Human rights groups seek action against US officials

Human rights organisations are building up the pressure on courts to prosecute US officials for alleged complicity in the torture of Iraqi prisoners.

On 10 March, German human rights lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck filed an appeal against the decision of the Karlsruhe Federal Prosecutor’s Office not to open an investigation into allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Officials named in the complaint include US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld.

The case was originally filed in November, on behalf of New York human rights organisation the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR). A German law granting universal jurisdiction is being used to bring the case.

But on 10 February, the federal prosecutor said that German authorities could not investigate the claims because there was no connection to German citizens or events in Germany, and that the case should be brought in the US.

The decision was made just a day before Rumsfeld was due to visit Germany.

As well as appealing to the prosecutor’s office, Kaleck has filed an appeal with the highest regional court in Karlsruhe. He told The Lawyer: “We decided to file an appeal because the case got a lot of attention in Germany. We’re very sure that the decision in February was politically motivated.”

Meanwhile, US organisations the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First have filed a civil lawsuit in Illinois against Rumsfeld. They allege that he is directly responsible for the abuse of detainees in US military custody.

The organisations have amassed a number of high-profile lawyers, including Rear Admiral John Hutson, the former Judge Advocate General of the US Navy, and Brigadier General James Cullen, the former chief judge of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, to act pro bono on the case.