Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld got an unpleasant surprise during his visit to France today when human rights groups filed a complaint with the Paris Prosecutor before the “Court of First Instance” (Tribunal de Grande Instance) charging the chief architect of President George W. Bush's "war on terror" with ordering and authorizing torture.
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) along with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the French League for Human Rights (LDH) filed the complaint while Rumsfeld was in Paris for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine, and under French law, an investigation must be opened if an alleged torturer is inside France.
“France is under the obligation to investigate and prosecute Rumsfeld’s accountability for crimes of torture in Guantanamo and Iraq," said FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen. "France has no choice but to open an investigation if an alleged torturer is on its territory. I hope that the fight against impunity will not be sacrificed in the name of politics. We call on France to refuse to be a safe haven for criminals.”
“The filing of this French case against Rumsfeld demonstrates that we will not rest until those U.S. officials involved in the torture program are brought to justice," said CCR President Michael Ratner. "Rumsfeld must understand that he has no place to hide. A torturer is an enemy of all humankind.”
The criminal complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation into the responsibility of Rumsfeld and other high-level U.S. officials for torture despite a documented paper trail and government memos implicating them in direct as well as command responsibility for torture – and because the U.S. has refused to join the International Criminal Court – it is the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case.
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, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
“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.
"That a criminal State representative should benefit from impunity is always unacceptable. Because the USA is the super power of the beginning of this century and, above all, because it is a democracy, the impunity of Donald Rumsfeld is even more insufferable than that of a Hissène Habré or a Radovan Karadzic", underlined Jean-Pierre Dubois, LDH President.
In this case, charges are 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.
French courts therefore have an obligation under the Convention against Torture to prosecute individuals responsible for acts of torture if they are present on French territory. This will be the only case filed while he is in the country, which makes the obligations to investigate and prosecute under international law extremely strong.
In addition, having resigned from his position of U.S. Secretary of Defense a year ago, Rumsfeld can no longer try to claim immunity as a head of state or government official. Nor can he claim immunity as former state official, as international law does not recognize such immunity in the case of international crimes including the crime of torture.
Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, former commander of Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, submitted written testimony to the Paris Prosecutor for the plaintiffs’ case on Rumsfeld’s responsibility for the abuse of detainees.
This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture stemming from his role in the Bush administration’s program of torture post-9/11.
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. One case was filed in fall 2004 by CCR, FIDH, and Berlin attorney Wolfgang Kaleck; that case was dismissed in February 2005 in response to official pressure from the U.S., in particular from the Pentagon.
The second case was filed in fall 2006 by the same groups as well as dozens of national and international human rights groups, Nobel Peace Prize winners and the United Nations former Special Rapporteur on Torture. The 2006 complaint was presented on behalf of 12 Iraqi citizens who had been held and abused in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and one Saudi citizen still held at Guantánamo. This case was dismissed in April 2007, and an appeal will be filed against this decision next week.
Two other cases were filed against Rumsfeld in Argentina in 2005 and in Sweden in 2007.