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On Visit to France, Donald Rumsfeld Hit with Lawsuit for Ordering, Authorizing Torture

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The complaint was filed with the Paris prosecutor’s office as Rumsfeld arrived in France for a visit. This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture since 9/11. We speak with two attorneys with the plaintiffs: Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner and Jeanne Sulzer of the International Federation of Human Rights. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: U.S. and European human rights groups filed a lawsuit in France today charging former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with ordering and authorizing torture. The plaintiffs include the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights. They say Rumsfeld authorized interrogation techniques that led to abuses at U.S.-run prisons in Iraq and Guantánamo.

The complaint was filed with the Paris prosecutor’s office as Rumsfeld arrived in France for a visit. This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture since 9/11.

Michael Ratner is the president for the Center for Constitutional Rights. He joins me in our firehouse studio. Jeanne Sulzer is a French attorney with the International Federation of Human Rights. She joins me on the line from Paris. Welcome to both of you to Democracy Now!

JEANNE SULZER: Good morning.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jeanne, I’d like to ask you, what happened this morning in France?

JEANNE SULZER: Well, the complaint was filed yesterday before the Paris prosecutor around 5 p.m. Paris time. This morning, Rumsfeld was present at the conference where he was scheduled. So what we are awaiting now is signs from the prosecutor to know whether an investigation has been opened or not. So what we needed here in France was to make sure that Rumsfeld was actually present on the French territory, which is the case. He’s still here in Paris.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And now, was he actually served with any papers there, or what happened when he actually spoke?

JEANNE SULZER: Well, actually, the information we have is that the complaint has not been served on him. He has not been yet asked to account for the accusations in the complaint. So, as of now, again, we are waiting to see whether the prosecutor is still reviewing the complaint, and hopefully he will not wait too long, because our fears are that Rumsfeld will escape as soon as he can. So now the big issue is the pressure on the prosecutor and, of course, the higher-ups of the French authorities to take a decision on the complaint. But France has a very clear obligation to investigate and prosecute into this case under the torture convention, as Rumsfeld is present on the French territory.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But my understanding is the place that he is speaking has a direct connection to the U.S. embassy, a direct physical connection?

JEANNE SULZER: What I can tell you is that he came walking on the sidewalk this morning and went to the conference, and he never reappeared. So there are indications, it’s true, that the conference place is actually linked to the U.S. embassy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Michael Ratner, this is now the fifth case against Rumsfeld. Could you talk about some of the others and the difference between this particular one and the others that have been filed against him?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, hello, Jeanne, and congratulations. This was really a great effort by all of us, but I know you, in particular. And I’m really excited by it. I mean, the big difference here with —

JEANNE SULZER: Thank you. Fingers crossed now.

MICHAEL RATNER: What? I’m sorry, Jeanne. What?

JEANNE SULZER: I said, “Thank you. Fingers crossed now.” I hope France will take the responsibility to move on.

MICHAEL RATNER: The big difference with this case and the other cases is Rumsfeld is actually in France. And when an alleged torturer goes into a country, but particularly France, the obligation on the prosecutor to begin an investigation is much stronger than in other cases of so-called universal jurisdiction. We brought two cases in Germany; one of those is still on appeal. There’s a case in Argentina, and there’s a case in Sweden.

I think the point of all of this is to really give Rumsfeld no place to hide. And the French case, really, because he is there, is extraordinary. I mean, that he was, in my — in a sense, Juan, dumb enough to go to France, knowing that they have this kind of jurisdiction, is shocking.

And, you know, I think one of the things that people can do right now is to put pressure on the French prosecutor to make sure he opens an investigation. We’re going to have that fax number, etc., on our website, which the Center has a new website now: ccrjustice.org, ccrjustice.org, which in a couple of hours you can go to to fax materials. So this is a very, very exciting effort, and I think we’re going to really pin Rumsfeld in in this.

