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‘Last Resortâ€TM Attempted to Charge Rumsfeld, Others for War Crimes

by Michelle Chen

Nov. 15, 2006 – On Tuesday, human-rights groups appealed to the international arena to hold the architects of the so-called "war on terror" accountable for alleged crimes against humanity.

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The US-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Berlin-based Republican Attorneys' Association and other rights groups filed a complaint on Tuesday in Germany charging outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and other Bush administration officials with systematic torture and abuse of detainees held in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The allegations draw largely on witness accounts and internal government documents.

The plaintiffs include eleven Iraqi citizens who allege that US authorities subjected them to brutal and humiliating treatment at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. Another plaintiff is Mohammed al Qahtani, a Saudi national detained at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, where he has reported enduring routine psychological and physical abuse. The complaint charges Rumsfeld with explicitly authorizing Qahtani’s mistreatment, citing a December 2002 memorandum on interrogation tactics signed by the Secretary.

The US government has not formally responded to the charges.

The complaint invokes Germany’s "universal jurisdiction" law, which allows German courts to prosecute war crimes committed anywhere in the world. CCR filed a similar case in 2004, but Germany’s federal prosecutor dismissed the case last year amid diplomatic friction with the US government.

At a press conference on Tuesday, human-rights attorneys pointed out that the current complaint contains fresh evidence, including newly released government memorandums showing high-level official endorsement of extreme interrogation methods.

Berlin-based attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, CCR President Michael Ratner, and others working on the case said they hoped to push Germany to launch an investigation and place the United States government under international scrutiny. But they acknowledged it is uncertain whether the new case will move forward, and to what extent, if any, US officials would submit to an investigation.

In a statement summarizing the case, CCR called the international effort "a last resort to obtain justice" for the victims. The group noted that US officials enjoy immunity from prosecution by the Iraqi government – the result of a law passed by Iraq’s US-controlled provisional government in 2004.

Meanwhile, domestic courts have been stifled under the recently enacted Military Commissions Act, which blocks detainees’ access to US courts, narrows the scope of the federal War Crimes Act, and provides retroactive immunity for various types of past abuses.

CCR attorney Wells Dixon said another obstacle to accountability is the Bush administration’s control over the very mechanisms designed to check executive power.

"[I]t is certain that the United States would refuse to prosecute Donald Rumsfeld or the other defendants for war crimes," he told The NewStandard. "This is especially true given that many of the defendants – like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales – are still in power and control prosecutorial authorities."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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