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Maj. Danny Sjursen: Not Even the ICC Can Rein in American Exceptionalism

Maj. Danny Sjursen discusses the troubling U.S. response to the international criminal court’s decision to permit an investigation into the Afghanistan War.
International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo credit: ICC.

In early March, senior judges in the International Criminal Court ruled that an investigation into the actions the U.S., Afghan and Taliban forces committed in 2003 could take place, overturning a previous ruling. Perhaps more remarkable than the fact the ICC, which had earlier assumed such an investigation wouldn’t be possible because none of those implicated would be likely to cooperate, was the U.S. response to the decision. 

“This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

Although the Trump official’s blatant disparaging of a global justice organization is deeply troubling, American undermining of the ICC predates both Donald Trump’s rise to power and the Afghanistan War. As the retired Maj. Danny Sjursen and author of the upcoming book “Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War” explains to “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer on the latest episode of his podcast, the U.S. preempted any attempts to investigate its actions in the aftermath of 9/11 days after the terror attacks took place and before the ICC was fully established in 2002.  

“Three days after the towers came down on September 14th, we signed [the American Service Members Protections Act, also known as the Hague Invasion Act,] a law that basically authorizes the president to go after Al Qaeda,” says the Army veteran. “But it’s very vague and I think guys like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton [who voted in favor of it in the Senate] were very aware that the U.S. military is about to run rampant in the middle East. It’s about to do whatever the heck it thinks it needs to do in order to stamp out terrorism. 

“So preemptively, I think there’s a fear that if we don’t punish some of our guys, if they got out of order or some of our allies, these militias in warlords that we’re gonna operate through,” the historian continues, “we might face an awkward situation where U.S. troops or a U.S. general or even a U.S. civilian official in the Bush administration might be called before this court.”

The profound cynicism behind declaring a nation imperious to international law preemptively is not lost on either Scheer or Sjursen. As Scheer points out, the law, which allows the U.S. to invade the ICC’s headquarters in The Hague to release Americans held by the court, is a codification of a broader American belief that whatever the nation does is always morally correct, despite potentially being defined by international organizations as a war crime. 

“This investigation by the international criminal court really struck a raw nerve with three different administrations, Democratic and Republican, Obama, Trump, and Bush, right?” says the “Scheer Intelligence” host. “All these years [after the Afghanistan war began], the brave prosecutor [Fatou Bensouda] finally got permission from the international criminal court [to investigate torture and war crimes]. 

“That’s how wild and reckless they are in making charges against the U.S.,” Scheer adds sardonically. “It’s taken them all this time, right? For 18 years, really almost the length of the war, to look into what was done by the United States as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan.” 

Sjursen, who served in Afghanistan and says he witnessed war crimes committed by U.S. allies in the Afghan army, as well as the unintentional death of civilians at the hands of soldiers under his command, indicates that to him the refusal to allow for accountability is not only reprehensible, it’s actually offensive to members of the military such as himself.

“Ultimately this is us saying that we are above the law,” asserts the historian, “and I also find it somewhat insulting because the implication is that I can’t keep my own soldiers in line, right? That our laws aren’t sufficient. 

“But you know, from a historical perspective,” he goes on, “one can understand Pompeo’s and [former White House adviser John] Bolton’s fear, but not in the same way that they frame it. The ICC is supposed to be the court of last resort when the individual nation responsible is not holding their people to account. Well, if you look at the [William] Calley Case in Vietnam at the My Lai massacre where hundreds of civilians, including babies, were murdered in a ditch–he really served no time. Now you look at the [Eddie] Gallagher case, the Navy SEAL who allegedly murdered a captive and his own SEALs turned him in.

“We have a very bad record historically holding our people to account,” the retired Army major concludes.

Listen to the full discussion as Sjursen and Scheer delve into the sordid thinking behind American exceptionalism and how it poses a danger to the international community. 

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