The White House authorized economic sanctions against members of an international court on Thursday over what officials say are politically motivated investigations into alleged war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
International Criminal Court officials directly engaged in any effort to investigate or prosecute American military personnel will also be barred from entering the U.S., the White House press secretary said in a statement. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on the matter this week, calling the threat the international court poses to U.S. personnel "a national emergency."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr, addressed the investigation into U.S. troops' alleged crimes in Afghanistan on Thursday. The U.S. has never accepted the court's jurisdiction over American personnel, Esper said.
"Our nation and this administration will not allow American citizens who have served our country to be subjected to illegitimate investigations," the defense secretary said. "Instead, we expect information about alleged misconduct by our people to be turned over to U.S. authorities so that we could take the appropriate action, as we have consistently done so in the past."
A March International Criminal Court ruling allowed an investigation into possible wrongdoing by U.S. troops in Afghanistan to begin, a move that The New York Times reported "infuriated the Trump administration." The court investigates and tries people over allegations of genocide, war crimes, and other crimes against humanity.
The court's top prosecutor in 2017 said there is enough information to provide a "reasonable basis" that American service members and CIA officials "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 probe is also looking at possible crimes committed by members of the Afghan government and Taliban.
The March ruling that allowed the court to proceed with its investigation into the matter marked the first time U.S. forces faced the possibility of becoming defendants in a war-crimes prosecution by the ICC, according to The New York Times.
But Esper hit back against that possibility Thursday, saying the U.S. maintains the sovereign right and obligation to properly investigate the allegations. The U.S. justice system ensures Americans are held to account under the U.S. Constitution, he said, and "not the International Criminal Court or other overreaching intergovernmental bodies."
"Rest assured that the men and women of the United States Armed Forces will never appear before the ICC and nor will they ever be subjected to the judgments of unaccountable international bodies," he added.