A leading Scottish human rights lawyer has gone on trial to overturn a controversial order by Donald Trump designed to protect US military personnel from prosecution.
Sunday, February 7, 2021, 8:37 a.m.
“/>U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive orders to extend economic relief from coronavirus during a press conference in Bedminster, New Jersey on August 8, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images)
Steven Watt, a senior lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) human rights program, is part of a landmark lawsuit against the former Trump administration’s decision to impose sanctions and visa restrictions on staff at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague.
An executive order signed by Trump in the final year of the presidency viewed all attempts by the court to investigate, arrest, or prosecute a US citizen as an “exceptional threat” to the country’s national security and foreign policy.
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It declared a “national emergency” for such efforts by the ICC, which Trump ordered threatened US sovereignty.
However, the order was widely condemned by the EU and human rights organizations, and the ICC itself described it as “an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the judicial process of the court”.
The ACLU warned that it was approving sanctions under the terms of the “immoral” order against anyone who assisted the ICC in investigating or prosecuting war crimes and other serious human rights violations
Now, Watt is one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the order, claiming that it has “catastrophic” effects.
Watt, who studied law at the University of Aberdeen and holds a degree in legal practice from the University of Edinburgh, said this threatens to hamper his work and that of the ACLU.
“/> The Scottish human rights attorney has gone to court to overturn a controversial order from Donald Trump. Image: ACLU / Molly Kaplan
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“The ICC is the last hope of justice for my clients, survivors and victims of war crimes committed by the CIA in Afghanistan,” said Watt.
“The Trump administration’s unprecedented abuse of sanctioning power seeks to erode that hope. The executive order is catastrophic to accountability and justice and goes against the first amendment. “
Watt has represented numerous victims of CIA torture over the years. These include the Libyan Mohamed Ben Soud and the Tanzanian citizen Suleiman Abdullah Salim, who were detained and brutalized in an Afghan facility.
“/> An unidentified prisoner in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, who is at the center of a torture scandal. Image: AP
They filed a lawsuit against James Mitchell and John Jessen, psychologists hired by the CIA to develop a range of interrogation techniques. A confidential agreement was reached in 2017.
While Joe Biden has issued a number of his own executive orders since taking office to repeal a variety of Trump’s policies, the order against the ICC remains in place. The State Department said the sanctions imposed on the order would be “thoroughly reviewed”.
The ACLU announced that it will proceed with its most recent lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, unless it is repealed by the new government.
Aaron Madrid, a union spokesman, told Scotland on Sunday: “At this point, we will be pursuing this lawsuit as the Trump Executive Order has not been repealed. If President Biden lifts the order, we will reevaluate it and possibly drop the case. “
Trump’s executive order was issued just three months after senior ICC judges approved an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by US, Afghan and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.