I just realized. I may hold the odd distinction of writing the only Star Trek story to name-check Donald Rumsfeld. But what might that have to do with anything?
Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld may be facing a new challenge in the weeks and months ahead: war crimes prosecution.
Charges will be filed in Germany next week “seek[ing] a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” Why Germany? Why Rumsfeld? Why now?
Germany was chosen for the court filing because German law provides “universal jurisdiction” allowing for the prosecution of war crimes and related offenses that take place anywhere in the world. Indeed, a similar, but narrower, legal action was brought in Germany in 2004, which also sought the prosecution of Rumsfeld. The case provoked an angry response from Pentagon, and Rumsfeld himself was reportedly upset. Rumsfeld’s spokesman at the time, Lawrence DiRita, called the case a “a big, big problem.” U.S. officials made clear the case could adversely impact U.S.-Germany relations, and Rumsfeld indicated he would not attend a major security conference in Munich, where he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, unless Germany disposed of the case. The day before the conference, a German prosecutor announced he would not pursue the matter, saying there was no indication that U.S. authorities and courts would not deal with allegations in the complaint.
In bringing the new case, however, the plaintiffs argue that circumstances have changed in two important ways. Rumsfeld’s resignation, they say, means that the former Defense Secretary will lose the legal immunity usually accorded high government officials. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that the German prosecutor’s reasoning for rejecting the previous case — that U.S. authorities were dealing with the issue — has been proven wrong.
The Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners aren’t just legal niceties. Nations play fair by the conventions of war because nations want their own soldiers treated fairly when taken prisoner in times of war. Abusing prisoners in American custody might encourage other nations to abuse American prisoners.
Prosecuting Rumsfeld for war crimes makes sense. Someone needs to be held accountable. The abuses happened on Rumsfeld’s watch. Thanks to recent legislation signed into law, abuses will continue to happen. Even if Rumsfeld is only tried on the charges, that could be enough to force the United States government to reconsider its position. After all, if Rumsfeld is open to charges of crimes against humanity, wouldn’t Bush and Cheney also be open to the same prosecution on the international stage?
This is a wake-up call. Is the White House listening?