A week after US President George W. Bush announced that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would resign, lawyers asked a German prosecutor to investigate Rumsfeld and other US officials for alleged war crimes stemming from the treatment of prisoners in military jails in Iraq and Cuba.
The lawsuit filed with the German federal prosecutor in Karlsruhe on Tuesday names 11 other current and former US officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who it claims helped craft legal reasoning legitimizing the use of torture.
The suit, filed by civil-rights legal groups on behalf of 12 detainees -- 11 Iraqis and a Saudi -- alleges they were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, withholding of food and sexual humiliation.
With lawyers all but admitting they do not expect to see Rumsfeld hauled before a German court, the suit is as much about politics as it is about law.
They hope to make an example of the man who helped engineer the war policy in Iraq, hounding him into private life with other suits if Germany does not pursue the case.
"Even if we never put Rumsfeld on trial in a German court, he will be harassed and publicly stamped as a torturer," said Wolfgang Kaleck, a Berlin lawyer who filed the complaint along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, a US group, and other organizations.
Kaleck acknowledged that Germany would be reluctant to prosecute top US officials. But he described a protracted legal procedure, during which he claimed Rumsfeld might encounter trouble traveling to Germany or other EU countries.
The lawyers picked Germany, in part, because German law has the principle of universal jurisdiction, under which courts are entitled to prosecute people for war crimes regardless of where the crimes were committed.
The Pentagon is in the process of reviewing the filing, said a spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith.
"We have no reason to believe the suit has merit," she said, noting that the allegations of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had been investigated by Congress and the courts.
The German prosecutor's office confirmed it had received the document and said it would begin reviewing it.
This is the second time lawyers have asked German prosecutors to investigate Rumsfeld in connection with accusations of war crimes. Prosecutors turned down a request in February last year, saying the case would be better handled by US prosecutors.
The lawyers contend that almost two years later, the US has done nothing to investigate the role of senior Bush administration officials in the treatment of prisoners who are suspected terrorists.