegations of war crimes by the U.S. military and CIA, crimes against humanity by the Taliban and war crimes by Afghan security forces.
The announcement Monday marks the first time ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has gone after Americans for alleged war crimes. The United States is not a member state of the court, but its nationals can be charged with crimes committed in countries that are members.
As well as alleged crimes by American forces in Afghanistan, Bensouda wants to investigate CIA operatives for their roles in secret detention facilities in Afghanistan and other countries that are court members.
Bensouda said in a summary of her request that "information available provides a reasonable basis to believe" that U.S. 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 U.S. State Department said in a statement that it was reviewing Bensouda's authorization request, but opposes the International Criminal Court's involvement in Afghanistan.
"Our view is clear: an ICC investigation with respect to U.S personnel would be wholly unwarranted and unjustified," the State Department 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."
Bensouda also requested an investigation into the Taliban and Haqqani network allies, who 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" perceived as supporting the government or opposing the Taliban rebels.
No one 'beyond the law': Human Rights Watch
Afghan security forces are, in turn, 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.
In a statement, Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the request, saying it "signals that victims there who have endured horrific crimes dating back to May 2003 may finally obtain some justice. The request to pursue abuses by all sides, including those implicating U.S. personnel, reinforces the message that no one, no matter how powerful the government they serve, is beyond the law."
Established in 2002, the International Criminal Court is the world's first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton signed the Rome treaty that established the court, but former president George W. Bush renounced the signature, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.
There is no set timeframe for judges to rule on Bensouda's request. Victims have until Jan. 31 next year to make their views about the possible investigation known to judges who will assess the request.