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Afghan War Crimes Inquiry on Docket for Next US President

Afghanistan has been an afterthought in the campaign but the next president will have to deal with an international inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan that could involve U.S. troops.

State Department spokesman John Kirby last week expressed U.S. concerns that the International Criminal Court would soon initiate an investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan that could target U.S. personnel.

Kirby took no position on the ICC's right to investigate but suggested that it was unnecessary in regard to American troops since the U.S. military already pursues any wrongful actions by service members under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"No government, no military on Earth, takes its responsibilities in the way it conducts war more seriously than we do," Kirby said in response to questions at a regular State Department briefing.

The U.S. had a "robust system" of military justice that was "vibrant and fair and open," said Kirby, a retired Navy rear admiral. Going forward, the U.S. would "rely heavily on that system," he said.

American officials recently visited the Hague in the Netherlands to discuss with ICC officials an investigation by Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, the ICC's chief prosecutor, that was expected to begin with a preliminary examination before the end of the year into abuses in Afghanistan, Foreign Policy magazine reported last week.

The ICC is an independent judicial body whose establishment was negotiated within the United Nations and was empowered to prosecute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under Rome Statute, a multilateral treaty that went into effect in 2002. More than 120 nations have signed the Rome treaty but the U.S., China and Russia are not signatories.

As a non-signatory, the U.S. would be unlikely to submit any nationals to the ICC's jurisdiction, but an investigation in Afghanistan could still prove to be embarrassing to the U.S.

In previous yearly reports, the ICC has singled out possible abuses by U.S. personnel in the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. The 2015 report by the prosecutor's office of the ICC noted the alleged use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" by U.S. armed forces personnel against suspected members of the Taliban and other detainees.

The report cited "information available" that members of the U.S. military used enhanced interrogation techniques "against conflict-related detainees in an effort to improve the level of actionable intelligence obtained from interrogations."

Citing U.S. documents, the report said that the techniques approved for use allegedly included "food deprivation, deprivation of clothing, environmental manipulation, sleep adjustment, use of individual fears, use of stress positions, sensory deprivation (deprivation of light and sound), and sensory overstimulation."

Such techniques "could, depending on the severity and duration of their use, amount to cruel treatment, torture or outrages upon personal dignity as defined under international jurisprudence," the report said.

The response to an ICC investigation by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, depending on who wins the presidential election, would be difficult to gauge since neither has been forthcoming on Afghanistan during the campaign.

"Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have said next to nothing about how they would handle the war in Afghanistan," the Associated Press reported. "Neither of the candidates' websites, which usually go into detail on policy matters, have a mention of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan or what to do about it."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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