US to Cooperate with Hague on Russia War Crimes

President Biden has ended a months-long impasse.

NYT (“Biden Orders U.S. to Share Evidence of Russian War Crimes With Hague Court“):

President Biden has quietly ordered the U.S. government to begin sharing evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, according to officials familiar with the matter, signaling a major shift in American policy.

The decision, made by Mr. Biden in recent days, overrides months of resistance by the Pentagon, which had argued that it could pave the way for the court to prosecute American troops, according to the officials.

It was unclear why Mr. Biden let the impasse linger or what finally led him to resolve it, but he has been under mounting bipartisan pressure to act. Last week, for example, a Senate committee approved a government funding bill that had a provision stating that the president “shall provide information” to the court to assist with its investigations into war crimes in Ukraine.

American intelligence agencies are said to have gathered information including details about decisions by Russian officials to deliberately strike civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children from occupied territory. Already, they have shared some of that evidence with Ukrainian prosecutors but had refrained from doing so with The Hague.


The White House has yet to announce the policy reversal or the assistance it will now provide, but it began notifying members of Congress on Tuesday, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

The Pentagon press office did not respond to a request for comment. Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman, expressed a broader commitment to holding Russia to account for atrocities but declined to address the International Criminal Court issue.

“We support a range of international investigations to identify and hold accountable those responsible,” she said in a statement. “On the I.C.C. specifically, we are not going to discuss the specifics on any cooperation, which is consistent with the court’s practice of treating requests for cooperation in a confidential manner.”

John Bellinger, a former top lawyer at the National Security Council and State Department during the George W. Bush administration who favored sharing evidence with the court, embraced word of the decision.

“It’s too bad that they are not announcing that publicly, because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Senators Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, the top lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee, have repeatedly sought to call attention to the impasse and shame the Pentagon for standing in the way. In a joint statement, they praised the shift as they recounted documented Russian war crimes.

“Ensuring that the United States is doing all that it can to hold the perpetrators of atrocities in Ukraine accountable is essential to help our Ukrainian friends and to send a clear message to Putin: The United States will not tolerate these horrific crimes,” they said. “After pressing the administration for months, we are pleased that the administration is finally supporting the I.C.C.’s investigation.”

I wrote about this extensively in my March 9 post “Pentagon Opposes Helping Prosecute Russian War Crimes” and won’t rehash my argument here. Suffice it to say that, while I understand the Defense Department’s posture, I’m happy President Biden ultimately made the right call here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    It’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately we have trouble doing this with our own troops. The reality is that overall our troops are well behaved. If you remember Bing West’s book he made the case that one of the reasons the “surge” was successful was that the Iraqi people had come to appreciate the common decency of the American grunt, not seen so much in their own troops. It’s an anomaly when our troops behave badly. Not so much for the Russian troops with so many criminals and conscripts. That said when someone does behave badly it is now valorized by the right wing. It’s pathetic and I think demeaning to US troops.


  2. Rick S says:

    “The decision, made by Mr. Biden in recent days, overrides months of resistance by the Pentagon, which had argued that it could pave the way for the court to prosecute American troops, according to the officials.”

    If our troops are committing war crimes, they should be prosecuted. Even better, they shouldn’t be committing war crimes.

  3. Daryl says:

    This seems like the right thing to do…but ultimately pointless.
    Putin will never be held accountable in any meaningful way.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m happy President Biden ultimately made the right call here.

    And we can fully expect the GOP to vilify him for it.

    @steve: I am currently reading Arkady Babchenko’s memoir One Soldier’s War. A little bit dated but very illustrative of the brutality inflicted on Russian troops by Russian troops. It’s a wonder one can call them an army at all.