US may face investigation for war crimes in Afghanistan

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is on the verge of opening an investigation into allegations that the United States committed war crimes while interrogating detainees in Afghanistan.

There “is a reasonable basis to believe that” U.S. military and CIA forces in Afghanistan “resorted to techniques amounting to the commission of the war crimes of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape" in the course of the 13-year war there, the office of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a report issued late Monday.


Prosecutors will examine the evidence and determine whether to launch an investigation “imminently,” it added.

If the ICC proceeds to an investigation into the alleged abuses, it would be a resounding international rebuke to the George W. Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. The use of "black sites" and so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding remain one of the most controversial aspects of the former president’s time in office. A years-long investigation by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee resulted in a hotly debated 6,700-page report, the vast majority of which remains classified.

“These alleged crimes were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals,” the prosecutor’s office maintained. “Rather, they appear to have been committed as part of approved interrogation techniques in an attempt to extract ‘actionable intelligence’ from detainees.”

The announcement of a possible investigation from the ICC comes as President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE prepares to take office next January.

Trump has unabashedly called for the resumption of waterboarding, which is now illegal, and “a hell of a lot worse,” despite unease from the national security community. Resumption of the brutal interrogation methods, which are commonly referred to as torture, would likely ignite a global firestorm and could cause deep discomfort within the U.S. government.

The U.S. is not a party to the ICC and Bush tried to impose several limits on it while in power, worrying that the U.S. would become a prime target of the court.

But Afghanistan is a member of the court. Because the activity at issue took place inside the country, it is likely within the court’s jurisdiction. 

The alleged war crimes occurred “principally in the 2003-2004 period,” the office claimed, though some allegedly continued until 2014.

At least 61 people were subjected to torture and other illegal treatment by the military, the prosecutor’s office claimed, while at least 27 were subjected to the treatment by the CIA in Afghanistan or at black sites in Eastern Europe.