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EXCLUSIVE: “You Have Been Warned”: Republican Senators Threaten the ICC Prosecutor over Possible Israel Arrest Warrants

Read the full letter, obtained by Zeteo, which threatens sanctions in defense of Netanyahu.

Karim Khan KC, ICC Prosecutor (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

A group of influential Republican senators has sent a letter to International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Karim Khan, warning him not to issue international arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, and threatening him with “severe sanctions” if he does so. 

In a terse, one-page letter obtained exclusively by Zeteo, and signed by 12 GOP senators, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Florida’s Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz of Texas, Khan is informed that any attempt by the ICC to hold Netanyahu and his colleagues to account for their actions in Gaza will be interpreted “not only as a threat to Israel’s sovereignty but to the sovereignty of the United States.”

“Target Israel and we will target you,” the senators tell Khan, adding that they will “sanction your employees and associates, and bar you and your families from the United States.”

Rather ominously, the letter concludes: “You have been warned.”

In a statement to Zeteo, Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said, “It is fine to express opposition to a possible judicial action, but it is absolutely wrong to interfere in a judicial matter by threatening judicial officers, their family members and their employees with retribution. This thuggery is something befitting the mafia, not U.S. senators.”

While neither Israel nor the United States are members of the ICC, the Palestinian territories were admitted with the status of a member state in April 2015. Khan, a British lawyer, was appointed as the ICC’s chief prosecutor in February 2021, a week after the court had already decided, by majority, that its territorial jurisdiction extended to “Gaza and the West Bank.”

In the wake of the attacks of Oct. 7, 2023, Khan announced that the court had jurisdiction over any potential war crimes committed both by Hamas militants in Israel and by Israeli forces in Gaza. The ICC, per the Rome Statute of 2002, can charge individuals with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide – and recent reports suggest Israeli officials increasingly believe that the ICC is preparing arrest warrants for Netanyahu and other senior cabinet and military officials.

On Friday, The Hague-based office of the chief prosecutor published an unprecedented statement on Twitter, calling for an end to threats of retaliation against the ICC and attempts to “impede” and “intimidate” its officials. The statement added that such threats could “constitute an offence against the administration of justice” under the Rome Statute. 

[Twitter @IntlCrimCourt]

The timing of this rare public rebuke now makes more sense: The U.S. senators’ letter was sent to Khan a week earlier, on April 24.

In their letter, the dozen Republican senators remind Khan that the U.S. “demonstrated in the American Service-Members’ Protection Act the lengths to which we will go to protect [its] sovereignty.”

The ASPA, signed into law by George W. Bush in 2002, has since become widely known as “The Hague Invasion Act” because it authorizes the U.S. president “to use all means necessary and appropriate” to bring about the release not just of U.S. persons but also allies who are imprisoned or detained by the ICC.

The group of Republican senators – which also includes Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and South Carolina’s Tim Scott, who is believed to be on Donald Trump’s vice-presidential shortlist – suggests the issuance of any arrest warrants for the leaders of Israel by the ICC would be “illegitimate and lack legal basis,” as well as “expose” the court’s “hypocrisy and double standards.” They point out that Khan has not issued arrest warrants for the leaders of Iran, Syria, China, or Hamas. They fail to mention, however, that the three countries listed are not members of the ICC, nor are they accused of carrying out war crimes on the territory of an ICC member. As for Hamas officials, it has been reported that the chief prosecutor is, in fact, also “weighing arrest warrants for leaders from Hamas.” 

If Khan does issue an arrest warrant for Netanyahu in the coming days, it won’t be the first time he has gone after a controversial world leader over alleged war crimes – or been sanctioned for doing so. In March 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for his alleged responsibility “for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children).” The Russian government responded by putting Khan on a “wanted” list

At the time, President Biden called the arrest warrant for Putin “justified” and said it made a “very good point.” And, two years earlier, in April 2021, Biden revoked U.S. sanctions that had been imposed by the Trump administration on the ICC prosecutor in the wake of an investigation into U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

On Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the administration opposes “any threats or intimidation to public officials… including ICC officials” but that the president does “not support this investigative probe.” The White House declined to comment to Zeteo on the senators’ letter, as did the ICC Chief Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague.

Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama, one of the letter’s Republican signatories, told Zeteo it was “not a threat - a promise.” The 11 other Republican Senators who signed the letter did not respond to Zeteo's requests for comment by the time of publication.”

The full letter, with the list of Republican signatories, is published exclusively by Zeteo below:

(Letter from U.S. Senators to the ICC Prosecutor)

(c) 2024, Zeteo


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