I have a question, Jeanne: if they somehow don’t open the prosecution and he leaves, do they still have an obligation to open the prosecution, even after he’s gone?

JEANNE SULZER: In theory, there is, because what you need is, when the complaint is being filed, that the person, the alleged person, is present on the territory, and he was when the complaint was filed. So, yes, but they could, of course, say that now that he is not present on the territory anymore, there is no jurisdiction. But, yes, they should — actually, the investigation should be opened now. If he escapes today, there is still basis for the French jurisdiction.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Michael, what does this particular case charge him with?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, he’s charged with torture. I mean, he’s charged that he basically was both directly involved in torture, which is to say he wrote memos, he set down the Rumsfeld techniques, which are all those techniques we’ve talked about at Guantánamo and other places, of chaining to the floor, stripping, hooding, dogs, etc. So he’s charged with the memos, the techniques, and actually personally involvement in torture, and particularly in Mohamed Al-Kahtani’s case, who’s currently at Guantánamo and who was tortured, as far as we understand, under his direction.

We also have in this case Janis Karpinski, who, as people may remember, was in charge of the prisons in Iraq, was willing to be a witness against Donald Rumsfeld in this case. So it’s a very strong case. This is not — the evidence here — I don’t think there’s an issue, Juan. I mean, this guy is a torturer-in-chief. And the only question is whether the French, with their heavy obligation now to either prosecute or extradite Rumsfeld to a place where he can be prosecuted or should be, will actually comply with the law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jeanne Sulzer, did his visit to France get much attention beforehand in the press there?

JEANNE SULZER: No, it was very confidential. His visit was very confidential. He was invited by Foreign Policy, the newspaper, and it was very confidential; not many people knew about it. So, apparently he did not really want to make a big thing out of his visit. Maybe he was afraid of something happening to him.

But I just want, too, to stress what Michael just said. It’s an extremely strong case. And legally, legally, there should be absolutely no obstacle for opening an investigation. France has an obligation, and the investigation should be opened, and he should be prosecuted. Now, the issue is essentially a political issue now with the French authorities.

MICHAEL RATNER: Jeanne, I have a question: were you there when he actually showed up at the conference, or were others there? And what happened in front?

JEANNE SULZER: I wasn’t there. I arrived five minutes later, but I know that he arrived alone or with just one person, walking quietly in the street, which may indicate that he did not know about the complaint, because after that he actually never really showed up again.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Michael, I’d like to ask you on another issue, the Michael Mukasey nomination — Patrick Leahy, the head of the Judiciary Committee, has said he’s going to hold up a vote on him until he adequately answers his position on whether waterboarding is torture, constitutes torture. Your assessment of what’s going on there?

MICHAEL RATNER: Right, you know, what’s going on there, as I’ve said on this program before, is the Democrats have essentially caved in. Finally, Mukasey, when he made an answer to the question of waterboarding, you know, that “Well, I’m not sure what the technique is.” And then he says, “Well, you know, I don’t really know. If it’s torture, then, yes, I’m against it,” which is, you know, a ridiculous comment. And even then, the Democrats, like Leahy, you know, then have to say, “Well, if he’s not going to say waterboarding is torture, you know, how can we really go forward?” because that’s just too embarrassing for the Democrats.

So the question is how he answers that letter. He’ll probably evade it, much like he did there, which it’s just to say, “I don’t really know how it’s being done. It’s national security,” etc., which, as I said to you when we started, that’s like saying to somebody, “Well, is crucifixion torture?” and then they’re saying, “Well, it depends on how it’s done. It’s classified. I don’t know how it’s done.” So it’s an outrageous thing, and if he’s not held up for this, Juan, you have to say — when The New York Times starts saying we have one party in the country, you realize that this sadly may be the case.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to thank you, Michael Ratner, for being with us, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Jeanne Sulzer, a French attorney with the International Federation of Human Rights, joining us on the phone from Paris.

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