The US is likely to have committed war crimes in Afghanistan, according to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The victims of alleged US torture were “deliberately subjected to physical and psychological violence…committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims,” the ICC said.
Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, released a report this month after conducting a preliminary review for several years. Most of the alleged US war crimes were committed between 2003 and 2004 in Afghanistan and in secret detention facilities operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. Some even continued until 2014.
“These alleged crimes were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals,” Bensouda said. “Rather, they appear to have been committed as part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract ‘actionable intelligence’ from detainees.”
She said there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that the alleged US war crimes “were committed in furtherance of a policy or policies aimed at eliciting information through the use of interrogation techniques involving cruel or violent methods which would support US objectives in the conflict in Afghanistan.”
George W Bush’s administration allowed the use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other enhanced interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists. Barack Obama banned such practices after taking office in 2009, but President-elect Donald Trump has often expressed support for such “interrogation techniques”.
The report said US soldiers “appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment [and] outrages upon personal dignity” in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2014, while CIA agents “appear to have subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape” from 2002 to 2008 in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania.
The United States is not a member of the ICC, but its soldiers and agents could be subject to the court’s investigation because their alleged crimes were committed in Afghanistan, which is an ICC member. In addition, the CIA allegedly tortured detainees in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, which are also members of the ICC.
The former US President, Bill Clinton, signed the Rome treaty that established the court on December 31, 2000, but President, George W Bush, renounced the signature, saying that Americans would be prosecuted for political reasons.
Elizabeth Trudeau, the spokeswoman for the State Department, said the US did not believe an ICC investigation was appropriate. She said: “The United States is deeply committed to complying with the law of war, and we have a robust national system of investigation and accountability that more than meets international standards.”
The ICC also believes Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents are likely to have committed war crimes. Bensouda said the torture by the Afghan police and intelligence agents has been so widespread that “a state of total impunity persists.” Even today, an estimated 35 per cent to 50 per cent of conflict-related detainees may be subjected to torture in Afghan detention facilities, according to the Prosecutor.
Canadian activists and human-rights experts have pointed out that Canadian troops allegedly transferred Afghan detainees to the Afghan security forces at a time when torture was common, meaning that the Canadian Military could also be investigated for possible war crimes if the ICC goes ahead with a full investigation.