Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s jaunt to France was interrupted today by an unscheduled itinerary item — he was slapped with a criminal complaint charging him with torture.
Rumsfeld, in Paris for a discussion sponsored by the magazine Foreign Policy, was tracked down by representatives of a coalition of international human rights groups, who informed the architect of the US invasion of Iraq that they had submitted a torture suit against him in French court.
The filed documents allege that during his tenure, the former defense secretary “ordered and authorized” torture of detainees at both the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the US military’s detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The head of one of the groups responsible for bringing the charges, the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, told RAW STORY today by phone that the suit was a long time coming.
“We’ve been working on cornering Rumsfeld and getting him indicted somewhere going on three years now,” said the Center’s president, Michael Ratner. “Four days ago, we got confidential information he was going to be in France.”
Joined by activists, attorneys for the human rights groups caught up with Rumsfeld on his way to a breakfast meeting. “He was walking down the street with just one person,” said Ratner.
“Around 20 campaigners gave Rumsfeld a rowdy welcome…yelling ‘murderer,’ waving a banner and trying to push into the building,” reports AFP.
Ratner, who wasn’t personally at the scene, says his sources told him that the former defense secretary made some pre-scheduled remarks at the meeting before ducking through a door leading to the US Embassy.
According to Ratner, France has a legal responsibility under international law to prosecute Rumsfeld for torture abuses.
“If a torturer comes into your territory,” he said, “there’s an obligation to either prosecute the person or return him to a place where he will be prosecuted.”
The rights groups notably cite three memorandums signed by the defense secretary between October 2002 and April 2003 “legitimizing the use of torture” including the “hooding” of detainees, sleep deprivation and the use of dogs.
Although his group has been a part of previous attempts to bring charges against Rumsfeld, including two former tries in Germany, Ratner believes French court has the highest chance of success.
“There are Guantananamo detainees who were tortured that are living in France,” he said. “It gives French courts another reason to prosecute.”
Ratner says Europe is “getting very hot for Rumsfeld,” and suggests a French court could at least issue its version of a subpoena.
“We hope that this case will move forward,” he said, “especially as the US says it can continue to torture people.”
Other groups involved in the complaint include the International Federation of Human Rights, the French League for Human Rights and Germany’s European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
More details about the lawsuit are available at the website of the Center for Constitutional Rights.