Posted on: The New York Times | April 14th, 2019

The International Criminal Court abandoned a possible Afghanistan war-crimes investigation on Friday, saying the United States and others in the conflict would not cooperate.

The court’s chief prosecutor had long sought permission to open a formal inquiry into civilian killings, torture and other abuses in the Afghanistan war, including possible crimes by American forces. But a panel of the court’s judges decided that the difficulties of obtaining evidence and witness testimony outweighed the benefits of a prosecution, with a low prospect of any convictions.

The decision was welcomed by the Trump administration and came just weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would deny visas to the court’s staff and judges involved in prosecuting or ruling on war crimes involving Americans. Last week the State Department confirmed that the United States visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, had been revoked.

But the decision by the judges, which took nearly 18 months to reach, troubled lawyers and stunned human rights activists, who said the court had capitulated to what they called Trump administration intimidation and pressure that had weakened the court’s credibility.

“With its decision today, the International Criminal Court sends a dangerous message: that bullying wins and that the powerful won’t be held to account,” said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

While Ms. Bensouda’s office said she was considering her options, including a possible appeal of the judges’ decision, it appeared to dim any hopes of accountability for abuses committed in the Afghanistan conflict, including torture of detainees by C.I.A. operatives at secret prisons known as “black sites.”

An announcement from the court said the judges had decided that the impediments to securing evidence and obtaining cooperation meant that “an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice.”

While the judges said that there was a “reasonable basis” to conclude crimes had been committed and that the court had jurisdiction, “the current circumstances of the situation in Afghanistan are such as to make the prospects for a successful investigation and prosecution extremely limited.”

The White House issued a statement by Mr. Trump praising the decision, coupled with a reiteration of the longstanding United States position that the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction to prosecute any Americans, including those who served in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

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