Rumsfeld faces calls for criminal investigation into detainee torture

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The Independent US

The US should appoint a special prosecutor to mount a criminal investigation of the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the former head of the CIA, George Tenet, for torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and "secret locations" abroad, according to a leading US-based human rights organisation.

The US should appoint a special prosecutor to mount a criminal investigation of the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the former head of the CIA, George Tenet, for torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and "secret locations" abroad, according to a leading US-based human rights organisation.

President George Bush vowed in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal that "wrongdoers will be brought to justice". But Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that nearly a year after the publication of photographs of US soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees, only low-ranking personnel have been called to account. Only last week, a high-level US army investigation cleared four key officers overseeing operations in Iraq - including Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who was the top US commander - of responsibility for abuse, The New York Times reported yesterday.

A "wall of impunity" surrounded Mr Rumsfeld, Mr Tenet and other high-ranking civilian and military leaders, despite mounting evidence that mistreatment of prisoners resulted from their decisions to "bend, ignore, or cast rules aside".

Torture and abuse in dozens of US detention facilities worldwide, the organisation says in a 93-page report published today, "resulted in death or severe trauma" in many cases. A good number of the victims were "civilians with no connection to al-Qa'ida or terrorism". Some 100 to 150 detainees had been "rendered" by the US to regimes known to practise torture.

Detainees had "disappeared" after entering custody, had been concealed from the Red Cross and subjected to techniques such as "waterboarding", which brought them close to drowning, says HRW, but the US "has not engaged in a serious process of accountability". All but one of the seven investigations launched by the Pentagon involved the military investigating itself.

From the early days of the war in Afghanistan, the report says, there was increasing evidence that US troops were committing war crimes and acts of torture, yet for three years Mr Rumsfeld did nothing to stop such mistreatment. The Defence Secretary should be investigated under the doctrine of "command responsibility" - the legal principle that holds a superior responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates when he knew or should have known that they were being committed, but failed to take reasonable measures to stop them.

HRW says Mr Rumsfeld approved interrogation techniques which violated the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture, such as the use of guard dogs to frighten prisoners and painful "stress" positions. Gen Sanchez and Gen Geoffrey Miller, former commander of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, should also be investigated, it adds.

Since Mr Rumsfeld is in charge of the US military justice system, and the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, is implicated in the decisions that led to abuse, HRW argues, the public interest requires the appointment of a special prosecutor. It also calls on Congress to set up a special commission with full powers to investigate the issue of prisoner abuse, including reports that President Bush authorised the CIA to set up secret detention facilities and to render suspects to other countries.

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