German army recruits subjected to abuse during an unauthorized training exercise have detailed their ordeal in the newspaper Bild. They kept quiet until now as they didn't want to be called weaklings, one recruit said.
Bundeswehr recruits during a normal training exercise
In Bild's Thursday edition, several Bundeswehr recruits confirmed allegations that they were abused by training officers who carried out staged hostage-takings at a base in Coesfeld, western Germany.
"We were doing a night march when suddenly, we were grabbed by masked men who pulled sacks over our heads and bound our limbs. We had no chance to defend ourselves," said a soldier identified as Sven G.
Each of the recruits were then individually brought to a basement for an "interrogation." Another soldier, Lars K. described what happened.
"It was so humiliating"
"We all had to kneel down and wait. Some lay down, they couldn't get up because of how they were tied. Then every one of us was led away and interrogated. They screamed at us. If we didn't answer correctly, they screamed all the more. Some of us were sprayed with water, others were struck on the neck. It was so humiliating," he said.
Lars K. also confirmed reports that the officers involved in the unauthorized training exercised used electrical shocks on the recruits.
"They held a cable to the neck of one of the soldiers and gave him electrical shocks. They pushed him down and he cried out."
Finally, one of the soldiers involved called out the code word "Tiffy," ending the ordeal. Before that, said one recruit, no one said anything because "no one wanted to be labelled a coward or a weakling."
State prosecutors are investigating 21 army officers in connection with the abuse scandal, which is estimated to have affected as many as 80 recruits.
Hostage training gone wrong?
Defense Minister Peter Struck
Defense Minister Peter Struck (photo) has ordered an investigation into whether the abuse was an indirect consequence of changes to the Bundeswehr's guidelines for foreign assignments.
According to one army general, hostage role-play situations are standard practice when preparing for missions abroad.
"The topic is indispensable for our mission training," General Alois Bach told the Sächsische Zeitung, adding that such training should only be carried out by specially trained staff.