MOSCOW, June 12 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary William Cohen says establishing an independent and international criminal court for human rights violations
would be "intolerable" to the Defense Department if it did not include an
exception for the United States and any other country with a respected
judicial system.

"If there are no protections for our soldiers -- we are the ones that are
called upon virtually every time to be deployed all over the world -- then we
would adamantly oppose that," Cohen told reporters en route to Moscow.

As conceived in 1998, when the United Nations first proposed establishing the
court, soldiers and leaders of any country could face criminal charges and
penalties in the court even if their home nations have not agreed to honor
its authority. The United States has not ratified the proposal, which had
overwhelming U.N. approval.

With more than 200,000 U.S. soldiers deployed overseas, opportunities to
manipulate the court to hamstring the United States would abound, Cohen said.

Cohen worries that the court's inquiries would be unchecked by any power --
like the U.N. Security Council, for instance, of which the United States is a
permanent member -- and could be used frivolously against the U.S. troops.

"Our concern is once you have a totally independent international court that
is not under the jurisdiction, supervision or is in any way influenced,
obligated or accountable to a supervisory institution like the U.N. Security
Council, then the potential for allegations to be made against our soldiers
could be frivolous in nature," he said. "You could have charges brought
before The Hague and this, I think, would be very destructive to our
international participation. It would be intolerable as far as our people our

NATO faced allegations for months that it had committed war crimes in
Yugoslavia during last year's war, charges that were cleared by the standing
war crimes tribunal only last week after prolonged investigations.

"The very notion that there would be an allegation of war crimes, given what
we went through to protect innocent life, is I think a shape of some things
to come in the way of allegations to come by third parties or nations that
would seek to embarrass or hinder our participation in international
affairs," Cohen said.

He argued that the U.S. military and public criminal justice system should be
adequate to satisfy international concern about troops' conduct of war.

"We have demonstrated over the years wherever there is an allegation of abuse
on the part of a soldier we have a judicial system that will deal with it
very effectively," Cohen said. "As long as we have a respected judicial
system then there should be some insulation factor (for the United States.)"

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