Hard-Line Immunity Policy Leaves U.S. Out of Touch
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The U.S. has been withholding financial aid to countries that join the International Criminal Court, but won't agree to shield Americans from the court's reach. That hard line policy put many countries in a bind. Now the Bush Administration seems to be having second thoughts.
NPR's Michelle Kelemen reports.
MICHELLE KELEMEN reporting:
When Congress passed the American Service Member Protection Act in 2002, the idea was to make sure Americans serving abroad would never be prosecuted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court. Armed with that legislation, the State Department sent diplomats around the world to press countries to sign immunity deals or risk losing U.S. military aid.
Now the head of the U.S. southern command, General Vince Craddock, is complaining about this. He told a Senate hearing today that he's had to cut off military training programs in 11 countries in Latin America because those nations did not sign the immunity deals.
General VINCE CRADDOCK (U.S. Southern Command): Some of these countries are critical, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia. Several countries here, where now we are losing the opportunity to bring their officers, their senior non- commissioned officers to the United States to join with, partner with and learn about the United States Armed Forces.
KELEMEN: And General Craddock warned Senators that other countries are filling the gap. He pointed to China.
General CRADDOCK: We see more and more officers, non-commissioned officers, are going to China for education and training. We see more and more Chinese non- lethal equipment showing up in the region, more representation, more Chinese military so it is a growing phenomenon.
KELEMEN: Those fears were echoed by other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Republican Chairman, John Warner of Virginia, and the ranking Democrat, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, said the said they would seek advice from the State Department on how to amend the legislation.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has already acknowledged that in some cases, the U.S. has been shooting itself in the foot. She told a House hearing last week that the Administration may give special waivers for allies that don't sign the so-called Article 98 immunity deals.
Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): We have run into circumstances where the inability of a state for a variety of reasons to give an Article 98 has put us in the odd position of being unable to support a state that, for instance, wants to help us in Afghanistan or in Iraq.
KELEMEN: This change of heart only goes so far, though, according to Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.
Mr. RICHARD DICKER (International Justice Program, Human Rights Watch): I don't believe that it's springtime for the International Criminal Court in the heart of the Bush administration. Far from it.
KELEMEN: He says the U.S. is simply taking a more pragmatic approach after recognizing what he calls the blow-back from its aggressive policy.
Mr. DICKER: Sadly, the Administration has shot itself in both feet and I think those wounds are beginning to hurt and I hope the administration, as well as an increasing number of Congressional leaders, will see the value of stepping back from a jihadist policy against the ICC.
KELEMEN: U.S. officials insist they haven't changed their mind about the court itself, which was set up to prosecute the world's worst war criminals. The U.S. is not a party to the court. As for the immunity deals, Washington has persuaded 101 countries to sign on, but few have ratified the agreements and critics say the campaign has simply generated more ill will toward the U.S.
Michelle Kelemen, NPR News Washington.
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