Saturday, February 05, 2005

Rumsfeld and "command responsibility"

US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld is reconsidering whether to attend a conference in Germany. Why? Because he may face arrest on war-crimes charges over the actions of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Iraqis abused in prison and the US Center for Constitutional Rights have filed suit there, as German law claims universal jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity. It also imposes criminal responsibility not just on those who abuse and torture, but also on their superiors who induce, condone, order, or simply fail to stop such treatment.

Is there a case against Rumsfeld? There certainly is with respect to Guantanamo. Documents released under the US Freedom of Information Act show that he specified the interrogation techniques that may be used there - some of which (such as "environmental manipulation" - leaving a detainee chained to the floor in a pile of their own shit in a tin shack in the tropical sun for a day without any water, causing unconsciousness from heat exhaustion) are specifically noted as being construed as torture by other nations, and some of which (particularly isolation, which is likewise noted to breach the Geneva Convention) require his specific permission. There's also this chilling note:

If, in your view, you require additional interrogation techniques for a particular detainee, you should provide me, via the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a written request describing the proposed technique, recommended safeguards, and the rationale for applying it with an identified detainee

Depending on what was requested, any such authorisation may be an open and shut case for torture under US (let alone international) law.

Unfortunately, they're not trying to prosecute Rumsfeld for Guantanamo - but a similar document reportedly exists for Abu Ghraib, authored by Lt General Ricardo Sanchez (who is also subject to this case). And as Sanchez's political superior, Rumsfeld has "command responsibility" for his actions. The irony here - that this principle of "command responsibility" was the justification for prosecuting high ranking Nazis at the end of WWII - is inescapable. With their "universal jurisdiction" law, the Germans seem to have taken the lesson of Nuremberg to heart.