Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"The information available suggests that victims were deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence, and that crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims," stated International Criminal Court prosecutors. (Photo: PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)

"The infliction of 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' applied cumulatively and in combination with each other over a prolonged period of time, would have caused serious physical and psychological injury to the victims," said International Criminal Court prosecutors. (Photo: PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Is ICC Actually Investigating Western Powers? Probe Targets NATO Torture and Abuse in Afghanistan

International Criminal Court prosecutors say people in Afghanistan may have been 'deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence'

Sarah Lazare

Prosecutors for the International Criminal Court declared Thursday that they have information which "suggests" that U.S.-led, international forces in Afghanistan are responsible for "physical and psychological" violence and torture that "debased the basic human dignity" of those detained.

The office of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda released the Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (pdf), which includes brief summaries of investigations into alleged crimes committed by all parties to the conflict since 2003, including U.S. and NATO forces.

The preliminary investigation notes that the U.S. military's investigation of its own crimes "did not go higher than the brigade commander level" or lead to criminal proceedings of any kind.

"It's not surprising that the ICC's reputation has been significantly undermined by the accurate perception that it does not apply to powerful countries or close allies of powerful countries."
—Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies
Referring to "international forces," the report states: "The information available suggests that victims were deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence, and that crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims."

"The infliction of 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' applied cumulatively and in combination with each other over a prolonged period of time, would have caused serious physical and psychological injury to the victims," the report continues. "Some victims reportedly exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation."

Based on the brief summaries, however, it was not immediately apparent which atrocities the prosecutor had looked into, though there was a brief reference to the early October U.S. bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, which killed at least 30 people.

However, Afghans have long spoken out against U.S. brutality in the country, including torture in Bagram prison.

The report states, furthermore, that prosecutors intend to continue their investigations, but it was unclear whether they plan to press formal charges against the United States.

"The Office is assessing information relevant to determine the scale of the alleged abuse, as well as whether the identified war crimes were committed as part of a plan or policy," stated the report, which also noted severe abuses committed by Taliban and Afghan forces.

Some are skeptical that the U.S., which is not a participant in the ICC, will ever be held accountable by that body.

"It's important that the ICC broadens its scope beyond what it has been so far, which has been primarily investigating African dictatorships. It's not surprising that the ICC's reputation has been significantly undermined by the accurate perception that it does not apply to powerful countries or close allies of powerful countries," Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams.

"If this preliminary report is an indication that that is changing, that the prosecutor would look seriously at U.S. violations in the so-called Global War on Terror, that would be a major step forward for the legitimacy of the country and empowerment of international law in general," Bennis continued.

The ICC report comes a month after President Barack Obama proclaimed that he plans to leave 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan "through most of next year," despite his previous pledge to withdraw the U.S. military, except for embassy presences, by 2016.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

ACLU Demands 'Truly Systemic Overhaul' of US Civilian Harm Policies

"While a serious Defense Department focus on civilian harm is long overdue and welcome, it's unclear that this directive will be enough," says director of the legal group's National Security Project.

Jessica Corbett ·


'This Is Not Over': Alaska Supreme Court Rejects Youth Climate Case

"With the state continuing to undermine their health, safety, and futures," said the plaintiffs' lead counsel, "we will evaluate our next steps and will continue to fight for climate justice."

Jessica Corbett ·


Analysis Finds 'Staggering' Rise in Voter Suppression After GOP Restrictions in Georgia

"This is why we are fighting this new law in court," said one voting rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mail-In Voting Law

The ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state's Supreme Court and as one voting advocate put it: "The fight's not over yet, folks."

Julia Conley ·


Big Win for Open Internet as Court Upholds California Net Neutrality Law

One legal advocate called the Ninth Circuit's opinion "a great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo