German Suit Accuses U.S. of Condoning Iraq Torture

By Jeffrey Fleishman

Los Angeles Times

December 1, 2004

BERLIN — An American civil rights group filed a criminal complaint in Germany on Tuesday alleging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials condoned torture and human rights violations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and four former Iraqi prisoners filed a 170-page brief asking the German federal prosecutor to investigate Bush administration officials and senior military officers for war crimes and other offenses. Germany has a progressive law that allows its judicial officials to probe human rights abuses around the world.

"It's time to have a serious investigation of what they [U.S. officials] did," Michael Ratner, a lawyer and president of the center, said at a news conference in Berlin. He added that filing the complaint in Germany was a "last resort" because U.S. investigations and congressional committees had failed to hold the administration accountable for encouraging an environment for abuse.

The complaint, filed at the federal prosecutor's headquarters in the city of Karlsruhe, details the alleged mistreatment of four Iraqis by American soldiers and intelligence services. The men say they were beaten, given electric shocks, threatened with dogs and doused with cold water.

One of the former prisoners, Ahmed Shehab Ahmed, said soldiers injected his "genitalia with unknown drugs."

When asked why he was being tortured, another former detainee, Ali Shallal Abbas Uweissi, said an American woman told him "we have orders to treat you very badly in any way to force you to confess," according to the complaint.

Officials charged in the affidavit include Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George J. Tenet, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was in charge of U.S. forces during the alleged violations, and six other military officers stationed in Iraq.

Memos and policy articulated by Rumsfeld and Tenet led to widespread and systematic abuses as the administration ignored the Geneva Convention and "redefined torture and redefined the laws of war," said Peter Weiss, vice president of the constitutional center. "Authorization was given from the highest level."

A U.S. investigation headed earlier this year by former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger found that only prison guards and interrogators were "directly responsible" for violations. But it blamed senior Defense Department officials, including Rumsfeld, for poor leadership and failure to set parameters on interrogation techniques.

In Washington, the Pentagon denied that the abuses at Abu Ghraib reflected U.S. policy.

"The Department of Defense takes all allegations of detainee abuse very seriously. In fact, a number of comprehensive inquiries have been conducted to thoroughly explore this issue," a Pentagon spokesperson said. "Thus far, there have been eight major inquiries based on more than 950 interviews and 15,000 pages of information. Three more reports still remain to be completed.

"Results show the actions depicted in the Abu Ghraib abuse photos were not the result of U.S. policy," the spokesperson said.

The complaint filed Tuesday is a novel legal maneuver. In 2002, Germany upgraded its code of crimes for international law. The move gave German prosecutors "universal jurisdiction" to investigate war crimes and human rights violations no matter where they occurred or where the alleged perpetrators live.

The law, however, is limited. It can take years to investigate a complaint, and prosecutors cannot compel the accused to travel to Germany to be questioned or tried.

Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm's office said Tuesday that it had received the complaint and was "looking into it." The legal action comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-German relations. Berlin and Washington are attempting to move beyond the strained atmosphere stemming from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's opposition to the Iraq war. A move by Nehm's office to aggressively pursue the criminal complaint could lead to further rancor.

The complaint also arrives as Germans deal with their own abuse scandal: The German military acknowledged last month that recruits were sometimes given electric shocks as part of their training. This followed the disclosure that a teacher at an officers training academy condoned "torture, or the threat of torture, as legitimate" in the fight against terrorism.

Ratner, the center's president, said he hoped the complaint against administration officials would lead to an independent U.S. commission to investigate torture claims in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.