Rumsfeld can run, but he can't hide

Recently, when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was visiting Paris for a foreign policy talk, the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and several European counterparts filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor, charging Rumsfeld with authorizing torture. (They had previously brought similar charges against Rumsfeld in Germany, and that situation is pending.)

The criminal complaint brings charges under the 1984 Convention Against Torture, ratified into law by both the United States and France. A U.N. report on Guantanamo found that interrogation techniques authorized by Rumsfeld constitute torture. The evidentiary paper trail is overwhelming, and the law is the law. (For a discussion of the law and its long-term implications, see "A Primer on the Law of Torture," in The Lakeville Journal, Nov. 8, 2007.)

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Under the convention, French courts have an obligation to prosecute individuals for direct or command responsibility for torture, if such individuals are present on French territory. French jurisdiction is mandated by the very fact that the U.S. courts have failed to act, and even more explicitly, because President George W. Bush (himself a potential future defendant) has attempted to grant permanent immunity to all U.S. officials who have been engaged in torture in the past.

This adds France to Germany and a growing list of countries to which Rumsfeld can no longer safely travel. As a practical and diplomatic matter, foreign courts are unlikely to act while a U.S. official is still in office and visiting the country in line with official functions. After an official such as Rumsfeld is out of office, however, it's a different story, and there are no time limits on national or international prosecution for violation of the law against torture.

In Paris, Rumsfeld was forced to leave the foreign policy meeting by a side door connected to the U.S. Embassy in order to avoid journalists and human rights attorneys waiting outside. Said CCR President Michael Ratner: "Rumsfeld must understand that he has no place to hide."

The Rumsfeld case, of course, is just the beginning, the tip of a looming iceberg. There is going to be quite a list of out-of-office U.S. officials, at every level of responsibility, who are going to curtail their future travel plans abroad. And who knows, they might some day face U.S. justice at home.


Sharon resident Anthony Piel is a former director and legal counsel of the World Health Organization.

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