Trump administration threatens ICC judges with sanctions, prosecution

The United States threatens sanctions against International Criminal Court judges if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Americans in Afghanistan.

John Bolton also announces closure of Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton on Monday delivered his first major speech since joining the Trump White House, threatening the International Criminal Court with sanctions. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via Associated Press)

The United States is pledging to use "any means necessary" to protect American citizens and allies from International Criminal Court prosecution.

U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said Monday the court is "illegitimate" and "for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

In remarks to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington, Bolton said the court threatens the "constitutional rights" of Americans and U.S. sovereignty.

The ICC, which is based in the Hague, has a mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The more aggressive U.S. posture is being raised as ICC judges decide whether to proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Americans in Afghanistan.

If such an ICC inquiry goes ahead, the Trump administration would consider banning judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, put sanctions on any funds they have in the U.S. financial system and prosecute them in American courts.

Similar measures would be taken against any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans, Bolton said. 

"No committee of foreign nations will tell us how to govern ourselves and defend our freedom," he said.

Bolton also confirmed the State Department will close the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington out of concern about Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel.

"The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel." 

'Not for sale'

The Palestinians said they were undeterred from going to the ICC. They described the planned PLO mission closure as the latest pressure tactic by a Trump administration that has slashed funding to a UN agency for Palestinian refugees and to hospitals in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as capital for a future state.

"We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to U.S. threats and bullying," Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement. "Accordingly, we continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes."

Asked this afternoon if it's still realistic for Trump to believe he can actually achieve peace in the Middle East given this latest move by his administration and the anger it has elicited from the Palestinians, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said, "We are as committed today as we've ever been to the peace process."

We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.-  John Bolton, U.S. national security adviser

There was no immediate response from Israel, where government offices were closed for the Jewish new year.

Presiding Judge Robert Fremr, centre, stands in the ICC courtroom in The Hague on Aug. 28. The Trump administration is threatening to prosecute ICC judges if they proceed with a case involving American forces in Afghanistan. (Bas Czerwinski via Associated Press)

Palestinians have reacted with dismay to the U.S. funding cuts, warning they could lead to more poverty and anger — among the factors stoking their decades of conflict with Israel.

Trump last week ordered that $25 million US earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem be directed elsewhere.

A protester takes part in a demonstration against the U.S. funding cut to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, in the Ramallah, the occupied West Bank, last week. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

"This decision will create serious cash-flow problems at the hospitals, and will necessarily create delays in life-saving and other urgent treatments," Walid Nammour, head of the network of six hospitals affected, told reporters on Monday. "Overall, the decision puts the health of five million Palestinians at risk."

The United States did not ratify the Rome treaty that established the ICC in 2002, when then-president George W. Bush opposed the court. Bush's successor, Barack Obama, took some steps to co-operate with it.

With files from Associated Press, CBC News