Tuesday, November 28, 2006
By MICHAEL RATNER
"On November 14, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the International Federation for Human Rights, Germany's Republican Attorneys' Association, and other groups and individuals filed a formal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor to open an investigation and, ultimately, a criminal prosecution of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other major U.S. officials. The complaint argues that Rumsfeld and other high-ranking civilian and military officials named as defendants in the case have committed war crimes, and in particular torture, against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. Following is an interview by the staff of Revolution with Michael Ratner, president of the CCR, who was among those in Germany on November 14 to file the complaint.
Question: Let's begin with the nature of this complaint and what it's designed to accomplish. Rumsfeld is a major focus, but the lawsuit seems to go well beyond him in its scope and intentions.
Michael Ratner: Well, European countries have a way of going after people in criminal cases that we're not familiar with in the U.S. They have a procedure where human rights groups and others, as well as the victims themselves, can go and ask a prosecutor to investigate someone for criminal liability. In the U.S., of course, you can knock on a prosecutor's door but then he shuts it in your face and it's all over. In Germany and other European countries, if the prosecutor shuts the door in your face you can go to court and the prosecutor must have a valid reason for not investigating. So that's a big difference. Germany also has a law, like some other European countries are beginning to have, that says certain crimes are subject to prosecution no matter where in the world they're committed, and even if there's no connection between that particular country and the alleged crime. And certain crimes are considered so serious and so heinous that every country is considered to have an interest in prosecuting them. One of those crimes involves violation of the Geneva Conventions. And these countries have universal jurisdiction, which means they can prosecute the person no matter where he or she committed the war crimes. Germany has very good law on that, and that's why we decided to go there to try to get an investigation of the key U.S. government officials who were involved in setting up and implementing what I call the torture program in the U.S. post-9/11.
Normally, you would stay in the U.S. to do that if you could, but of course there's now a complete block here. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is on one side as the person who would have to prosecute people criminally, but he's deeply involved himself in the torture program. And on the other side there's Rumsfeld, who has resigned but is still in office at this time and is also deeply involved in the torture program. And Congress has done nothing, with neither Republicans nor Democrats issuing a complaint about this. There's also Bush, who's insisting he wants to continue to have the right to use torture. And my view, and the view of the others who have filed this complaint, is that you must have accountability on the part of those in this country who have supported torture. We still have a torture program in place and we have to do something about it.
.... more questions and answers"