ICC: US forces may have used torture in Afghanistan

ICC report suggests US soldiers and CIA may have used “cruel and violent” techniques on detainees.

U.S. troops arrive at the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul
ICC believes US soldiers and CIA agents may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan [File: Reuters]

US armed forces and the CIA may have committed war crimes by torturing detainees in Afghanistan, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said in a report.

“Members of US armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity on the territory of Afghanistan between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2014,” says the report issued on Monday by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

The report added that CIA operatives may have subjected at least 27 detainees in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania to “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape” between December 2002 and March 2008.

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Most of the alleged abuse happened in 2003-2004, and was allegedly part of “approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract ‘actionable intelligence’ from detainees”.

Prosecutors said they would decide “imminently” whether to seek authorisation to open a full-scale investigation in Afghanistan that could lead to war crimes charges.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the US does not believe an ICC investigation is “warranted or appropriate”.

“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,” Trudeau said.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Captain Jeff Davis, said officials were awaiting more details about the ICC findings before commenting.

If an investigation into the US army and the CIA goes ahead, it would be a very significant move by the ICC, according to David Bosco, who wrote a book about the ICC’s role and function in global politics. 

“This would be the first time that the ICC has set its sights on US personnel and it does look like they are going to be focusing on the activities of the CIA in Afghanistan in 2003, 2004, which makes it a serious investigation of CIA interrogation practices in the wake of 9/11,” he told Al Jazeera.

“The prosecutor in this latest report also signals that she does not have confidence that the national judicial systems are going to do their job and therefore she wants to move forward with the investigation.”

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Established in 2002, the ICC is the world’s first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

More than 120 countries around the world are members, but superpowers including the US, Russia and China have not signed up.

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, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.

Even though the US is not a member of the court, Americans could still face prosecution at the ICC headquarters in The Hague if they commit crimes within its jurisdiction in a country that is a member, such as Afghanistan, and are not prosecuted at home.

So far, all of the ICC’s trials have dealt with crimes committed in Africa.

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Before deciding to open a full-scale investigation, ICC prosecutors have to establish whether they have jurisdiction and whether the alleged crimes are being investigated and prosecuted in the countries involved.

The ICC is a court of last resort that takes on cases only when other countries are unable or unwilling to prosecute.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration allowed the use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” against suspected “terrorists”.

President Barack Obama banned such practices after taking office in 2009.

During the presidential campaign, Republican nominee Donald Trump suggested that as president he would push to change laws that prohibit waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, arguing that banning them puts the US at a strategic disadvantage.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies