Team Trump adds International Criminal Court to its list of foes

The world used look to us to sanction those convicted by the International Criminal Court. In the Trump era, we instead impose sanctions on ICC prosecutors
The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.Peter Dejong / AP file

Throughout Donald Trump's first term, the Republican president has repeatedly opposed pillars of international stability, from NATO to the United Nations, from the G-7 to the World Trade Organization, from the European Union to the World Health Organization.

We can now add the International Criminal Court to the list.

The first sign of trouble came to the fore in June, as the ICC considered exploring whether U.S. troops in Afghanistan had committed war crimes. With little fanfare, Trump authorized economic sanctions against ICC officials, deeming the international body a "threat."

Nearly three months later, the administration followed through. Reuters reported:

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, over her investigation into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Pompeo also said Phakiso Mochochoko, the head of the ICC’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, had also been blacklisted under sanctions authorized by President Donald Trump in June that allow for asset freezes and travel bans.

In the not-too-distant past, the world would look to the United States to impose sanctions on those convicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But in the Trump era, United States instead imposes sanctions on ICC prosecutors who target war criminals.

Almost immediately, U.S. allies denounced the White House's move, labeling them a "serious attack" on the ICC and "a challenge to multilateralism and the independence of the judiciary."

Nevertheless, Pompeo this morning promoted a clip from a Fox News interview in which he condemned the ICC as "a rogue court," composed of "political hacks" and "corrupt" attorneys.

On the surface, it stands to reason that an American secretary of State would want to prevent the ICC from even considering the possibility of prosecuting American troops suspected of war crimes. But note, that's not the entirety of what Pompeo is doing: the Kansas Republican is also attacking the International Criminal Court itself, publicly delegitimizing an institution that has, in many instances, brought cases the United States supports.

It's a short-sighted offensive against yet another international body, and Team Trump appears indifferent to the broader consequences.