The ICC and Mainstream TV: A Recent Episode of The Blacklist

by Kristen Boon

I was watching a recent episode of the TV show The Blacklist the other day, when much to my surprise there was a segment on the International Criminal Court.

As the summary recounts:  “The Director wakes up on the Venezuelan president’s jet, where Foreign Minister Diaz arrests him. Red calls Hitchin to say they’re on their way to the Hague, where The Director will be tried for crimes against humanity…”

On the one hand, there is an accurate back and forth about whether the ICC has jurisdiction over The Director, because the US is not a party to the ICC. (Venezeula, of course, is).

On the other hand, the writers glossed over the fact that “delivering” a high level US government official to the ICC’s front door does not equal a referral – the ICC has the power to determine whether its jurisdictional requirements are met under Arts. 12 & 13 of the Rome Statute.

The other creative fiction of the show is that the ICC has an ongoing investigation into US activities (drones, torture, and rendition).    In reality, the ICC has opened an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan, which implicates the US.   It was first reported in the press two years ago.   The 2015 Report on OTP activities (at p. 31) indicates this investigation is still ongoing.  (Hat tip to Kevin Heller for confirming the current status of this probe).  Nonetheless, any ongoing ICC investigations are far narrower  than what the TV show suggests.

I confess to great satisfaction in watching the ICC enter popular culture, even if some creative liberties are being taken as to its jurisdiction and potential reach over American officials.

Spoiler alert: here is the relevant part of the script!

Red: Oh, your God can’t help you now, Peter. You’re traveling over the Atlantic, on the Venezuelan President’s Airbus, – on your way to The Hague.
The Director: You’re insane.
Red: I wouldn’t know. But you’re going to have the distinguished honor of becoming the first American official ever to be charged with even a single war crime, let alone the slew of them you will undoubtedly be accused of – before the week is out.
The Director: This won’t happen. United States isn’t party to the Rome Treaty. We don’t recognize its authority.
Diaz: But Venezuela does. And cases can be referred to the court by any country that is a signatory. You know as well as I do, even better given your position, the international court has been investigating the US government and the CIA for any number of alleged crimes. The drone program, the rendition of foreign citizens, torture as a means of interrogation.
Mr Diaz: The Chief Prosecutor has made it clear. He does not need American permission to move forward.
Red: He needs an American in the flesh. The court will not try anyone in absentia. So far, no country has had the courage to deliver one of your countrymen to the court until now. You’re a trendsetter, Peter. Who knew?
Director: I am the CIA Director of Clandestine Services. Do you have any idea what’s gonna happen to you? This is an act of war. My government will never let it stand.
Red: Precisely what I’m counting on.  …..

Red: Laurel, Raymond here. Here’s where we stand. In a handful of hours, this jet will land in Rotterdam, it will be met by the Dutch federal police, who will escort the Director to ‘S-Gravenhage, where the global spectacle of a high-ranking American official charged with war crimes will begin.

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/01/25/blacklist-and-the-icc/

4 Responses

  1. Response…Where did the conduct in question allegedly occur? In Venezuela? Afghanistan? Both?

  2. As I recall it was a bit ambiguous, but I think in the US, raising further jurisdictional questions!

  3. Great post.

    I think the idea is that the crimes might have occurred by the CIA in Afghanistan or Poland–both states that have ratified the Rome Statute, and where the CIA has operated in recent years.

    Also, I think the dialogue was suggesting that the case could be referred to ICC by Venezuela, which is a state party. So the US wasn’t the state doing the referring–it was Venezuela. That seems legally accurate to me.

  4. Jens, yes agreed on point 2 re: Venezuela – but referring by delivering to the ICC’s doorstep… ? I was suggesting the ICC still gets to decide whether it takes the case.

    On location of the commission of the crimes – that makes sense!

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