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German Press Review: Mzoudi's Acquittal

Most German editorialists on Friday weighed in on the acquittal of suspected 9/11 terrorist Abdelghani Mzoudi, with some contrasting the decision against American-style justice at Guantanamo Bay.

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The Neue Rhein/Neue Ruhr Zeitung in Essen reminded its readers that this maxim still applies, even in cases like that of Abdelghani Mzoudi, the former terror suspect acquitted by a Hamburg court on Thursday.

But the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger commented that no case in the history of postwar Germany has been as comprehensively botched by politics as this one. "The disaster in the courtroom in Hamburg revealed the miserable situation of the judicial system," the editors wrote. Since Sept. 11, 2001, courts in the United States, Britain and Germany have systematically been refused access to vital information. The paper likened the attempt to uncover the truth in a criminal trial to trying to complete a puzzle with important pieces missing.

The Nürnberger Zeitung also described the case against Mzoudi as a puzzle – "a puzzle of circumstantial evidence, which fell apart with his acquittal." There were good reasons for suspecting him, the paper wrote. Mzoudi was a friend of Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the attacks; he shared a house with him; and

he even went to Afghanistan to train in an al Qaeda camp. But the paper pointed out that what was missing was hard and fast evidence of Mzoudi's involvement.

Meanwhile, the Lübecker Nachrichten newspaper took both sides of the argument. "Is sharing a house with one of the hijackers reason enough to suspect Mzoudi of running his affairs" the paper asked. "But on the other hand, why would anyone go and train in a terrorist camp if they weren't planning on doing something bad?"

"The court had extensive doubts about Mzoudi’s guilt," the editors of the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich wrote. "And that," they opined, "was the fault of the American authorities. They held back evidence as they saw fit; they wouldn’t allow the main prosecution witness, Ramzi Binalshibh, to appear in court; and they wouldn’t even allow the court to see the transcription of Binalshibh’s interrogation." In short, the paper wrote, the United States behaved as if it had already found Mzoudi guilty, and the German court had only to put its seal on the verdict. The editors concluded that the court was "absolutely right" in sticking to the principles of a fair trial.

Several editorials, including that in the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung in Heidelberg, referred to the American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners are being held without charge or access to lawyers. Hamburg is not Guantanamo, the paper proudly announced. Though Mzoudi's acquittal may be "unsatisfactory and even shocking," the paper concluded, "it does highlight the difference between the American and German judicial systems."

But the Leipziger Volkszeitung warned readers not to feel too pleased with themselves. "The judges in Hamburg decided in favor of one man’s freedom and against the security of the general public," the paper's editors argued. "It’s highly likely that Mzoudi was involved in the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet the court decided that there was reasonable doubt, enough at least to acquit him." That may look like proof of fairness, the paper wrote, "but would the judgement have been the same if thousands of people had been buried beneath skyscrapers in Germany?" Luckily for Germany, the editors concluded, that is only a theoretical question.