International court rejects request to probe alleged war crimes in Afghanistan

International Criminal Court judges on Friday unanimously rejected a request from the chief prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, a move that follows pressure from the Trump administration to drop the issue.

The court said in a statement that the judges determined that opening an investigation “at this stage would not serve the interests of justice.”

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“The Chamber believes that, notwithstanding the fact all the relevant requirements are met as regards both jurisdiction and admissibility, the current circumstances of the situation in Afghanistan are such as to make the prospects for a successful investigation and prosecution extremely limited,” the court said.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoMore money at the gas pump may be the price of pressuring Iran The Hill's Morning Report - Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics Kim to meet with Putin as tensions with US rise MORE last month announced the United States would restrict the visas of anyone investigating U.S. military personnel. And last week, the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said the United States had revoked her visa.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE hailed the court's decision Friday, saying "it is a major international victory" for U.S. personnel and for "the rule of law."

"We welcome this decision and reiterate our position that the United States holds American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards," Trump said in a statement. "Since the creation of the ICC, the United States has consistently declined to join the court because of its broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers; the threat it poses to American national sovereignty; and other deficiencies that render it illegitimate."

Bensouda, who first started probing alleged crimes in Afghanistan in 2006, requested permission from the court in November 2017 to open a formal investigation into the war in Afghanistan.

Her request said there is “reasonable basis to believe” U.S. military personnel and CIA agents “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period."

The request also said there is “reasonable basis to believe” the Taliban and other armed groups committed war crimes “as part of a widespread and systematic campaign of intimidation, targeted killings and abductions of civilians.”

Despite rejecting Bensouda’s request, the court said she established “a reasonable basis to consider that crimes within the ICC jurisdiction have been committed in Afghanistan.”

Still, the statement highlighted the time that has elapsed since the preliminary investigation in 2006 and the lack of cooperation Bensouda has received, which is “likely to go scarcer should an investigation be authorized.”

The factors are “hampering the chances of successful investigation and prosecution” and the court needs “to use its resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed,” the statement said.

Bensouda can appeal the court's decision. Her office said in a statement it will "further analyze the decision and its implications, and consider all available legal remedies."

Updated at 1:05 p.m.