Global Policy Forum

Rumsfeld Charged with Torture in French Court


by Haider Rizvi

October 29, 2007

Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. secretary of defense, is facing criminal charges in France for ordering the torture of prisoners in Iraq and at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Last week, some of the world's leading human rights law groups filed a complaint before a French court charging Rumsfeld with authorizing and ordering torture.

The complaint was registered at the office of the prosecutor of the Court of First Instance in Paris when Rumsfeld was in the city for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine. "We will not rest until those U.S. officials involved in torture are brought to justice," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit human rights law firm in the United States. In filing the complaint against Rumsfeld, Ratner's group received full support from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the French League for Human Rights, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). "Rumsfeld must understand that he has no place to hide," Ratner added in a statement after filing the complaint. "A torturer is an enemy of all humankind."

The charges against Rumsfeld were brought under the 1984 Convention against Torture, ratified by both the United States and France, which has been used in France in previous torture cases. The criminal complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation, it is the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case. Ratner and his colleagues in France's legal community contend that Rumsfeld and other top U.S. officials are subject to criminal trial because there is sufficient evidence to prove that they had authorized the torture of prisoners held on suspicion of involvement in terrorist acts. "France is under the obligation to investigate and prosecute Rumsfeld," said FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen. "It has no choice but to open an investigation."

Arguing that French courts are obligated under the Convention against Torture to prosecute individuals responsible for torture if they are present on French territory, Belhassen said he hoped the fight against impunity will "not be sacrificed in the name of politics." Rumsfeld's presence on French territory gives French courts jurisdiction to prosecute him for having ordered and authorized torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in Guantanamo, the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and elsewhere, lawyers who filed complaint said. Rumsfeld, who stepped down from his position a year ago, can no longer claim immunity as a high-level statesman or as a former statesman, they added, because international law does not recognize such immunity in the case of international crimes including torture.

Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who served as commander of Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, submitted written testimony to the Paris prosecutor for the plaintiffs' case detailing Rumsfeld's relationship to the abuse of detainees. "We want to combat impunity and therefore demand a judicial investigation and a criminal prosecution wherever there is jurisdiction over the torture incidents," said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture stemming from his role in the Bush administration's global response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and other parts of the United States. Two previous criminal complaints were filed in Germany under its universal jurisdiction statute, which allows Germany to prosecute serious international crimes regardless of where they occurred or the nationality of the perpetrators or victims.

The first case was filed in 2004 by CCR, FIDH, and Kaleck, who is an attorney in Berlin. That case was dismissed in February 2005 in response to official pressure from the United States, in particular from the Pentagon, the plaintiffs said. The second case was filed last fall by the same groups as well as dozens of national and international human rights groups, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and the former UN special rapporteur on torture. The 2006 complaint was presented on behalf of 12 Iraqi citizens who had been held and abused in Abu Ghraib and one Saudi citizen still held at Guantanamo. That case was dismissed in April, though an appeal is expected this week. Rumsfeld is also facing similar charges in two other cases filed against him in Argentina and Sweden.

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