Secretary of State John Kerry is demanding immunity for U.S. military service members in Afghanistan as a precondition for a 'bi-lateral security agreement,' which would allow 10,000 U.S. troops in the country past the 2014 withdrawal date.
Critics are slamming this as another example of U.S. refusal to account for war crimes as it pushes for continuing military occupation in Afghanistan. "I don't believe these occupiers should be protected from prosecution for war crimes," Suraia Sahar of Afghans United for Justice told Common Dreams. "Immunity is just another extension of occupation."
U.S. officials say that jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. service members in Afghanistan remains an unresolved potential deal-breaker in negotiations whose most recent round started late Friday. Karzai stated that he will refer the issue of immunity to the loya Jirga, a body of elders and leaders in Afghanistan.
On the U.S. side, in contrast, the agreement does not have to be run by the Senate, because it is made with executive powers, Al Jazeera America reports.
If the agreement is not decided by its late-October deadline, the U.S will have no legal basis for keeping troops beyond the 2014 pullout date. There are currently 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 52,000 U.S. troops.
The issue of immunity for U.S. troops has long been a point of contention for the Afghan people in a U.S.-led occupation characterized by a staggering civilian death toll and high-profile atrocities. The 2012 Panjwai massacre, in which 16 Afghan civilians were gunned down and killed, and 6 wounded by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, added fuel to calls from within Afghanistan for those accused of war crimes to stand trial in Afghanistan. Despite these demands, Bales was whisked out of Afghanistan to face trial in the U.S.
"This has been brewing for a while," Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, told Common Dreams. "This is what they were trying to do in Iraq, but the U.S. couldn't get Iraq to agree. This is almost an exact replay."
Kerry sought to assure the Afghan government that the U.S. will thoroughly prosecute war crimes, drawing on similar agreements in South Korea and Japan where immunity exists.
Yet, critics scoffed at these examples. "These are not very good agreements," Martincontinued. "The people of Okinawa are furious at rape and sexual assault by U.S. troops."
"This is part of our country's sickness and addiction to militarism," he added. "There is no reason the people of Afghanistan should accept immunity."
Many hope that the disagreement over immunity will hasten a U.S. withdrawal from an occupation that continues to bring death and destruction to the people of Afghanistan. "It's in the best interest of Americans and Afghans for US troops to withdraw as soon as possible. The Afghan people must have the space to decide their own future," Rebecca Griffin from Peace Action West told Common Dreams. "The disagreement about jurisdiction over US troops may help speed along that process."