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International racial profiling grants a license to kill

By Mark P. Fancher

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been around for a decade, but high-ranking U.S. government officials who are responsible for atrocities in the underdeveloped world have not yet been called to account for their actions in that forum.

The U.S. has a long history of supporting and protecting ruthless dictators who commit barbarous acts against their people. From the 1950s through the ‘70s the United States backed, among others, Duvalier in Haiti, Batista in Cuba, Somoza in Nicaragua and Mobutu in Congo. Support for such regimes have continued to the present day in certain countries. There are many who believe those American government officials who are responsible for these acts should not go unpunished.

The ICC was established to penetrate the sovereign shields that have historically protected heads of state and their subordinates from efforts to hold them individually responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and criminal aggression. But American government officials have not been dragged into that court, and it is possible they never will. That’s because unless a country has signed on to the treaty that created the ICC, it is beyond the court’s reach.

President Bill Clinton had reservations about the court, but he nevertheless took the first step toward signing on. President George W. Bush later withdrew from the court altogether. Since then, the ICC has indicted dozens of African government officials, while ignoring hundreds of civilian deaths caused by U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan and other crimes committed by non-Africans. Some have characterized this as international racial profiling, and it has caused considerable resentment throughout the African continent.

African hostility was also directed at the Bush Administration because of its efforts to coerce or blackmail African governments into signing special agreements that obligated those countries to refuse to turn Americans over to the ICC if U.S. soldiers, spies or other U.S. government personnel committed serious crimes in their countries. Even though the United States is not under the court’s jurisdiction, its nationals can be if they commit crimes in countries that are parties to the court’s treaty.

Given its practice of torturing terrorism suspects, the Bush Administration had good reason to be nervous. The Bush people continued a long tradition of having proxy governments and military forces do their dirty work in Africa. But history proves that supplying guns and explosives to “friends” in other countries is risky business. For example, U.S. military and intelligence support provided to those seeking Gadhafi’s overthrow helped trigger a seldom mentioned racist campaign of harassment, torture and mass murder of Black workers who had migrated to Libya from neighboring countries.

Ideally, U.S. presidents and other heads of state should have to contemplate their potential personal criminal liability for atrocities they may trigger if they arm or otherwise support rogue dictators, mercenaries and insurgents in Africa. But with its record of targeting Africans for prosecution, it won’t be the ICC that will make western leaders think twice.

Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about the U.S. military presence in Africa. He can be contacted at

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