Rumsfeld: Off the Hook

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has gotten away with committing war crimes. It's time to bring him to justice.

“You want to feel important and powerful and dominant and in control of things? Fine, kill somebody, and while you’re at it, kill a lot of people ...”

The comments by criminologist Jack Levin were aimed at a 19-year-old who gunned down eight people in a mall in Omaha, Nebraska last December, but they reflect the culture of violence that affects all levels of our society. The highest example of this is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: four years after the sadistic torture techniques of the US army surfaced in the photos of naked, hooded men in the Abu Ghraib prison, the man who orchestrated it all – Rumsfeld – remains “powerful and in control.” So far, five lawsuits claiming torture and human rights abuses have been filed against him by human rights groups, and all five have been dismissed. The latest decision by a French judge to drop the case against Rumsfeld was a heavy blow to activist groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), both of which had worked to file a lawsuit against him during his visit to Paris last October.

“It’s a license to kill; it’s essentially a license to torture,” says Michael Ratner, president of CCR and a distinguished New York attorney. “You can get away with murder, torture, and never bear any responsibility in the US – I expected that in the US, but I didn’t expect it in Europe.”

Ratner says he plans to make the world a “very small place” for Rumsfeld by filing lawsuits against him around the world, with new cases being filed in Spain and Argentina. His hope is to restrict Rumsfeld’s travel, much like what happened with Henry Kissinger, who has been prosecuted in France, Brazil, Chile, Spain and Argentina for war crimes perpetrated during his role as US Secretary of State in the ’70s. In addition to the kidnapping and killing of Chilean officer René Schneider in 1970, Kissinger is seen as the mastermind behind bloody coups d’état in Chile and Argentina, while his policies are said to have led to the deaths of millions in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Yet, like Kissenger, a few canceled plane tickets may be the heaviest price that Rumsfeld will ever have to pay for destroying the lives of millions of Iraqi civilians and for torturing detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. With the absence of public debate on torture, Rumsfeld has enjoyed total immunity for his crimes, and continues to work as a Distinguished Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute.

So long as men like Rumsfeld are allowed to walk free, we are sending a dangerous message to our next generation: if you want to become an important person, kill someone, and while you’re at it, kill a lot of people. The violation will be treated with astonishing clemency; the victims’ names will be forgotten within a year, maybe two, while yours will be forever etched into memory.