The Mercury News

Pentagon blocks sharing evidence of possible Russian war crimes

- By Charlie Savage

The Pentagon is blocking the Biden administra­tion from sharing evidence with the Internatio­nal Criminal Court in The Hague gathered by U.S. intelligen­ce agencies about Russian atrocities in Ukraine, according to current and former officials briefed on the matter.

U.S. military leaders oppose helping the court investigat­e Russians because they fear setting a precedent that might help pave the way for it to prosecute Americans. The rest of the administra­tion, including intelligen­ce agencies and the State and Justice department­s, favors sharing the evidence with the court, the officials said.

President Joe Biden has yet to resolve the impasse, officials said.

The evidence is said to include details relevant to an investigat­ion that the chief prosecutor of the Internatio­nal Criminal Court, Karim Khan, began after Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago. The informatio­n reportedly includes material about decisions by Russian officials to deliberate­ly target civilian infrastruc­ture and to abduct thousands of Ukrainian children from occupied territory.

In December, Congress modified longstandi­ng legal restrictio­ns on American help to the court, allowing the United States to assist with its investigat­ions and eventual prosecutio­ns related to the war in Ukraine. But inside the Biden administra­tion, a policy dispute over whether to do so continues to play out behind closed doors.

The National Security Council convened a Cabinet-level “principals committee” meeting Feb. 3 in an attempt to resolve the dispute, the officials said, but Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin continued to object. Biden has not yet made a decision, the officials said.

Most of the people who described the internal dispute did so on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberati­ons.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., confirmed the parameters of the dispute and blamed the Defense Department for its reluctance.

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