An ambassador, while testifying to a Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, claimed that the Pentagon blocked the United States from participating in an international investigation into the more than 88,000 alleged Russian war crimes against humanity so far documented in Ukraine.
Beth Van Schaack, Ambassador General for Global Criminal Justice, under the US State Department, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, DC. She seemed hesitant to acknowledge the Pentagon’s role, but finally did so after a number of statements and questions from senators.
“The State Department has encouraged cooperation with the (International Criminal Court) ICC to bring Putin to justice. It is no secret that the Defense Department is the robbery,” said Chairman Senator Bob Menendez, DN.J ., in his opening statement for Van Schaack.
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“I have asked the Department of Defense to participate in today’s hearing so we can better understand why they are blocking the implementation of the federal law,” he said. “Whatever they may think, a refusal to implement the law is unacceptable in this situation, blocking critical US aid for investigations into atrocities in Ukraine, and is dangerous to our system of government.”
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Beth Van Schaack, Ambassador General for Global Criminal Justice at the United States Department of State, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
“The Department of Defense cannot choose which laws it will obey,” Menendez said twice for emphasis. “The United States must fully support investigations that could lead to Russian officials being held accountable. We continue to hear about Russian troops boiling people’s hands in water, systematically raping women while threatening their children, and cooling innocent civilians kill blood.” , we can’t sit and do nothing.”
Later in the hearing, Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., noted the Chairman’s position that Congress had passed legislation directing all agencies in the U.S. government to cooperate with the ICC and provide evidence that their prosecution of war crimes.
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“But the Ministry of Defense is clearly dragging its feet. My question to you is what the impact has been?” Van Hollen asked Van Schaack. “In other words, what evidence could we have provided to the ICC that we failed to provide because DOD was uncooperative?”
Van Schaack noted that details are usually not shared and said her team has gathered “a range of information that could be very useful for a legal process anywhere.”
“Her team can share that with multiple other entities, including the United Nations Commissioner of Investigation, individual states that could prosecute that with the (Ukrainian) Attorney General, but we can’t share that with the ICC.”
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“Because of the position DOD took, right?” Hollen continued.
“Because we don’t have a consensus on that yet,” Van Schaack responded.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on May 11, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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However, the senator insisted, “And the only agency that doesn’t agree is DOD, is that right?”
Van Schaack tried to deviate from the Defense Secretary’s own comments before the Senate Appropriations Committee, but Van Hollen insisted: “It’s just a yes or no, right? The Defense Department isn’t cooperating that way? ”
‘Yes’, replied Van Schaack.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III testified during a criticism by the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier last month of his reluctance to provide information to the ICC to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged war crimes, testifying that the Pentagon “has purpose of holding Russia responsible for its abuses in Ukraine.”
Beth Van Schaack, Ambassador General for Global Criminal Justice at the U.S. State Department, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 31, 2023, for a hearing to examine Russian responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
“I will always prioritize the protection of US military personnel in everything we do,” he added, suggesting the reason. “I do worry about reciprocity in the future.”
The ICC previously launched an investigation into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan, prompting then-President Trump to impose sanctions and other restrictions on the court’s top prosecutors and their family members. Initially, Trump said the ICC investigation threatened to subject the current and former U.S. government and related officials to harassment, abuse and possible arrest and would “infringe upon the sovereignty of the United States.” President Biden has since lifted those sanctions.
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Van Schaack testified on Wednesday about concerns about the possible prosecution of US troops during the war in Ukraine.
“I will start by saying that in my role as a leading diplomat in the international justice space, I would work tirelessly to ensure that no US personnel are brought before the ICC,” she said. “I don’t think that’s an acute risk right now.”
Danielle Wallace is a reporter for Fox News Digital covering politics, crime, police and more. Story tips can be sent to [email protected] and on Twitter: @danimwallace.