updated 11/30/2004 2:27:56 PM ET 2004-11-30T19:27:56

A group of American civil rights attorneys filed a criminal complaint in German court on Tuesday against top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, for acts of torture committed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The complaint also names former CIA director George Tenet, the former commander in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and seven other military leaders.

Attorneys from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights said they filed the complaint because they were disappointed in U.S. investigations into the Abu Ghraib abuses, and hoped the filing would prompt an investigation by German authorities.

“I expect a serious investigation by Germany and would want it to prompt the U.S. government to say: ’We’ve got to seriously investigate this ourselves,”’ attorney Michael Ratner said at a news conference in Berlin.

“This is not something we would have preferred to do,” he said. “We are left with the last resort in my view.”

Four Iraqis who say they were shocked, beaten, sexually abused and deprived of food and sleep joined the suit.

Why Germany was chosen
The attorneys said that since the United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court, they could not take their case there. They chose Germany because it has legislation allowing the prosecution of war crimes and human rights violations across national boundaries.

The abuses “were clearly authorized at the highest levels” of the chain of command, attorney Peter Weiss said. It “goes considerably beyond the question of merely inhumane treatment.”

The Abu Ghraib scandal broke last spring when photos showing U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi inmates became public, causing worldwide outrage. So far, only low-level military service members have been charged with the abuse.

An investigation headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger was independent, but was criticized because its panel was appointed by Rumsfeld. A separate investigation headed by Maj. Gen. George Fay said the Army’s top commanders in Iraq shared some blame for management failures.

The complaint was filed with the German Federal Prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe, said spokeswoman Frauke Scheuten. “We have received it and are looking into it,” she said.

Scheuten said she could not comment on whether her office was likely to investigate the complaint.

German attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, who helped file the complaint, said that it could be a long time before a decision is made whether to take up an official investigation.

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