Congress Moves to Cut Aid to Allies
That Support World Criminal Court
by Jim Lobe
Amid persistent tensions between the United
States and its allies, the Republican-led Congress is expected
to ban tens of millions of dollars in U.S. economic aid to some
of its closest friends overseas unless they formally agree to
exempt U.S. citizens from the jurisdiction of the International
Criminal Court (ICC).
For the Congress to demand immunity for
U.S. citizens at a time when members of the U.S. armed forces
are clearly shown to have been involved in torture and abuse of
prisoners will touch a raw nerve internationally.
The ban, which was inserted into the current
omnibus Appropriations bill at the insistence of the right-wing
leadership of the House of Representatives two weeks ago, was
opposed by the State Department and more-moderate Republican and
But the White House, which had used its
political clout in the House over the past week to persuade reluctant
Republicans to back the intelligence reform bill, apparently decided
against trying to strip the ban, the so-called Nethercutt Amendment
named for its chief sponsor, outgoing Washington State Rep. George
Nethercutt from the overall bill.
Analysts here agreed that the ban will
also further aggravate U.S. ties with the UN and Europe, the ICC's
major champions, at a time when a growing number of Republican
lawmakers are clamoring for the resignation of UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan and cutting U.S. financial support for the world body
because of the oil-for-food scandal. "This will simply add
salt to the wounds," said one Congressional aide this week.
"Now is a time when the U.S. should
be reaching out to assist countries interested in developing a
more democratic and peaceful world," said Raj Purohit, legislative
director of Human Rights First (HRF), the New York-based group
formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
"With the Nethercutt Amendment,
the U.S. is sadly withdrawing its support for such activities
because of a shortsighted campaign against the ICC," he added.
Other rights activists noted that the
timing of the ban's approval is particularly unfortunate, given
ongoing court martials of U.S. soldiers accused of war crimes
in Iraq and ongoing disclosures of abuses committed by U.S. troops
against detainees both in Iraq and at detention facilities at
the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In the latest revelations, documents
released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
showed that U.S. special operations forces (SOF) threatened Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials who witnessed evidence of
abuses inflicted on detainees in Iraq if they reported what they
"For the Congress to demand immunity
(from the ICCs jurisdiction) for U.S. citizens at a time when
members of the U.S. armed forces are clearly shown to have been
involved in torture and abuse of prisoners will touch a raw nerve
internationally," said Richard Dicker, international justice
program director for Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"The Nethercutt amendment marks
a brutal escalation in this administration's disastrous crusade
against the ICC," he added.
The ICC, whose mandate is to investigate
and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and
other atrocities, was established at The Hague two years ago under
the 1998 Rome Statute.
The Statute, which has been signed by
139 countries and ratified by 97, including all members of the
European Union and all of Washington's NATO allies except Turkey,
was also signed by the United States under President Bill Clinton,
but the Bush administration, in an unprecedented action in May
2002, explicitly renounced the treaty.
At the same time, it launched a major
diplomatic offensive to press countries that adhered to the treaty
to conclude "bilateral immunity agreements" (BIAs) with
Washington that would shield U.S. nationals or foreign nationals
working for the U.S. from the ICC's jurisdiction.
It also sought and initially obtained
a UN Security Council resolution that provided blanket exemption
from the ICC for soldiers and officials serving in UN peacekeeping
operations whose home country had not signed the treaty. In the
wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal last spring, however, the
Council members refused to extend the exemption.
The administration has insisted that
the ICC threatens U.S. sovereignty and that, given Washington's
global military dominance and the unique responsibilities for
maintaining international peace that go with it, U.S. nationals
would be particularly vulnerable to politically inspired prosecutions
by the ICC. During the recent presidential campaign, Bush himself
repeatedly denounced the ICC which he said would be dominated
by "unaccountable judges and prosecutors."
ICC supporters, including Bush's closest
foreign ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair , have argued
that Washington has nothing to fear from the tribunal so long
as its government is willing to investigate and prosecute serious
crimes that might otherwise fall under the ICC's jurisdiction.
Under the Rome Statute, the ICC can only take jurisdiction if
the country involved is either unable or unwilling to pursue prosecutions
on its own.
To put pressure on countries to sign
a BIA with Washington, Congress passed a law in 2002 that gave
the administration the discretion to cut off military aid to non-NATO
countries that ratified the ICC. Over the past year, the administration
has done precisely that with about three dozen countries, almost
all of them poor nations in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa,
and Central Europe.
The Nethercutt Amendment would deprive
the same nations of economic support funds (ESF), a category of
economic assistance that accounts for about US$2.5 billion in
the current foreign-aid bill.
As written, the legislation could waive
the ban for national-security reasons for Washington's NATO or
"non-NATO allies," which include Australia, New Zealand,
Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Argentina, and South Korea. The
amendment also exempts from the ban beneficiaries of the new Millennium
Challenge Account (MCA), which goes to poor countries that adhere
to political and economic policies approved by Washington.
But even if Bush exercised his waiver
authority in every case, a number of key U.S. partners in the
developing world and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic
assistance would be affected by the Nethercutt ban, including
South Africa, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Jordan, Mali, Liberia, Benin,
Niger, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and several other Caribbean island-states,
Uruguay and Venezuela.
Cyprus, for example, could lose $13.5
million for the promotion of reconciliation between its Greek
and Turkish communities, while South Africa, Ecuador, Paraguay,
Peru, and Venezuela stand to lose millions of dollars earmarked
for democracy-promotion, economic-growth, health, and environmental
Jordan, a key U.S. ally that adjoins
both Iraq and Israel, stands to lose as much as $250 million in
economic support, a loss that the Republican chairman of the House
Foreign Operations Subcommittee, James Kolbe, warned last summer
could have serious consequences for Washington's interests in
the region. "I dont see how that will help us in the war
against terrorism," he said at the time.
It is also certain to feed growing international
concerns about the Washington's unilateralism. On his trip to
Canada last week, Bush tried to allay these concerns, but, as
the Congressional aide said this week, "actions speak louder
"This measure targets democracies
that uphold the rule of law and work alongside the U.S. to further
our foreign-policy priorities," said Don Kraus, executive
vice president of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS). "We
should not be punishing them over agreements that are not necessary
and do not provide additional protection for our troops than they
already have through existing (bilateral) Status of Forces Agreements
and Status of Mission Agreements for U.S. soldiers and diplomats."
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