Will the ICC Continue To Investigate War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan?

The International Criminal Court will possibly investigate the involvement of the British military in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars for the first time. The plan came following the allegations that British troops had committed war crimes in both Middle East countries, despite previous rejection from the Hague-based institution to do so.

According to BBC’s Panorama report, London had covered the killings of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Panorama and The Sunday Times interviewed 11 British detectives who mentioned that they discovered evidence related to war crimes.

New evidence came up from Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT-before its operation was shut down in 2017) who investigated war crimes allegations during the war and the Northmoor Operation, who did the same thing in Afghanistan.

Secret prisons and brutal torture on prisoners

Meanwhile, the Middleeasteye.net report said that the UK and the US operated secret prisons months following the occupation in 2003, hiding inmates from Red Cross inspectors.

According to the British veteran legal expert, the Red Cross may not have been informed about those prisoners, who may have been subsequently taken out of the country.

One of the two secret detention centers was located at an airfield and oil pipeline pumping station in Iraq’s Western desert, known as H1. The second one was outside al-Qaim close to the Syrian border, known as Station 22

The most notorious prison, perhaps, is Abu Ghraib, located outside Baghdad. The New Yorker report in 2004 exposed how American soldiers and guards systematically and illegally tortured and abused prisoners there.

The US also run two lesser-known prisons; one at Balad (north of Baghdad) and the other was at Baghdad international airport, assisted by the UK, Middleeasteye.net added.

The Red Cross report expressed grave concern about the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and ad Umm Qasr.

Wars in Afghanistan

On September 11, 2001, four commercial planes attacked the World Trade Center (WTC) building in New York, the Pentagon outside the US capital Washington, DC and a Pennsylvania field. The tragedy killed thousands and prompted the war in Afghanistan after then US president George W.Bush believed that Osama bin Laden, head of the militant group Al-Qaeda, was behind the hijack.

“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” Bush addressed the Congress as he announced the war on terror.

On October 7, 2001, the US and the UK launched an airstrike targeting Al Qaeda (once funded by the US to crush the Soviet influence during the Cold War era in the 1980s) and Taliban camps. Just a few weeks later, the ground battle began as more troops from other countries such as France, Germany were deployed into Afghanistan.

War in Iraq: When The Invasion Was Based On The Lies

While the war in Iraq started in 2003 after the intelligence report saying that Iraq and its then-president Saddam Hussein owned weapons of mass destruction (WMD), American soldiers managed to capture the Iraqi dictator in ad-Dawr. Hussein was indicted with war crimes and crimes against humanity and then executed in 2006.

A year later, CBS admitted it had revealed the identity of the person who falsified the story of WMD, used as the justification for the US war on terror.

Journalist Bob Simon investigated for two years. CBS stated that Iraqi fugitive named Rafid Ahmed Alwan was the first person who spread the lies about Saddam developing WMDs by telling the German government. Alwan, then biology student, fabricated the story that Baghdad’s secret agent had killed 12 biologists to get asylum from Germany.

Germany trusted Alwan’s statement, but he provided no evidence to back up his claims. Vox report said that the US intelligence relied on information from a man named Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who was taken out of Afghanistan, tortured in Egypt then moved to the US Libi told Saddam provided training on chemical and biological weapons for Al-Qaeda.

The Pentagon warned that such a piece of information was false. However, Bush insisted on using it as credible information.

Why Must The ICC Continue To Investigate War Crimes?

A study released by Brown University stated that war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan killed 500,000, including American soldiers and innocent civilians.

The ICC previously blocked its prosecutor’s request to probe alleged war brutality in Afghanistan, citing instability and poor coordination in the country. The court’s decision came after the US repealed the visa of the court’s prosecutors.

In November 2018, the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, filed a request to resume a formal probe following a decade-long preliminary inquiry into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan since it was a member of the judiciary institution in May 2003, as The Guardian reported. 

Former U.S-president Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute (as the fundamental of the ICC’s establishment)  in 2000, but it was never ratified by the Senate. In 2002, Clinton’s successor George W.Bush announced it would not join the ICC, citing the concern that American citizens could be put on trial by non-American law enforcement officers. Later, Barack Obama cooperated with the court by supporting ongoing proceedings and taking part with the ICC’s body.

Many slammed that the ICC only focuses on human rights abuses and war crimes in developing nations such as in Serbia and Republic Democratic of Congo, but turned a blind eye to what the US and its allies had done.

Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, said in her article published in The Guardian that the ICC’s plan to continue the investigation shows that nobody can skip the law “when it comes to torture.”

“To date, no high-level US official from the civilian leadership, military, CIA, or private contractor has been prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. An ICC investigation could finally change that – bringing an end to the impunity US officials have enjoyed and, critically, some measure of redress to victims of the US torture program,” Gallagher wrote.

An investigation will guarantee victims and witnesses’ claims to be heard, given the ICC unique nature in which the most vulnerable ones have an opportunity to take part in all stages of the proceedings.

“It is high time an international body takes action. The ICC Pre-trial Chamber should authorize the investigation,” Gallagher added.