Lawyers at a pre-trial hearing for Specialist Javal Davis asked the judge to enable them to interview Rumsfeld and Stephen Cambone, his undersecretary for intelligence, apparently to ask about the chain of command down to Davis and the six other soldiers charged with abuses at the prison outside Baghdad.
"I fail to see a connection between this group and any types of action taken in Washington," Judge Col James Pohl said, adding he remains open to a renewed request in the future.
Lawyer Paul Bergrin, representing Davis, said Rumsfeld had signed a military document in 2002 authorising severe interrogation techniques on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He said the methods, including the hooding of inmates, 20-hour interrogations and long isolation periods, were later employed on Iraqis being held in Abu Ghraib prison.
"It also includes nudity and inducing stress, and as an example it includes dogs," Bergrin told a pre-trial hearing in Mannheim, southern Germany.
He said an initialled sentence added to the document, presumably by Rumsfeld, read: "However I stand for eight to 10 hours a day, why should the stress positions be limited to four hours?"
"These are approved techniques by Donald Rumsfeld," Bergrin said. "It is impossible to believe that seven rogue MPs (military police officers) did this by coincidence."
Specialist Javal Davis is one of
seven military officers on trial
Rumsfeld has been intensely embarrassed by the scandal in which Iraqi prisoners were photographed stripped naked, piled on top of each other, cowering from dogs or with electrodes attached to parts of their bodies.
However, the judge ruled that Bergrin had not provided enough evidence of a link between the accused and Rumsfeld to warrant a subpoena.
"I'm not saying there is not a link, I'm saying at this point you have not shown me sufficient evidence," Pohl said. "If you do want to establish a factual predicate, feel free to renew the motion."
Pohl also ordered the US government to give his court an explanation by 17 September of why it had refused to grant immunity from prosecution to several officers the defence believes could exonerate Davis if they testified.
They include Col Thomas M Pappas, head of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the unit that was in control of interrogations at Abu Ghraib.