Science - November 30, 2006

‘It looks like a publicity stunt’

When the American Minister of Defence Donald Rumsfeld handed in his resignation after the Republican defeat in the midterm elections, American human rights lawyers set about bringing him to trial in Germany. No longer protected by diplomatic immunity, he can now be tried for his role in the torture of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. ‘It looks like a publicity stunt to me,’ is the reaction of Frederike Kürschner from Germany.

Frederike Kürschner
Frederike, a third-year bachelor’s student in Nutrition and Health comments, ‘I don’t think he’ll ever come to trial.’ The American human rights lawyers are trying to get the case to go through in Germany because they say that neither in Iraq nor in the United States have any high-ranking officers or politicians been punished for abuse of detainees in the prison. Germany has had an International Criminal Law Code since 2002, which makes it mandatory to prosecute for war crimes committed anywhere in the world, as it is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. This means that Germany can bring non-Germans to trial for war crimes committed elsewhere.

The news of the attempt to put Rumsfeld in the dock surprised Frederike. ‘To start with I was not aware that this was possible in our country. At least, I can’t say I noticed the changes in 2002. Nevertheless I think it’s good that Germany has legislation which makes it possible to try people for war crimes committed abroad. In the United States they would never even consider bringing someone like Rumsfeld to trial. They just don’t want to face facts.’ Frederike thinks it’s a good thing because dictatorships lack the legal apparatus needed to bring war criminals to trial.

She adds that the German legislation is above all symbolic. ‘The First and Second World Wars were perhaps the blackest periods in the history of Germany. For us it is very important that the same mistakes are not repeated. Preventing war is a far bigger issue than in other countries. For this reason I think it is very good that Germany has spoken out against the war in Iraq.’

‘I don’t spend much time in Germany any more, but I follow the news on television and through the internet.’ The war against terrorism is a theme that gets a lot of attention. ‘Therefore I find it difficult to explain why there has been so little media interest in the Rumsfeld case. Very strange. Maybe it’s because most people realise that he’s unlikely to be brought to trial. A previous attempt in 2004 was dismissed.’

As far as Frederike is concerned, the United States will never hand over Donald Rumsfeld. ‘It looks like the attempt to bring him to trial is a publicity stunt against the war in Iraq.’ Frederike hopes so, because if Rumsfeld were tried and found guilty it would lead to a real worsening in the relations between Germany and the United States. ‘And they are bad enough since Germany has declared itself so openly against the war in Iraq.’