Friday, October 31st, 2014
False
Chain email
"The President wants the U.S. to sign on to the U.N.’s International Criminal Court."

Chain email on Thursday, April 24th, 2014 in a chain email

Chain email says Barack Obama wants U.S. to join International Criminal Court

Five new judges of the International Criminal Court were sworn in on March 9, 2012. (ICC photo)

A reader recently sent us an email that had a meandering -- but strongly critical -- message of opposition to President Barack Obama.

The email, which can be read in its entirety here, urges veterans and their families to vote in the 2014 midterm elections in order to send Obama a message. Here are excerpts:

"The President, the Commander in Chief, has made the Rules of Engagement (ROE) so difficult, that our troops are often killed before they can even get permission to fight. Nothing has been done to stop our troops from being murdered by the Afghanis they are training, either.

"Now, the President wants the US to sign on to the UNs International Criminal Court (ICC), which would allow the UN's ICC to arrest and try US troops for War Crimes, without the legal protections guaranteed under US Law, and from which there is no appeal. The President, with his Democratic control of the Senate, has nearly all the power. If the Non-Establishment Republicans, and Conservatives, can take back the Senate in 2014, our troops can once again be protected from unnecessary danger. Please consider this, and send it on to your mailing lists."

We will be checking a few claims from this email, but in this report, we’ll look at the claim that "the President wants the U.S. to sign on to the U.N.’s International Criminal Court."

First, some background on the International Criminal Court and its relationship to the United States.

The ICC is a permanent, independent court headquartered in the Hague that investigates and brings to justice individuals who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, according to the Congressional Research Service. Cases may be referred to the ICC either by a member state, the court’s own prosecutor, or the U.N. Security Council. The court only investigates or prosecutes serious crimes by individuals (not organizations or governments), and then, only when national judicial systems are unwilling or unable to handle them.

The court’s founding document, known as the Rome Statute, entered into force on July 1, 2002. So far, 122 nations have become members of the court. But while the United States signed the Rome Statute under President Bill Clinton in 2000, it has not moved on to ratification -- the step that would make membership official.

This position is intentional. Under President George W. Bush, the United States actually went so far as to "un-sign" the Rome Statute. The reasons included concerns that the court could exercise jurisdiction over U.S. citizens or military officials, as well as a perceived lack of checks and balances on court pursuits.

More recently, United States opposition has softened -- within limits.

In 2008, the United States decided not to veto a Security Council resolution to refer a case from the Darfur region of Sudan. Then, when Obama took office, it began attending sessions as an "observer" nation in 2009. In January 2010, a Justice Department review found that "informational" support for "particular investigations or prosecutions" would be legal under laws passed under Bush.

In theory, the Obama administration could choose to seek Senate ratification. But even if it did, experts say, the administration’s ability to win the 67 votes in the Senate is almost nonexistent, given the extent of lingering concern about U.S. membership in the court.

"President Obama has made no indication that he ‘wants the U.S. to sign on to the U.N.’s International Criminal Court,’" said Steven Groves, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "Since everyone knows such a transmittal would be dead on arrival, the likelihood that the president would do so before the end of his term is negligible, if not zero."

Steven R. Ratner, a University of Michigan law professor who specializes in international law, agrees, calling the email’s claim "completely wrong."

"Although the U.S. is no longer actively opposed to the court's existence and operation, as was the Bush administration, the Obama administration has no intention of submitting the ICC statute to the Senate," Ratner said.

In other words, the email is wrong to claim that Obama, "with his Democratic control of the Senate, has nearly all the power." All Obama could theoretically do is ask for Senate support. Even if the Democrats had 67 votes -- which they don’t -- ratification for this particular agreement would be an uphill battle.

We should add that the email has some other misleading elements about the court, such as when it says the court can "arrest and try U.S. troops for War Crimes, without the legal protections guaranteed under U.S. Law, and from which there is no appeal."

While the ICC can issue "arrest warrants," it cannot enforce them. The ICC "cannot ‘arrest’ anyone -- it has no police power whatsoever," said Georgetown University professor of government and foreign service Anthony Clark Arend. Instead, it has to rely on its member states to do so, and "a state would not want to cooperate with the ICC if it sought arrest based on trumped-up charges," Ratner said.

Ratner added that, contrary to the email’s claim about weak legal protections, the ICC procedures are "generally on par with U.S. law, with small exceptions such as trial by judges rather than a jury, and looser rules for admission of evidence."

Our ruling

The chain email says Obama "wants the U.S. to sign on to the U.N.’s International Criminal Court." While the Obama administration has been more willing to engage with the court than the Bush administration, which was strongly opposed to cooperating, Obama has made no sign that he wants to become a full-blown member of the court. Even if he did, doing so would require 67 votes in the Senate, making it essentially a nonstarter. We rate the claim False.