Among the more puzzling moments of Monday's final presidential debate was Mitt Romney's call for the prosecution of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on war crimes charges. As it turns out, Romney has been urging the United Nations to indict Ahmadinejad ever since his "close friend" and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first proposed it over five years ago. Now, there are just a few problems with this, not the least of which is that the Republican Party opposes the very International Criminal Court Team Romney now wants to indict the leader in Tehran.
Pointing to the Iranian's past pledge to "wipe Israel off the map," Romney promised Monday, "I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention." Romney said, "His words amount to genocide incitation." To make that happen, Romney consigliere Eric Fehrnstrom claimed the U.S. could turn to the World Court. But as the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler explained, "The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide lists very specific acts, none which include mere threats."
But there is another interesting wrinkle to this pledge. Presumably such a prosecution would have to be done via the International Criminal Court -- which the United States under George W. Bush refused to accept. (UPDATE: Romney aides confirmed he would bring such a case via the "World Court," which can only mean the ICC. This is surprising given that one of his top foreign policy advisors, John R. Bolton, is such a foe of the ICC.)As it turns out, it's not just Bush's former UN ambassador who said that the ICC is "one of the world's most illegitimate multilateral institutions," adding that invoking it was an "abdication of responsibility." During his debates with John Kerry in 2004, President Bush justified his refusal to sign on to the Rome Treaty, saying, "I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial." Just days later, Bush jabbed at the Court again:
I made a decision not to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is where our troops could be brought to -- brought in front of a judge, an unaccounted judge...You don't want to join the International Criminal Court just because it's popular in certain capitals in Europe."(In one sense, Bush's concern over the jurisdiction of the ICC was well-founded. Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu is just one of the people advocating the Court prosecute Bush for war crimes in Iraq.)
To be sure, the ICC is not popular with the Republican Party. As the 2012 GOP platform puts it:
Subjecting American citizens to foreign laws is inimical to the spirit of the Constitution. It is one reason we oppose U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court.As Mother Jones detailed last November when he repeated his 2007 demand for Ahmadinejad's prosecution during a GOP debate, there are a host of legal barriers to Romney's gambit. The problem isn't merely that "U.S. policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty." As MoJo reported:
It's widely interpreted that a statement supposedly egging on genocide is not legally considered a tool of genocide, unless it can be taken into evidence as proving direct intent and premeditation. Furthermore, it would be unprecedented to indict a foreign leader for a genocide that hasn't even taken place yet.Especially in a court Mitt Romney's party sees as illegitimate.