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William H. Taft IV and Patricia M. Wald

San Francisco Chronicle, 01 April 2009

The time has come for the United States to engage officially with the International Criminal Court. Established in 2002, the court exists to prosecute persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the United States should cooperate with all responsible efforts to combat such abhorrent acts. We should act now to develop a more formal relationship with the leading institution for prosecuting such violators.

The United States has been wary of the ICC and so far declined to join the 108 nations that are members. Objections began with the Clinton administration and were magnified after 9/11. Out of fear that the court would issue frivolous arrest warrants for American soldiers and otherwise overstep its bounds, the Bush administration in 2002 announced that the United States would have nothing to do with the court.

Those fears have not been realized. The ICC prosecutor has declined to investigate politically motivated charges in Iraq and elsewhere, and instead has focused on the gravest human rights cases of our time: in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Darfur. The courthas compiled a commendable record in cases of considerable interest to the United States. Recognizing this, the Bush administration in 2005 began softening its opposition to the court and even supported some of its efforts, particularly in Darfur, where the court issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.

The American Society of International Law convened an independent, nonpartisan task force of American legal experts, which we chaired, to examine the U.S. relationship with the court. The task force concluded unanimously that the Obama administration should take the next step and announce an explicit policy of positive engagement with the ICC. If that policy proves successful, we should then give serious consideration to joining the court.

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William H. Taft IV is former deputy secretary of Defense; Patricia M. Wald is a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

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