Accountability for U.S. Torture: France

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

October 26, 2007

Current Status 

An action regarding the torture of French detainees at Guantánamo is pending.

Co-Counsel 

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Bourdon & Forestier, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), 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) has worked with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and French lawyers in two separate legal efforts. These actions were brought under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

THE FRENCH INVESTIGATION INTO U.S. TORTURE AT GUANTANAMO

There is an ongoing investigation in France into the torture and other serious mistreatment of three French citizens (Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali, and Khaled Ben Mustapha) who were 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.

The investigation is currently pending.

COMPLAINT AGAINST DONALD RUMSFIELD

CCR, along with ECCHR, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the French League for Human Rights, filed a 2007 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.

CCR appealed the November 2007 dismissal of the the Rumsfeld complaint to the General Prosecutor of Paris, who, on February 27, 2008, dismissed it, arguing that Rumsfeld was immune for acts he committed while in office.

Case Timeline

October 12, 2016
CCR and ECCHR submit expert report urging French magistrate to subpoena former U.S. Department of Defense General Counsel
October 12, 2016
CCR and ECCHR submit expert report urging French magistrate to subpoena former U.S. Department of Defense General Counsel
The expert report urges the investigating magistrate to subpoena William Haynes, former General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Defense
March 1, 2016
Miller disregards summons and fails to appear before court
March 1, 2016
Miller disregards summons and fails to appear before court
January 20, 2016
Court summons Miller to appear on March 1, 2016
January 20, 2016
Court summons Miller to appear on March 1, 2016
April 2, 2015

Appeals court orders lower court to summon Miller to explain his role in abuse 

April 2, 2015

Appeals court orders lower court to summon Miller to explain his role in abuse 

The investigation is still pending.

March 5, 2015

Court of appeals in Paris hears appeal by plaintiffs, requesting reversal of decision not to subpoena Miller

March 5, 2015

Court of appeals in Paris hears appeal by plaintiffs, requesting reversal of decision not to subpoena Miller

CCR and ECCHR submit materials to assist the court of appeals (Chambre de l’instruction de la Cour d’appel de Paris) in understanding Miller's role in the chain of command and key developments regarding interrogation practices at Guantánamo. 

April 2014

Investigating magistrates deny request

April 2014

Investigating magistrates deny request

The 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 expert report urging French investigating magistrate to issue subpoena for former Guantánamo commander Geoffrey Miller
February 26, 2014
CCR and ECCHR submit expert report urging French investigating magistrate to issue subpoena for former Guantánamo commander Geoffrey Miller
The open investigation is currently pending.
January 2012
Investigating magistrate, Sophie Clement, issues formal request, or “letter rogatory”, to United States regarding detention of three French citizens at Guantánamo Bay
January 2012
Investigating magistrate, Sophie Clement, issues formal request, or “letter rogatory”, to United States regarding detention of three French citizens at Guantánamo Bay
According to news reports, the French investigative judge requests access to the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay and to 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 letter urging French Minister of Justice to intervene in case against Rumsfeld
May 21, 2008
Human rights groups submit letter urging French Minister of Justice to intervene in case against Rumsfeld

The 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 appeal in case against Rumsfeld
February 27, 2008
General Prosecutor of Paris dismisses appeal in case against Rumsfeld
The prosecutor argues that Rumsfeld is immune for acts he accomplished while in office. The case is dismissed despite the fact that it is well-established that, after the end of a term of office, there can be no immunity from criminal jurisdiction for acts of such gravity that they constitute crimes under international law.
December 6, 2007
Human rights groups issue open letter to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner detailing dangerous repercussions of decision to dismiss complaint against Rumsfeld
December 6, 2007
Human rights groups issue open letter to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner detailing dangerous repercussions of decision to dismiss complaint against Rumsfeld
November 16, 2007
CCR is informed that complaint against Rumsfeld has been dismissed
November 16, 2007
CCR is informed that 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 appeal the dismissal to the General Prosecutor of Paris.
October 26, 2007
CCR, FIDH, ECCHR, and French League for Human Rights file complaint with Paris Prosecutor while former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in Paris charging him with war crimes
October 26, 2007
CCR, FIDH, ECCHR, and French League for Human Rights file complaint with Paris Prosecutor while former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in Paris charging him with war crimes
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 and former commander of Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq Janis Karpinski also submits written testimony to the Paris Prosecutor for the plaintiffs’ case on Rumsfeld’s responsibility for the abuse of detainees. Rumsfeld is in Paris for a talk sponsored by Foreign Policy magazine, and after he learns of the complaint, leaves through a door connecting to the U.S. embassy to avoid journalists and human rights attorneys outside.
June 2005

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

June 2005

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