Hailed as a landmark ruling, the panel of judges at The Hague reversed a decision by the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber denying the ICC prosecutor’s request to open a formal inquiry into crimes committed in connection with the conflict in Afghanistan. The previous decision not to pursue an investigation was reportedly influenced by the belief that the United States would not cooperate with the proceedings.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that there were ample grounds to begin an investigation into Taliban crimes, as well as an alleged torture program operated by Afghan authorities, the US military and the CIA. The court agreed on Thursday, authorizing the investigation.

The Center for Constitutional Rights described the ruling as “the first time senior US officials may face criminal liability for their involvement in the torture program” in Afghanistan.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, but Afghanistan is – leaving open the possibility that US crimes committed on Afghan soil could be prosecuted by the court. 

Even if the inquiry exposes serious wrongdoing, it’s unclear how the ICC would proceed. US President Donald Trump has been an outspoken opponent of the Hague-based court, and even imposed travel restrictions and other sanctions against ICC employees.

Trump has slammed the ICC for its “broad” and “unaccountable” prosecutorial powers, and has repeatedly scoffed at the idea of US soldiers being charged with war crimes. In November, he pardoned two army officers facing war crimes charges for their actions in Afghanistan, and reinstated the rank of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was accused of similar atrocities during his deployment in Iraq, but was ultimately cleared of most wrongdoing.

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