International

The US military can legally break a citizen out of The Hague

In 2002, then-President George W. Bush signed the American Service-Members' Protection Act into law, authorizing the use of military force to free its citizens from incarceration and trial by the International Criminal Court.


The act, dubbed the "Hague Invasion Act" for the name of the city in the Netherlands where the ICC holds prisoners, allows the President to use the American military to free its service members or those of any allied country who might be captured for trial there.

More menacingly for potential U.S. allies, the act allows the United States to end military assistance for signatory countries to the ICC treaty, unless they agree not to extradite American citizens to The Hague. It also restricts American forces in UN peacekeeping forces until those troops are granted immunity from prosecution under certain international laws.

Under the law, the U.S. is still able to help bring accused war criminals to justice — unless they are American citizens. The law prohibits the extradition of anyone in the United States to The Hague and prevents ICC officials from conducting investigations on American soil.

A sitting President can decide American participation in such endeavors on a case-by-case basis. To underscore the projected enforcement of the act, the United States vetoed the UN's continuing peacekeeping operation in Bosnia in 2002.

UN Peacekeeping forces is Bosnia in 2001.(United Nations)

The ICC was founded by the Rome Statute treaty in 1998 and is the first permanent, independent judicial body to try persons accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity — crimes that are agreed to have no statute of limitations and where other states are unwilling or unable to try. The UN Security Council may also entrust the ICC to try certain cases.

The Court is paid for by the nations that have ratified the Rome Statute and began its service life in 2002. There are currently 138 signatories to the treaty.

In 2017, now-White House National Security Advisor to the United States, John Bolton, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning about the movement of the ICC to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan, so the United States is unlikely to revisit this legislation anytime soon.