NY group uses German law to spark Abu Ghraib investigation

Legal precedent was set last Tuesday (30 November) as a New York human rights organisation filed a complaint in Germany against US officials over alleged torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a not-for-profit legal group, is using a German law granting universal jurisdiction to ask the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe to investigate the allegations of abuse.

Filed on behalf of four Iraqis who were detained at Abu Ghraib, the complaint lists 10 defendants, who are all senior officials of the US army, military police, intelligence services and government, including Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and former CIA director George Tenet.

The complaint is one of the first to be filed under the German Code of Crimes against International Law since its implementation in June 2002.

Wolfgang Kaleck, a Berlin-based sole practitioner who specialises in human rights, is acting for the CCR in Germany. He said the Federal Prosecutor’s Office now has to decide whether or not to investigate the allegations.

Kaleck said Germany was chosen because of its independent courts and because three of the defendants are stationed in the country.

Peter Weiss, vice president of the CCR, added that the case could not be brought in the US because of rules prohibiting anyone apart from the government from starting a criminal prosecution.

Weiss said: “I don’t see how they can really refuse to open a file on the three defendants who are physically present in Germany right now.”