German Foreign Minister Under Pressure in Terror Inquiry | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 20.01.2007
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German Foreign Minister Under Pressure in Terror Inquiry

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier faces uncomfortable questions over his role in the scandal surrounding a German-born former Guantanamo inmate who has alleged he was abused by both German and US soldiers.

The focus is on why the German-born inmate couldn't return home from Guantanamo

The focus is on why the German-born inmate couldn't return home from Guantanamo

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung this week raised serious questions about the role played by the former German government led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the affair surrounding the detention and release of ex-Guantanamo prisoner, German-born Turk Murat Kurnaz.

Citing confidential government documents it acquired, the daily reported that the previous government delayed Kurnaz's release from the US prison camp in Cuba. It added that in 2005 the government also hoped to received further information about Kurnaz from the American side that would "strengthen the case (against Kurnaz) for his support of international terrorism."

The allegations have created pressure on German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who at the time was Gerhard Schröder's chief of staff and hence in charge of intelligence.

Does Schröder's government bear responsibility?

The newspaper reported that the German government was informed in 2002 that Kurnaz had been physically and psychologically abused in Guantanamo. It added that officials of Germany's BND Federal Intelligence Service who interrogated Kurnaz in Cuba in September 2002 had found no evidence linking him to any terrorist activity.

Murat Kurnaz vor Untersuchungsausschuß

Murat Kurnaz during his appearance before a parliamentary investigation committee this week

Faced with this information, Schröder's Social Democrat-Green Party government still tried to block Kurnaz' return to Germany after the 2005 federal elections, the paper said.

The paper's allegations were given further weight this week when Kurnaz' lawyer, Bernhard Docke, told a parliamentary inquiry in Berlin that the German Foreign Ministry only administered Kurnaz' case and wasn't proactive in freeing him.

Docke said he suspected that the government under then-Chancellor Schröder refused Kurnaz entry into Germany in the fall of 2002, when the US originally offered to release him from the prison camp.

"Until this day I see no real reason why Germany, if it had the offer from the US, didn't take it up," after both sides had established that Kurnaz wasn't a terror suspect," Docke said. "If Kurnaz would have been German, he would already have been free in fall 2002," he said.

Docke told the parliamentary inquiry that former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told Kurnaz's mother in a letter that German help was limited because Kurnaz had Turkish citizenship and the US was only negotiating with the home nations of inmates.

Foreign minister under pressure

The accusations against the former government and in particular the focus on Steinmeier's role sparked a heated debate among German politicians on Friday.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Steinmeier has some questions to answers in the Kurnaz affair

Wolfgang Neskovic of the opposition Left Party accused the previous government and Steinmeier of "merciless, inhuman cold-bloodedness" in dealing with Kurnaz. Neskovic slammed the government's attempt to block Kurnaz's return to Germany as "deeply cynical."

"I don't think Steinmeier will survive this politically," he added.

Volker Beck, head of the opposition Green Party which was a coalition partner in the previous government, said that if Steinmeier had indeed sanctioned Kurnaz spending long unnecessary years at Guantanamo Bay, the minister "could no longer credibly represent the German government's human rights and foreign policy."

Steinmeier's spokesman Jens Plötner however rejected the allegations, pointing out that the parliamentary investigation into the Kurnaz case had just begun its work and that it had still to collect much information before conclusions could be drawn from the affair.

On Friday, two German newspapers reported that the US offer to release Kurnaz in 2002 -- which was refused by Germany -- came with several conditions.

For one, the US demanded that Kurnaz be monitored round the clock in Germany so that he would take up any terrorist activity, the Bild and Stuttgarter Nachrichten reported.

Kurnaz alleges abuse at German and US hands

Apart from the previous German government's role in the affair, Kurnaz's case is also being investigated for intelligence and security lapses on the part of German authorities.

The inquiry is also investigating whether the questioning of Kurnaz in Guantanamo by German officials in Feb. 2002 was appropriate. The government at the time condemned the prison camp, yet was unprepared to question Kurnaz over indications he may have been involved in a possible Islamist terrorist cell in Bremen.

Nicht identifizierte Soldaten des Kommando Spezialkraefte (KSK) der Bundeswehr bei einer Uebung in der Graf-Zeppelin-Kaserne

Kurnaz has said he was abused by German special-forces soldiers

Kurnaz this week testified he was arrested on a trip to Pakistan in October 2001 and handed over by the authorities to the Americans who transferred him to a US prison in Kandahar, in Afghanistan. From there he was later moved to Guantanamo.

Kurnaz has alleged that two German special-forces soldiers beat him up while he was detained in Kandahar, in Afghanistan in 2002. Prosecutors in Germany are already considering filing charges against the two soldiers after Kurnaz identified them from photographers.

Kurnaz, who returned to Germany last year, has also testified he was tortured in Guantanamo Bay.

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