Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: US sanctions ICC prosecutor amid probe of alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan | Senators urge Pentagon to keep Stars and Stripes running

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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Trump administration stepped up its campaign against the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday, slapping sanctions on its chief prosecutor amid her ongoing investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.

Calling the ICC a “thoroughly broken and corrupted institution,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Sanctions are also being levied against Phakiso Mochochoko, the court’s head of jurisdiction, for “having materially assisted” Bensouda, Pompeo said.

“The United States has never ratified the Rome Statute that created the court, and we will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction,” Pompeo said at a news conference.

Court’s response: The ICC condemned Wednesday’s sanctions as “another attempt to interfere with the court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence.”

“These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice and the rule of law more generally,” the court said in a statement.

Background: In 2017, Bensouda requested permission from the court to open a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, including allegations against U.S. troops, after having conducted a preliminary investigation since 2006. The court authorized her investigation in March.

In response, the Trump administration revoked Bensouda’s visa last year.

Earlier this year, President Trump also signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against ICC officials involved in the Afghanistan investigation. The sanctions announced Wednesday were imposed pursuant to that order.

The Trump administration has also railed against the ICC for its ongoing preliminary investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, including Israel’s settlement policy.

SENATORS BACK STARS AND STRIPES FUNDING: A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Defense Department to reinstate funding for Stars and Stripes, the editorially independent military newspaper whose future was put in doubt earlier this year after the Pentagon proposed shifting money away from the outlet.

In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday, the senators argued that funding for the newspaper represented a tiny fraction of the department’s annual budget and that cutting it could have a “significantly negative impact on military families.”

“We understand that DoD plans to cease publication of Stars and Stripes on September 30, 2020 and completely dissolve the organization by January 31, 2021 as a result of the proposed termination of funding in the fiscal year 2021 President’s budget,” the letter said.

The letter was organized by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and co-signed by a bipartisan group of 14 other senators. 

The Pentagon and Stars and Stripes did not immediately return requests for comment from The Hill. 

Context: The Pentagon’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget called for eliminating the $15.5 million in federal funding that goes to Stars and Stripes.

But Congress, as they say, is the one that has the power of the purse.

The House’s fiscal 2021 defense spending bill includes funding for Stars and Stripes. The Senate has yet to release its fiscal 2021 defense spending bill (or any other spending bills for that matter), but nine of the letter’s signatories are on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Congress is instead expected to pass a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open after the fiscal year ends. And, as the senators note in their letter, CRs typically prohibit any changes in programs, including ending them.

“We seek your written assurance that the Department will comply with this obligation and avoid steps that would preempt the funding prerogatives of Congress,” the senators wrote.

REPATRIATED ISIS FIGHTER PLEADS GUILTY: A 23-year-old Dallas man pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge after allegedly spending five years handling communications for ISIS, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

Omer Kuzu admitted that he left Texas with his brother, Yusuf, for Turkey in 2014 and was then picked up by an “ISIS taxi,” according to court documents. They then stayed in several “waiting houses” before ending up in Mosul, Iraq.

There, he and 40 others allegedly underwent five days of physical and weapons training led by ISIS instructors.

Kuzu was one of 1,500 suspected ISIS fighters that were captured in March 2019 by Syrian Democratic Forces. He was handed over to the FBI and was charged with conspiring to provide material support material to ISIS.

His sentencing is set for January 2021. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison. 


David Stilwell, assistant secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific affairs, will speak at a U.S. Institute of Peace event previewing the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum at 9 a.m. https://bit.ly/32RwItR

Lee Soo-hyuck, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, will participate in the Institute for Korean Studies at The George Washington University’s Korea Policy Forum at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2QKCtnE

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr. will speak at a virtual U.S. Navy Memorial SITREP Speaker Series event at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/2YZyeco


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Tags Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Mark Esper Mike Pompeo

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