updated 10/31/2007 9:57:07 PM ET 2007-11-01T01:57:07

American and European rights groups filed a legal complaint in France accusing former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of responsibility for torture in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay.

The complaint was filed with the Paris prosecutor's office as Rumsfeld arrived in France for a visit, according to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and two Paris-based groups, the International Federation of Human Rights and the League of Human Rights.

Lawrence Di Rita, former Pentagon spokesman under Rumsfeld, said: "These assertions have no merit, and they have been completely dismissed when made in other jurisdictions."

"Complaints such as this have zero foundation in the truth or the facts as presented in countless investigations," he said.

The rights groups say their complaint could go forward because people suspected of torture can be prosecuted in France if they are on French soil.

The complaint will now be examined by French prosecutors, who will decide whether it is well-founded and should be pursued or whether it should be rejected. The Paris prosecutor's office said on Friday night that it was checking whether Rumsfeld is protected by any sort of diplomatic immunity and whether he was still in France.

The complaint says Rumsfeld, in his former position as defense secretary, "authorized and ordered crimes of torture to be carried out ... as well as other war crimes."

Groups aim to restrict his travel
Filed Thursday, the complaint cites various documents, including memos from Rumsfeld, internal reports and testimony from former U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski — the one-time commander of U.S. military prisons in Iraq — to bolster its claims. It asks the prosecutor to open an inquiry and take Rumsfeld into custody.

"We know that we can't get him into prison right now, but it would be great to make sure that he couldn't safely leave the U.S. anymore," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Ratner's group already filed a formal request in Germany to try to bring an investigation against Rumsfeld and other current and former Bush administration officials for either ordering, aiding or failing to prevent torture.

German federal prosecutors rejected that request in April, saying it was up to the U.S. to hold any inquiry.

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