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French War Crimes Complaint Against Donald Rumsfeld, et al.

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Synopsis

This is a complaint filed in France by CCR and European human rights organizations against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for ordering and authorizing torture.

Status

After the complaint was dismissed in November 2007, CCR appealed the decision to the General Prosecutor of Paris, who, on February 27, 2008, dismissed it arguing that Rumsfeld was immune for acts he accomplished while in office.

Description

On October 26, 2007, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) along with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the French League for Human Rights, filed a complaint with the Paris Prosecutor charging former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with ordering and authorizing torture. Rumsfeld was in Paris for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine, and after he learned of the complaint, left through a door connecting to the U.S. embassy to avoid journalists and human rights attorneys outside.

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.

In this case, charges are brought under the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT), ratified by both the United States and France and using the concept of universal jurisdiction.

French courts therefore have an obligation under CAT to prosecute individuals responsible for acts of torture if they are present on French territory. Rumsfeld’s presence on French territory gave French courts jurisdiction to prosecute him for having ordered and authorized torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

In addition, having resigned from his position of U.S. Secretary of Defense, 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 by CCR 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.

Two other cases were filed against Rumsfeld, one in Argentina in 2005 and the second in Sweden in 2007.

Timeline

On October 26, 2007, the complaint was filed with the Paris Prosecutor while Rumsfeld was in Paris.

On November 16, 2007, CCR was informed that the complaint had been dismissed. The decision did not question the torture allegations documented in the complaint but was instead based on the grounds of alleged immunity – despite many past and current cases that contradict any claim to immunity for a former official involved in torture.

CCR and the other groups appealed the dismissal to the General Prosecutor of Paris, who, on February 27, 2008, dismissed it on similar grounds, arguing that Rumsfeld was immune for acts he accomplished while in office. It was dismissed despite the fact that it is well-established that, after the end of a term of office, immunity from criminal jurisdiction cannot be opposed for acts of such gravity that constitute crimes under international law.