Rumsfeld’s War and War Crimes

The 2006 election was a referendum on America’s war in Iraq. The results displayed widespread mistrust of the Bush administration. Some of the most pro-war Republican hawks in the Senate and the Congress have been replaced by Democratic candidates that appeared to be anti-war or less pro-war. As a face saving measure, President Bush had to find the fall-guy, and so his ‘trusted’ Defense Secretary, the 74-year old neocon idealist, Donald Rumsfeld, had to be replaced with a realist – Robert Gates, former CIA Director.

The decision to ask Rumsfeld to resign was easy for the White House. After all, Rumsfeld’s resignation had been sought, since America’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, by many groups, including military officers within his own Pentagon, for not developing a ‘winning’ strategy. His policies have been dubbed variedly as being authoritarian, failed, insane, unrealistic, stupid, criminal, businesslike, quagmire and fiasco.

Always defensive and combative, Rumsfeld was tunnel-visioned in his approach to the neocon-orchestrated war against the Muslim world (which he liked to package as Islamofascism); behaving more like an old dog that did not like to learn new tricks. In spite of mounting pressure from the Congress to sack him, Bush had kept him in his job, hoping for miracles in Iraq and thus, the 2006 election. But with the humiliating defeats in both the houses, the honeymoon was over. So, the man who was the architect of the first war of the 21st century became its first big casualty.

As one of the primary architects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld will always be remembered alongside Bush and Cheney for the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that epitomized inhumanity, savagery, bigotry, perversion and sadism. He authorized the use of torture and brutal, evil and shameful treatment that violated the Geneva Conventions, and thus constitute war crimes. He refused to treat his Muslim prisoners as POWs. He put them in cage and moved them around naked. He approved interrogation techniques that included the use of dogs, removal of clothing, hooding, stress positions, isolation for up to 30 days, 20-hour per day interrogations, forcing to wear women’s underwear on head, denying bathroom access and deprivation of food, sleep and rest. He approved the use of physical coercion and sexual humiliation to extract information from prisoners. He also authorized water-boarding (which constitutes torture), where the interrogator induces the sensation of imminent death by drowning.

In the Muslim world, Rumsfeld (alongside Bush & Cheney) will long be remembered as another Hulagu Khan that killed, plundered and looted Baghdad, destroying the very city that was once the citadel of Muslim learning.

Like Robert McNamara of the Vietnam era, Rumsfeld is equally remorseless for the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis. He describes the Iraq war as a "little-understood, unfamiliar war".

As has been pointed out lately by Marjorie Cohn of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President of National Lawyers Guild, prosecuting a war of aggression isn’t Rumsfeld’s only crime. He also participated in the highest levels of decision-making that allowed the extrajudicial execution of several people. [Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib by Seymour Hersh] Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, which constitutes a war crime. To elaborate further, Marjorie Cohn writes, “Even though Rumsfeld didn’t personally carry out the torture and mistreatment of prisoners, he authorized it. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, a commander can be liable for war crimes committed by his inferiors if he knew or should have known they would be committed and did nothing to stop of prevent them. The U.S. War Crimes Act provides for prosecution of a person who commits war crimes and prescribes life imprisonment, or even the death penalty if the victim dies.” [Jurist –” Forum: Donald Rumsfeld: The War Crimes Case, Nov. ’06]

War crime is a serious matter. Many legal experts and human rights activists are of the opinion that the warlords of our world need to be tried for their crimes against humanity. A few years ago, therefore, there were cases filed in the European courts against some war criminals, including Ariel Sharon of Israel for the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon, and Jenine in the Occupied Palestine. Fearing their imminent arrest if they had stepped onto European soil, some of the Israeli generals did not disembark from their planes and returned to Israel.

Last Tuesday (11/14/06), emboldened by Rumsfeld’s resignation last week, German and American lawyers asked a German prosecutor to investigate Rumsfeld on allegations of war crimes, stemming from the treatment of prisoners held in military jails in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 220-page lawsuit, filed with the German federal prosecutor in Karlsruhe, names 11 other current and former American officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whom it claims either ordered the torture of prisoners or drafted laws that legitimated its use. The suit, filed by civil-rights legal groups on behalf of 12 detainees – 11 Iraqis and a Saudi – asserts that they were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, withholding of food, and sexual humiliation. [1] [2]

These legal experts who filed the case believe that there is a fair chance of succeeding in bringing Rumsfeld and other Pentagon brasses to justice. The problem, however, is even if Rumsfeld and Co. are to be found guilty and condemned, the USA may not allow their extradition for hearing and subsequent imprisonment. Among western countries, interestingly, the USA is the only country that has not accepted the full jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to try its own war criminals, although, rather hypocritically, she had no problem having other monsters like the late Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia or Hutu leaders of Rwanda tried under the auspices of the ICJ.

With U.S. laws protecting its government officials that are at variance with international laws, Rumsfeld’s war crimes case may eventually go to the UNSC. But there, the USA will veto such resolutions further isolating herself from the rest of the civilized world. Nonetheless, for billions of conscientious people in our planet, the suit is a much welcome event. It should be a matter of warning and deterrence for war criminals of today and tomorrow. "Even if we never put Rumsfeld on trial in a German court, he will be harassed and publicly stamped as a torturer," said Wolfgang Kaleck, a Berlin attorney who filed the complaint against Rumsfeld, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights, an American group, and other legal organizations.

During the resignation event in the White House, President Bush said in tribute: "Donald Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change. Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war." In his farewell speech, Rumsfeld was equally gracious to his boss. Addressing the president, he said: "It is not well-known, it was not well understood, it is complex for people to comprehend and I know with certainty that over time the contributions you’ve made will be recorded by history." Only time will tell whether his euphoria is rightly placed!


[1]. War Crimes Suit Prepared against Rumsfeld, sid=06/11/09/1444246; and for details.