One of the first acts Georgie took upon entering office in 2001 was to pull the U.S. out of the International Criminal Court. Since them he has been pressuring countries participating in the ICC to give American war criminals a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Two years ago, Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, which ended military aid to countries that refused to grant amnesty to U.S. nationals suspected of committing war crimes abroad.
Now comes a provision in the 2005 omnibus federal spending bill — obviously part of the administration’s foreign policy agenda — that would bar economic assistance to any country that does not grant amnesty to U.S. citizens.
The Howard Government has baulked at a contentious US request that it promise not to hand over Americans accused of war crimes to the International Criminal Court.
In what amounts to a rare diplomatic rebuff to the Bush administration, the sensitive US request has been quietly gathering dust within the Canberra bureaucracy for more than two years without an answer since it was first revealed by The Australian in August 2002.
Since this time, US troops have been involved in a series of fresh scandals, from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse furore, to the filmed execution of an Iraqi by a US marine, to this week’s Red Cross claims of prisoner abuse by the US military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Government denies that it has rejected the US request to sign the bilateral immunity deal, saying yesterday that it was ‘still considering’ Washington’s proposal after 27 months of deliberation.
But by not reaching a conclusion, Australia has so far avoided having to make an embarrassing choice between the wishes of its closest ally and the viability of the ICC – the world war crimes body of which Australia is a founding member.
The Government said yesterday Australia’s obligations to the ICC were being given top priority in its deliberations.
“Australia views its obligations as a party to the ICC statute as paramount, and, although aware of US concerns, would not conclude any agreement that is inconsistent with Australia’s ICC obligations,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said.