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In Search of a Terror-Free Society

German Interior Minister Otto Schily and American Attorney General John Ashcroft couldn't have more different backgrounds. But their response to the Sept. 11 attacks have been similar.


US Attorney General John Ashcroft and German Interior Minister Otto Schily after their meeting Friday in Berlin

One is a devout Christian, a deeply conservative politician whose appointment to the attorney general’s post was heavily contested by the United States Senate.

The other is a former defender of leftist terrorists, one of the original members of Germany's Green Party, who switched to the moderate Social Democratic Party and rose to become one of the most important politicians in post-Sept. 11 Germany.

United States Attorney General John Ashcroft and German Interior Minister Otto Schily couldn’t be more different. But after four hijacked airliners killed more than 5,000 people in America, they were faced with the same challenge: how to keep it from happening again.

The approach of the two, who met Friday in Berlin, has been rather similar.

In the weeks following the attacks, both reacted quickly, putting together domestic security strategies that reflected the fear and paranoia that pervaded the world after the attacks.

Schily called for a billion dollar increase in the security budget and the ban of all relgious organizations deemed to be extremists in a security package past by the German parliament at the beginning of November.

Ashcroft, and other US administration officials, pushed for the passage of the Patriot Act, a bill that gave law enforcement new authority to conduct surveillance and share information with intellgience services, among other things.

Harder the second time around

Though their initial proposals were relatively well-received, both are having a harder time with a second-wave of antiterrorism measures.

Schily’s second anti-terror package was taken apart and put together again at least once before members of his party’s coalition partner, the Greens, and the main opposition, the Christian Democratic Union, gave cautious approval. Out from Schily’s original plans was a measure that allow the Federal Office of the Protection of the Consitution free reign to initiate investigations without proof of wrongdoing. Government officials said they have enough votes to approve the package when it comes before the German parliament Friday.

Across the Atlantic, Ashcroft was going through his own firestorm.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned the attorney general on a second round of Bush administration measures. These include the detention of hundreds of foreigners since Sept. 11 and a policy change that would allow investigators to listen in on conversations between attorney’s and their clients in some cases. A chief sticking point was an executive order signed by President Bush to hold military tribunals for non-citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism.

Proposed US military tribunals criticized

Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy said the tribunals had "enormous potential for abuse." He cited the history of such wartime measures and said, "We want to get it right this time."

But Ashcroft stayed resolute, emphasizing again and again the importance of unquestioned solidarity behind President Bush. He came out hard against critics of the program, saying those who disputed the measures were “giving ammunition to America’s enemies.”

“To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our antional unity asnd minish our resolve,” he said. “They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.”

The statement was highly criticized in newspaper editorial pages the next day.

“Mr. Ashcroft has that one completely backward,” wrote the New York Times the next day. “Our country’s enemies only have to spread the word that the United States government has issued plans that ostensibly permit trying non-citizens suspected of terrorism in secret military tribunals … those accurate reports alone are enough to give pause to many of ourfriends and to stoke anti-Americanism."

But both Ashcroft and Schily are continuing on resolutely in their battle against terror on the domestic front.

On Tuesday, the US Attorney General announced the indictment of French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of conspiring with Osama bin Laden and the 19 suspected hijackers in carrying out the attack.

Schily announced the ban of the Caliphate State, a Cologne religious organization long suspected by German authorities of having an extremist agenda. The organization's leader, Metin Kaplan, will be extradited to Turkey, which has been seeking his extradition since he was convicted of incitement to murder in 1999.

The ban and deportation was sent as a "warning" to other extremist groups he said. He added that authorities already had a few other organizations under heavy observations.

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