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Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 23, 2020.

International Criminal Court says Pompeo is threatening its staff

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said two members of the ICC prosecutor’s staff were driving a political effort to use the ICC to investigate Americans. In response, the ICC released a statement on March 19 that pointedly called those comments by Pompeo “threats.” 

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Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 23, 2020.

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Afghan Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

Diplomats and international officials are expressing outrage after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week threatened members of the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s staff members by name. It’s the latest development in a long dispute between the US and the ICC over an investigation of war crimes in Afghanistan that may implicate American members of the military and the CIA.

“We want to identify those responsible for this partisan investigation and their family members who may want to travel to the United States or engage in activity that’s inconsistent with making sure we protect Americans,” Pompeo said on March 17.

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state

“We want to identify those responsible for this partisan investigation and their family members who may want to travel to the United States or engage in activity that’s inconsistent with making sure we protect Americans,” Pompeo said on March 17.

Pompeo said two members of the ICC prosecutor’s staff were driving a political effort to use the ICC to investigate Americans. In response, the ICC released a statement March 19 that pointedly called those comments by Pompeo “threats.” Human rights groups also expressed outrage, and six former US officials who have handled questions of war crimes released a joint statement signaling their alarm.

Related: How 'war' with coronavirus could lead to lasting government overreach

“This is an international court, and here you have the secretary of state literally singling out staff members of that court publicly and threatening them,” said David Scheffer, the Clinton administration’s ambassador for war crimes issues, who was among the signatories to the statement. “It is just beyond the pale.”

He said the US could have shown the ICC that it has done its own internal investigation of potential war crimes in Afghanistan.

“We constantly tell everyone that we investigate our own,” Scheffer said. “So, let's demonstrate that we have done that.”

Instead, he said, Pompeo has put the court staffers and their families in danger.

“The fact that they are threatening named staff and their families is something that dictatorships do.”

 Katherine Gallagher,  lawyer representing two individuals who remain detained at Guantanamo without charge

“The fact that they are threatening named staff and their families is something that dictatorships do,” said Katherine Gallagher, who is working with the ICC prosecutor. She represents two individuals who remain detained at Guantanamo without charge.

Related: A crucial moment for women's rights in Afghanistan

“I think it's really important to step back and remember why it is that the International Criminal Court is investigating, and that is because the Bush administration established a global torture program after 9/11,” Gallagher said. “And under three administrations, no one has been held accountable.”

Gallagher said that if people don’t speak out, the Trump administration’s intimidation campaign will escalate. The State Department didn’t respond to The World’s requests for comment.

On March 5, the ICC met at its headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands and overturned a decision made by a lower court. It gave the ICC prosecutor’s office permission to investigate possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan by Afghan fighters, members of the Taliban and American forces.

“The many victims of atrocious crimes committed in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan deserve to finally have justice,” said ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. “Today, they are one step closer to that coveted outcome.”

Related: Why the US is to blame for its own defeat in Afghanistan

She has said there is a “reasonable basis to believe” members of the US military and the CIA tortured and raped detainees. Last year, when Bensouda asked permission to begin the probe, the US revoked her visa. 

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