Alleged involvement of German officials in the CIA abduction of a German citizen have been causing headaches in Berlin, but the government has promised to lay its cards on the table this week.
German government must polish up its image, tainted by the CIA affair
The German grand coalition government went on the offensive over the weekend to answer nagging questions as to whether German officials under the former Schröder government assisted the abduction and detention of a Lebanese-born German national Khaled el Masri.
Both Khaled el Masri and the German public want answers
In 2003, the CIA abducted German national Khaled el Masri in Macedonia and flew him to Afghanistan where he was detained for five months as a terror suspect and allegedly mistreated. US officials acknowledged to the German government in 2004 that the man had been mistaken for somebody else and had been wrongly detained.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who already held a ministerial post in the Schröder government, has vehemently denied German involvement in the affair. He is expected to inform the German parliament and the public about the case in great detail this coming Wednesday.
The question that el Masri himself and leading German opposition figures have been asking is whether government officials assisted the abduction and detention of el Masri in any way in a bid to improve German-US relations which had turned sour over the US-led war in Iraq. But German ministers at the weekend again denied any involvement by Berlin in the abduction masterminded by the CIA. German deputy-chancellor Franz Müntefering indicated that media reports about possible government involvement were groundless.
"What we are being confronted with is mere speculation," Müntefering said.
"If people knew what happened as they claim, calls for a parliamentary inquiry would seem even more foolish. It's party politics that are behind much of the criticism being voiced right now, with the aim of discrediting the new foreign minister. I'm calling on all sides concerned to exercise restraint and wait for the results of the forthcoming meetings in the parliamentary committees," he said.
Not our fault
German Foreign Minister Steinmeier will address the parliament on Wednesday
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says there are no signs that any mistakes were made by government members and other German officials in the el Masri case. Steinmeier has repeatedly rejected opposition calls for his resignation, maintaining that the actions of the government were based on the law.
But Steinmeier is certainly sensing a need to inform the public about what happened in 2003. The el Masri case will be debated in detail in the foreign and interior parliamentary committees before the foreign minister answers questions in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Social Democrat floor leader and former defense minister Peter Struck is confident the el Masri affair will not bring the new German government to its knees.
"There's no doubt that the German government would have violated the law, had it assisted in the abduction of a German citizen," Stuck said.
"But from what I know at present, government offices were not involved and I have no reason to believe that we'll see a different picture emerging by the end of this week," he said.
A touchstone for the new government
Wolfgang Bosbach, a leading Christian Democrat lawmaker, said that the el Mari case was clearly becoming a touchstone for the new government. He wants all the facts on the table this week to ensure that the affair does not linger on into 2006.
Meanwhile, a German daily reported on Sunday that el Masri was already under observation by German intelligence when he was abducted by the CIA. A German security official told the newspaper that Masri was not considered to be an active Islamic extremist. It is known, however that he did have contacts to another man under observation. He said the little that was known was transmitted to the Americans.