French War Crimes Complaint Against Donald Rumsfeld, et al. Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

After the complaint against Rumsfeld was dismissed in November 2007, CCR appealed the decision to the General Prosecutor of Paris, who, on February 27, 2008, dismissed it arguing that Rumsfeld was immune for acts he accomplished while in office.  A separate action is pending regarding the torture of French detainees at Guantánamo.

Date Filed: 

October 26, 2007

Co-Counsel 

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the French League for Human Rights

Case Description 

One hundred and fifty-five countries, including France and the United States, are party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). Those countries have committed to investigating, prosecuting and punishing torturers.

To this end, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) along with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), and the French League for Human Rights, filed a complaint with the Paris Prosecutor charging former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with ordering and authorizing torture.

Rumsfeld was in Paris for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine, and after he learned of the complaint, left through a door connecting to the U.S. embassy to avoid journalists and human rights attorneys outside. 

The criminal complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation into the responsibility of Rumsfeld and other high-level U.S. officials for torture – and because the U.S. has refused to join the International Criminal Court – it is the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case. 

THE FRENCH INVESTIGATION INTO U.S. TORTURE AT GUANTANAMO

Additionally there has been an ongoing investigation in Paris, France into the torture and other serious mistreatment of three French citizens (Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali and Khaled Ben Mustapha) who had been detained at Guantánamo. The jurisdiction of the instructing judge was confirmed by the appeals court in June 2005.  In January 2012, the former investigating magistrate, Sophie Clement, issued a formal request, or “letter rogatory”, to the United States. According to news reports, the French investigative judge requested access to the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, to relevant documents as well as to all persons who had contact with the three victims during their detention there. The United States still has not replied. On February 26, 2014, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights submitted an expert report urging the French investigating magistrate to issue a subpoena for former Guantánamo commander Geoffrey Miller.  The Magistrate denied the request. On March 5, 2015, the court of appeals in Paris (Chambre de l’instruction de la Cour d’appel de Paris) heard an appeal by the plaintiffs, requesting a reversal of the decision not to subpoena Miller.  CCR and ECCHR submitted materials to the assist the court of appeals in understanding Miller's role in the chain of command and key developments regarding interrogation practices at Guantánamo. On April 2, 2015, the appeals court ordered the lower court to summon Miller to explain his role in the abuse. 

The investigation is currently pending.

Case Timeline

The appeals court orders the lower court to summon Miller to explain his role in the abuse 

The appeals court orders the lower court to summon Miller to explain his role in the abuse 

The investigation is still pending

March 5, 2015

Court of appeals in Paris (Chambre de l’instruction de la Cour d’appel de Paris) hear an appeal by the plaintiffs, requesting a reversal of the decision not to subpoena Miller

March 5, 2015

Court of appeals in Paris (Chambre de l’instruction de la Cour d’appel de Paris) hear an appeal by the plaintiffs, requesting a reversal of the decision not to subpoena Miller

CCR and ECCHR submit materials to assist the court of appeals in understanding Miller's role in the chain of command and key developments regarding interrogation practices at Guantánamo. 

April 2014

The investigating magistrates deny the request

April 2014

The investigating magistrates deny the request

Magistrates express concerns about the lack of cooperation from the United States in the investigation, noting Miller's position as a former U.S. official. 

February 26, 2014
CCR and ECCHR submit an expert report urging the French investigating magistrate to issue a subpoena for former Guantánamo commander Geoffrey Miller
February 26, 2014
CCR and ECCHR submit an expert report urging the French investigating magistrate to issue a subpoena for former Guantánamo commander Geoffrey Miller
The open investigation is currently pending.
January 2012
Investigating magistrate, Sophie Clement, issues a formal request, or “letter rogatory”, to the United States regarding the detention of the three French citizens in Guantánamo Bay
January 2012
Investigating magistrate, Sophie Clement, issues a formal request, or “letter rogatory”, to the United States regarding the detention of the three French citizens in Guantánamo Bay
According to news reports, the French investigative judge requests access to the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, relevant documents, as well as to all persons who had contact with the three victims during their detention there.
May 21, 2008
Human rights groups submit a letter urging the French Minister of Justice to intervene in the case against Rumsfeld
May 21, 2008
Human rights groups submit a letter urging the French Minister of Justice to intervene in the case against Rumsfeld
Letter urges the intervention to correct the position taken by the Paris and Public Prosecutors in their attempt to grant former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld immunity from prosecution for ordering torture. It is the Minister of Justice’s duty to reaffirm France’s long-standing position that former officials should never be exempted from criminal liability for international crimes, such as torture.
February 27, 2008
General Prosecutor of Paris dismisses the appeal in the case against Rumsfeld
February 27, 2008
General Prosecutor of Paris dismisses the appeal in the case against Rumsfeld
Prosecutor argues that Rumsfeld is immune for acts he accomplished while in office. It is dismissed despite the fact that it is well-established that, after the end of a term of office, immunity from criminal jurisdiction cannot be opposed for acts of such gravity that constitute crimes under international law.
December 6, 2007
Human rights groups issue an open letter to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner detailing dangerous repercussions of a decision to dismiss the complaint against Rumsfeld
December 6, 2007
Human rights groups issue an open letter to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner detailing dangerous repercussions of a decision to dismiss the complaint against Rumsfeld
November 16, 2007
CCR is informed that the complaint against Rumsfeld has been dismissed
November 16, 2007
CCR is informed that the complaint against Rumsfeld has been dismissed
The decision does not question the torture allegations documented in the complaint but is instead based on the grounds of alleged immunity – despite many past and current cases that contradict any claim to immunity for a former official involved in torture. CCR and the other groups appealed the dismissal to the General Prosecutor of Paris.
October 26, 2007
CCR, FIDH, and ECCHR, and the French League for Human Rights, file a complaint with the Paris Prosecutor charging former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with war crimes while he is in Paris
October 26, 2007
CCR, FIDH, and ECCHR, and the French League for Human Rights, file a complaint with the Paris Prosecutor charging former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with war crimes while he is in Paris
The criminal complaint states that because of the failure of authorities in the United States and Iraq to launch any independent investigation into the responsibility of Rumsfeld and other high-level U.S. officials for torture despite a documented paper trail and government memos implicating them in direct as well as command responsibility for torture – and because the U.S. has refused to join the International Criminal Court – it is the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case. Former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, former commander of Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, also submits written testimony to the Paris Prosecutor for the plaintiffs’ case on Rumsfeld’s responsibility for the abuse of detainees. Rumsfeld was in Paris for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine, and after he learned of the complaint, left through a door connecting to the U.S. embassy to avoid journalists and human rights attorneys outside.
June 2005

French appeals court confirms an investigating judge's jurisdiction over an ongoing investigation in Paris, France into the torture and other serious mistreatment of three French citizens who had been detained at Guantánamo

June 2005

French appeals court confirms an investigating judge's jurisdiction over an ongoing investigation in Paris, France into the torture and other serious mistreatment of three French citizens who had been detained at Guantánamo