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'
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 StudiesReferring 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.