Tuesday, November 14, 2006

War Crimes Suit Filed in Germany Against Rumsfeld, Other Top U.S. Officials Over Prisoner Torture

With Amy Goodman

"Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a war crimes lawsuit today in Germany against outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other high-ranking U.S. officials, for their role in the torture of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo. We go to Berlin to speak with CCR president Michael Ratner.

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a criminal complaint in Germany today against outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The complaint requests that the German Federal Prosecutor open an investigation - and ultimately, a criminal prosecution - looking into the responsibility of high-ranking U.S. officials for authorizing war crimes in the name of the so-called "War on Terror."
Former White House Counsel and current Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and former CIA Director George Tenet, are also charged in the complaint. The suit is being brought on behalf of a dozen torture victims - 11 Iraqi citizens who were held at Abu Ghraib prison and one Guantánamo detainee. The plaintiffs claim they were victims of electric shock, severe beatings, sleep and food deprivation and sexual abuse. The complaint filed today is related to a 2004 complaint that was dismissed. This new complaint is filed under new circumstances including the recent resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. Germany"s laws on torture and war crimes permit the prosecution of suspected war criminals wherever they may be found.

AMY GOODMAN: We go first to Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, joining us now from Berlin. Democracy Now! welcomes you, Michael. Can you explain the lawsuit and the major news conference that you held today? The world, for the first time, really, picking up this story.

MICHAEL RATNER: I think that's right, Amy. This is the first time they're really picking it up. The press conference was well attended. This is news all over the world. I mean, one of the things we noticed wbout this lawsuit was the number of groups willing to join. The Center for Constitutional Rights, we have a major group of human rights organizations under the title FIDH, the International Federation of Human Rights, which has 140 branches. We have Theo Van Boven, the former rapporteur for the United Nations on torture has joined the suit, Nobel Prize winners and others. It's really -- it’s taken off. I think people are tired, really tired and angry over what the United States has perpetrated in the name of fighting the so-called war on terror.

What we did today was file a 220-page complaint -- we've been working on this for quite a while -- against 14 high-level US officials, Rumsfeld being the lead one, but, of course, General Sanchez being in there, Tenet, the former head of the CIA, and a number of the lawyers who wrote some of the so-called torture memos, particularly lawyers Yoo and Bybee. The procedure here you is file that complaint with the prosecutor, and the prosecutor then decides whether or not to begin an investigation.

As you said, we did file a case -- a similar case in 2004. The prosecutor in 2004 dismissed the case. He dismissed it really for legal reasons on the face of it, but for political reasons, as well. The legal reasons, he said, were the United States, it appeared to him, was still investigating up the chain of command and was making an effort to look into who was responsible for the war crimes and the torture that went from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib. We thought that was a wrong ruling then. We didn't think there was any evidence the US was looking up the chain of command.

But here, we're now even in a different situation that makes that excuse really irrelevant and not possible again. Two things have happened. One is, a year and a half has passed since we filed the last case, and, of course, nothing has been done to go after Donald Rumsfeld or Tenet or Sanchez or any of the other people we've named. So, that alone says a lot about what the US is doing. But as you also mentioned in your opening, that the US has also immunized these people from war crimes. In the Military Commissions Act, which was signed by the President on October 17th, he amends the statute that makes violations of the Geneva Conventions criminal. That's called the War Crimes Act. He amends it, not just going forward, but he amends it going backwards, back to 9/11/2001, essentially immunizing these officials in the United States from any prosecutions for war crimes.

So now that we're in Germany, which is really a court of last resort -- we can't go to the United States courts, we can't go to the international courts. They have no jurisdiction. You have to go to national courts. We’re in Germany, in part because it has the best law on universal jurisdiction and in part because certainly in the past, and as far as we know today, some of the perpetrators are actually at military bases in Germany. Germany can no longer say, well, the US is seriously investigating, because the US has essentially immunized these defendants."

Read The Rest Of Today's Interview Transcript

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