Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia.
President Vladimir Putin with Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. Photo credit: President of Russia / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

It seems the US is sitting on a treasure trove of evidence that shows Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine. But how do you get that evidence in front of an international court that you’d like to pretend doesn’t exist?

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When it comes to global treaties on anything from international criminal justice and women’s rights to landmines and the testing of nuclear weapons, the United States does not play well with others.

Often citing its sovereignty, an issue that does not seem to be a problem for all of the other countries that sign these agreements, the US would rather not subject itself to any jurisdiction other than its own.

In light of all of the messed-up things the country is routinely involved in, that is not surprising.

After all, if you want to use landmines, then you can’t exactly sign a treaty banning them, and if you want to torture using enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners of war and enemy combatants, then you don’t want to be bound by agreements that outlaw that kind of thing.

Often, this is not a good look. For example, the US is one of two countries that has refused to sign on to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. If you are wondering, Somalia is the other. Those two stalwarts of freedom are joined by Iran, Palau, Sudan, and Tonga as the only countries who have not signed on to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. After all, such a move might just end up granting American women autonomy over their own bodies.

Sometimes, the US’s recalcitrance regarding joining international treaties results in sticky situations.

As of yesterday, we are dealing with one of them right now.

It involves the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is a global body investigating genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Over the objections of stalwarts of virtue like China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, Yemen, and the US, it was established 25 years ago.

To be fair, that one really does make sense in a “we don’t want to get in trouble for the s*** we do” kind of way. After all, on some level, the US is probably involved in most wars in recent history among all of the countries in the world. And, if you fight a lot of wars, there are lots of opportunities for committing war crimes.

Therefore, it is best for the US to ignore the existence of the ICC altogether.

That works well if you invade countries under false pretenses, run black site prisons across the globe, engage in extraordinary rendition, or use “enhanced interrogation” (wink).

However, it doesn’t work well at all if you want other people to be charged with war crimes.

And that is the conundrum President Joe Biden is facing now. Or, to be exact, it is a conundrum he faced until yesterday.

Apparently, the US is sitting on a treasure trove of evidence that shows Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine. But how do you get that evidence in front of an international court that you’d like to pretend doesn’t exist?

According to new reporting from The New York Times, Biden has decided to throw caution to the wind in an effort to nail his adversary Vladimir Putin.

The Russian president is one of the main targets of an ICC war crimes probe regarding atrocities in Ukraine. Earlier this year, the court even issued a warrant for his arrest.

If you think this is all pretty meaningless, then you should know that this warrant is preventing Putin from attending an international conference in South Africa next month.

Where things get tricky for Biden is that sharing evidence with the ICC means that the US is acknowledging its existence as well as its authority to pursue war criminals.

Critics of his decision fear that this will come back to bite the US the next time it… well, you know.

Last year, Congress attempted to provide Biden with some cover. In its consolidated appropriations legislation, it specifically carved out an exception that allowed taxpayer funds to be used to assist the ICC with “investigations and prosecutions of foreign nationals related to the Situation in Ukraine, including to support victims and witnesses.”

Still, you can’t pretend that a court doesn’t exist and/or doesn’t have the authority to prosecute people and then supply that court with the means to do just that.

It stands to reason that the ICC has better things to do right now than to pursue Americans who may have committed war crimes, but, at some point, Biden’s decision could result in US leaders encountering a level of accountability that the country has sought to avoid this far.



  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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