WASHINGTON – John Bolton, the hawkish US national security adviser, has threatened the International Criminal Court (ICC) with sanctions and made an excoriating attack on the institution in a speech in Washington.

Bolton pushed for sanctions over an ICC investigation into alleged American war crimes in Afghanistan. He also announced on Monday the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington because of its calls for an ICC inquiry into Israel.

“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton said.

He said the Trump administration would “fight back” and impose sanctions – even seeking to criminally prosecute ICC officials – if the court formally proceeded with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US military and intelligence staff during the war in Afghanistan, or pursued an investigation into Israel or other US allies.

In 2016, the ICC said US armed forces and the CIA might have committed war crimes by torturing detainees in Afganistan.

Established in 2002 under the Rome Statute, the ICC is the world’s first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

More than 120 countries around the world are members, but superpowers – including the United States, Russia and China – have not signed up.

On the ICC, Bolton said if any investigations go ahead on alleged American war crimes, the Trump administration will consider banning judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, put sanctions on any funds they have in the US financial system, and prosecute them in US courts.

The court “has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed outright dangerous”, he said.