Concern over potential prosecution for alleged war crimes has become a factor in deciding whether US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will come to Munich, but an expert said he has nothing to fear.
Rumsfeld's unlikely to face prosecution by German officials
US defense secretaries have rarely missed the Munich international security conference, an annual gathering of the world's top defense and national security officials and experts for two days of frank debate on major issues of war and peace.
But Rumsfeld has announced no plans to attend this year's meeting, which takes place Feb. 11 to 13 even though he will be attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Nice, France just before it.
Rumsfeld (left) and Horst Teltschik at the conference in 2003
Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said it remains to be determined whether Rumsfeld will attend the Munich meeting. The meeting's organizer, Horst Teltschik (photo), said last month Rumsfeld was not going.
Rumsfeld was among ten high-ranking US civilian and military officials named in a criminal complaint filed Nov. 30 with a German federal prosecutor by a US legal rights group seeking an investigation into the Americans' role in the torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq.
Under Germany's Code of Crimes Against International Law, which was introduced in 2002, German courts have universal jurisdiction in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Lawsuit "factor in the decision"
Acknowledging US concern about the German law, DiRita told AFP news service that "it's a factor in the decision" on whether Rumsfeld attends the Munich conference.
US soldier in Germany
"It's not just a question of the secretary's travel," he said. "We have many thousands of US forces stationed there, some of which are named in this brief. So it's a big, big problem."
He said the issue was being "worked on a government-wide basis.
"My impression is the German government understands the gravity of this matter, but there are some unique aspects that will take time to address," he said.
Rumsfeld visited military personnel at the Abu Ghraib Prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, in May 2004
A Berlin newspaper reported last week that the German federal prosecutor opted not to take legal action against Rumsfeld because no German citizen was a victim of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.
But the New York-based Center For Constitution Rights, which filed the initial complaint, said Friday it has filed new documents in the case, contending that Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzalez had implicated himself in war crimes in Iraq, including torture at Abu Ghraib, in his Senate confirmation testimony.
Expert: prosecution unlikely
A legal expert, however, said that even if Germany's federal prosecutor was to open an investigation, Rumsfeld was highly unlikely to face problems should he enter the country.
While international courts have only established immunity for heads of state and foreign ministers so far, Rumsfeld would also likely benefit from this as a member of the US government, said Helmut Kreicker of Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law. "Otherwise, cabinet ministers could no longer travel and that would make it impossible to conduct political negotiations," Kreicker said, adding that Rumsfeld would lose immunity upon his leaving office.