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Bolton claims victory as International Criminal Court rejects investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes

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National Security Advisor John Bolton took a victory lap before hastily convened press Friday to claim "vindication" in what had been a brewing showdown with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The court announced Friday it had rejected a request by lead prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open an investigation into alleged war crimes and human rights abuses perpetrated by American military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan over the course of the conflict there.

In a statement, the court said Bensouda's request had established "a reasonable basis" that crimes had been committed, but its pre-trial chamber unanimously rejected the request because of the likely lack of "cooperation" the ICC would receive from relevant parties, which would include Afghan authorities, the Taliban and the United States.  

An investigation, the court said, "would not serve the interests of justice."

"This is a vindication of the president's support for American sovereignty and a rejection of the idea that there can be accountability for American citizens by any authority other than American constitutional institutions," Bolton said.

In a statement released by the White House, President Trump hailed the decision "a major international victory" and vowed a "swift and vigorous response" to attempted prosecution of any "American, Israeli, or allied personnel."

Human Rights Watch called the court's decision "a devastating blow for victims who have suffered grave crimes without redress."

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions on ICC personnel involved in investigations of Americans; Bensouda's U.S. visa has since been revoked. She had first requested to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan in 2017.

On Friday, Bolton denied that the court's decision was a result of American pressure.

"I don't think it's bullying to stand up to protect innocent American service members, members of the intelligence community, who are unjustly accused," he said. "[W]hen Americans violate their training and doctrine – whether they are in the military or the intelligence community – as a democratic constitutional society, we are capable of holding our own citizens accountable."

He said the court's decision would not change the State Department's previously announced visa restrictions on ICC personnel.

Bolton's objections to the ICC are well-documented and were registered long ago; he used his first major public address since becoming national security advisor to President Trump to lambaste the court last September.

In a speech before the Federalist Society, Bolton declared, "We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

He has called the day he un-signed the statute creating the ICC in 2002 on behalf of George W. Bush's administration his "happiest day in government."

"Today's my second-happiest day," he said on Friday.

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