U.S. civil rights activists filed a suit in Germany on Tuesday asking prosecutors in that country to investigate outgoing U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials for alleged war crimes againstmilitary prisoners.

In a 220-page document, the activists ask German prosecutors to set upaninvestigation under a German law that allows prosecution of war crimes regardless of where they are committed.

The suit, filed by American and German lawyers, alleges that Rumsfeld and othersordered and condoned the torture ofprisoners at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

In addition to Rumsfeld, the suit names Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet, former commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and eight others. It alleges they all had a hand in ordering, aiding or failing to prevent war crimes.

Janis Karpiniski, a former U.S. commander of all military prisons in Iraq, has agreed to be a witness should the lawsuit proceed, saying she has first-hand knowledge that senior officers condoned the torture of prisoners.

"The commander of all coalition forces in Iraq in 2003 put his signature on an eight-page memorandum authorizing literally a laundry list of interrogation techniques. He never shared that memorandum with me," she said.

"In fact, when he testified before the U.S. Senate armed services committee, he denied having any knowledge until he was presented with the document with his signature."

Michael Ratner, president of New York's Center for Constitutional Rights, which launched the suit, said the group is trying to send a message that torture is not acceptable.

"One of the goals has been to say a torturer is someone who cannot be given a safe haven," Ratner said.

12 alleged victims

The suit was filed on behalf of 12alleged victims of torture, 11 Iraqis and one Saudi. The Iraqis were held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, while the Saudi was held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay. The Saudi, identified in the suit asMuhammad al-Qahtani, is said to have been a militant with links to those involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Al-Qahtani was arrested in December 2001 near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He would not confess to anything when subjected to questioning. But according to testimony given to Congress in 2005, Rumsfeld agreed that U.S. authorities could use other methods.

After the FBI expressed concerns, U.S. military investigators reviewedal-Qahtani's case and confirmed that he was forced to put on a bra, dance with another man, appear naked in front of women and act like a dog. But according to the Pentagon, "no torture occurred" in his case.

German prosecutors decided not to investigate when asked to do so in a similar but more limitedsuit in 2004, but lawyers involved in this suit said they think it may work this time because of the testimony given to Congress and Rumsfeld's resignation last week. Rumsfeld has announced that he will step down as defence secretary when theSenate confirms his replacement.

Ratner said the group could not file a case with the International Criminal Court because the U.S. does not belong and it cannot appeal to the UN because the U.S., as a member of UN Security Council, would have the ability to veto investigation of such a case.

With files from the Associated Press