Germany urged to prosecute Rumsfeld for war crimes

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Human rights activists are trying to persuade German prosecutors to open a war crimes investigation against the outgoing US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over his alleged role in abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In a 220-page document lodged with Germany's federal prosecutor's office, the US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) alleges that Mr Rumsfeld and 11 other high-ranking US intelligence and military figures either ordered, aided or failed to prevent war crimes at both places.

The plaintiffs, acting on behalf of 12 alleged torture victims, were making use of a German law which allows the pursuit of war crimes cases anywhere in the world, although a similar attempt to bring charges against Mr Rumsfeld in 2004 was rejected by German prosecutors.

Michael Ratner, the president of the CCR, said he believed the case had a better chance now because Mr Rumsfeld was leaving office and could no longer claim immunity or exert any "political pressure".

"One of our goals has been to say a torturer is someone who cannot be given a safe haven," he said. "It sends a strong message that this is not acceptable."

The evidence against Mr Rumsfeld and the others is based on statements by 11 Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib and Mohamad al-Qahtani, a Saudi national held at Guantanamo Bay who the US claims to have identified as a would-be participant in the September 11 attacks. Mr Rumsfeld is accused of personally approving the abuse of Mr Qahtani after he failed to crack under routine interrogation. The Pentagon has insisted that he was not tortured.

Ten US soldiers have been found guilty of abuses at Abu Ghraib. The Bush administration maintains that they were acting without official sanction. The former US Army brigadier Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of US prisons in Iraq when several prisoners were abused at Abu Ghraib, has agreed to appear as a witness for the plaintiffs.