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Esper: We'll Handle Our Own Alleged War Criminals

June 11, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

The United States has a good track record of investigating and prosecuting the alleged criminal actions of its own service members, and the International Criminal Court should stay out of U.S. business, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.

In 2017, the International Criminal Court announced its intention to investigate U.S. service members for alleged crimes related to missions in Afghanistan. The United States was not a party to the Rome Statute, which created the ICC.

President Donald J. Trump has signed an executive order calling ICC claims to jurisdiction over U.S. personnel "illegitimate."

During a briefing for reporters today at the State Department, Esper said the executive order was spot-on.

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"The International Criminal Court's efforts to investigate and prosecute Americans are inconsistent with fundamental principles of international law and the practice of international courts," Esper said. "That is why our nation and this administration will not allow American citizens who have served our country to be subjected to illegitimate investigations. Instead, we expect information about alleged misconduct by our people to be turned over to U.S. authorities so that we can take the appropriate action as we have consistently done so in the past."

Esper said the United States has a sovereign right to investigate and address any alleged violations of the laws of war by its own military personnel. "There is no other force more disciplined and committed to compliance with the laws of war than the United States military," he added.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks at a lectern as other leaders stand around him.
Leaders Briefing
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper delivers remarks during a news briefing at the State Department, June 11, 2020.
Photo By: Freddie Everett, State Department
VIRIN: 200611-S-ZZ999-101

The secretary cited as examples the U.S. military-led efforts at Nuremberg to prosecute Nazi war criminals, and the U.S. military's support of the International Criminal Tribunal for crimes committed in the former nation of Yugoslavia.

"We have consistently provided training on the rule of law and given related assistance to scores of partners and allies around the globe," Esper said.

More than 800,000 United States military personnel have served in Afghanistan since 2001, Esper said, with over 20,000 wounded and nearly 2,000 killed. Those Americans, he said, fought and died to stop terrorism and to protect the citizens of the United States and allied nations. American service members are still fighting that conflict today, he noted.

A soldier is on his knee on dusty terrain. Behind him, a CH-47 Chinook lifts off.
Advisor Ops
Advisors from a U.S. Army security force assistance brigade conduct operations in Afghanistan, June 13, 2019.
Photo By: Army Maj. Jonathan Camire
VIRIN: 190613-A-CZ808-0270Y
Multiple service members stand in silhouette before a star-illuminated night sky.
Green Lights
Special operations service members conduct combat operations in support of Operation Resolute Support in southeastern Afghanistan, May 5, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Jaerett Engeseth
VIRIN: 190505-A-LF458-0003Y

"That is why the Department of Defense fully supports the president's executive order and will take every action to defend our service members," Esper said. "Rest assured that the men and women of the United States armed forces will never appear before the ICC, nor will they ever be subjected to the judgments of unaccountable international bodies."