"If there remained any doubt that the Trump administration's hostility towards the court is fundamentally punitive and callous in nature, these doubts have now been dispelled."
Amnesty International on Wednesday rebuked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over new comments bashing the International Criminal Court and threatening court staff—and their family members—investigating alleged war crimes committed by United States forces in Afghanistan.
"Threats against family members of ICC staff who are seeking justice is a new low, even for this administration," said Daniel Balson, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director.
Balson's comments came a day a press briefing in which Pompeo told reporters the ICC is "a so-called court which is revealing itself to be a nakedly political body."
In a decision applauded by human rights advocates, the ICC announced earlier this month that the probe—which includes alleged crimes committed at CIA black sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania—could proceed after the court's Pre-Trial Chamber previously stopped its advancement. The prospect of that probe bristled the Trump administration, which carried out what had previously appeared to be a successful bullying attempt to quash the investigation.
With the investigation now having a green light, Pompeo renewed his vocal disdain for the court, calling it "an embarrassment."
"As I said the last time I stood before you, we oppose any effort by the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over U.S. personnel," Pompeo told reporters. "We will not tolerate its inappropriate and unjust attempts to investigate or prosecute Americans."
Pompeo suggested retaliatory actions would be in store.
"It has recently come to my attention that the chef de cabinet to the prosecutor, Sam Shoamanesh, and the head of jurisdiction, complementarity, and cooperation division, Phakiso Mochochoko, are helping drive ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's effort to use this court to investigate Americans," the secretary of state said. "I'm examining this information now and considering what the United States' next steps ought to be with respect to these individuals and all those who are putting Americans at risk."
"We want to identify those responsible for this partisan investigation and their family members who may want to travel to the United States or engage in activity that's inconsistent with making sure we protect Americans," he continued.
Amnesty's Balson, in his statement, said the Trump administration was making clear it had no interest in working towards justice.
"Instead of pursuing the torturers, the U.S. is condemning the investigators, and even their families," said Balson.
And that sends a dangerous message.
"To refer to the International Criminal Court, a body which for years has worked on addressing the most heinous of crimes, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, as 'an embarrassment' is the real embarrassment," said Balson.
"Lack of political will to investigate crimes and prosecute those responsible has impeded the ICC's vital work and Secretary Pompeo's remarks have only exacerbated this," he added. "Perpetrators the world over now have a clear message from the United States: they too may demand impunity when their nationals are accused of the gravest of crimes."
The fact that Pompeo is now hovering the possibility of retaliation for the investigation over family of ICC staff "is an ominous move," said Balson.
"If there remained any doubt that the Trump administration's hostility towards the court is fundamentally punitive and callous in nature," he added, "these doubts have now been dispelled."