Saturday, May 25, 2024

US senators threaten ICC with sanctions if they seek Netanyahu’s arrest

A dozen US senators threatened the International Criminal Court (ICC) with sanctions if the body moves forward with an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or other Israeli leaders over the war in the Gaza Strip.

The ICC has reportedly considered a warrant for Netanyahu’s arrest for weeks as accusations rise of war crimes in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

“Target Israel and we will target you,” the senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), wrote in a letter late last month, threatening to “sanction your employees and associates, and bar you and your families from the United States”.

“You have been warned,” it concludes.

The letter, first reported by Zeteo, warns the ICC that the U.S. could invoke the American Service-Members’ Protection Act (ASPA) in any response to arrest warrants. The ASPA, signed into law in 2002, prohibits U.S. cooperation with the ICC and authorizes the president to take any action to prevent Americans or allies from being detained by the court.

Neither Israel nor the U.S. is a member of the ICC, though the Palestinian territories were given member status in 2015.

The Joe Biden administration has stated it does not support an ICC war crimes investigation into Israel, but it has not commented on whether it would pursue sanctions against the court if Netanyahu or others are ordered arrested.

“We’ve been really clear about the ICC investigation. We do not support it. We don’t believe that they have the jurisdiction. And I’m just going to leave it there for now,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated last week.

The letter said any attempt to issue warrants against Israeli leaders would be “illegitimate and lack legal basis”, adding that issuing warrants “would align the ICC with the largest state sponsor of terrorism and its proxy”.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) doubled down on the letter in a statement to The Hill on Monday.

“The credibility of the ICC is already suspect, which is why the United States would never yield to its authority,” Cramer stated, adding, “If they go forward with charging Israel’s leadership with crimes for defending their citizens against terrorists, the ICC may as well declare themselves enemies of freedom”.

The court shot back against unspecified threats in a public statement last week, a week after the GOP senators’ letter was sent to the body.

“The Office seeks to engage constructively with all stakeholders whenever such dialogue is consistent with its mandate under the Rome Statute to act independently and impartially,” the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor said in a statement posted on the social platform X.

“That independence and impartiality are undermined, however, when individuals threaten to retaliate against the Court or against Court personnel should the Office, in fulfillment of its mandate, make decisions about investigations or cases falling within its jurisdiction,” the statement continues.

“Such threats, even when not acted upon, may also constitute an offence against the administration of justice under Art. 70 of the Rome Statute,” it added.

Potential action against Israel comes after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin last year over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. President Biden backed the action, calling it “justified”.

The letter was also signed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Katie Britt (R-Ala.), Tedd Budd (R-N.C.), Cramer, Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

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