US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued an executive order authorising sanctions against officials from the International Criminal Court over an investigation by the body into potential war crimes by American forces in Afghanistan.
The order authorises Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in consultation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to block assets in the United States of ICC employees involved in the probe, the official said.
"We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court," Mr Pompeo said in announcing the move.
It also authorises Mr Pompeo to block entry into the United States of these individuals.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the move.
"This court is politicised and obsessed with carrying out a witch hunt against Israel and the United States as well as other democratic countries that respect human rights, but turns a blind eye to the world's worst human rights offenders, including the terrorist regime in Iran," Mr Netanyahu said at a press conference.
Mr Trump has repeatedly assailed The Hague-based ICC set up to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It has jurisdiction only if a member state is unable or unwilling to prosecute atrocities itself.
Afghanistan is a member of the ICC, though Kabul has argued that any war crimes should be prosecuted locally. The US government has never been a member of the court, established in 2002. The Trump administration imposed travel restrictions and other sanctions against ICC employees a year ago.
The ICC decided to investigate after prosecutors’ preliminary examination in 2017 found reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed in Afghanistan and that the ICC has jurisdiction.
A senior administration official said the directive authorises sanctions against any individual directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate US personnel without American consent.
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The official said the probe threatens to infringe on American sovereignty and that while the ICC was established to provide accountability, "in practice the court is an unaccountable, ineffective and out-of-control international bureaucracy that threatens American service members and intelligence officers and those of our allies”.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and, to a lesser extent, by US forces and the CIA.
"We have reason to believe there is corruption and misconduct at the highest levels of the ICC’s office of the prosecutor, calling into question the integrity of this investigation into American personnel. We are concerned that Russia may be manipulating the ICC by encouraging these allegations into US personnel," the US official said.