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Preventing Terror Attacks

DW staff (th)July 9, 2007

Germany's interior minister wants the right to detain terrorists before they launch an attack and has suggested there may be cases in which terrorists should be killed. The comments have been criticized as undemocratic.

Schäuble wants tougher laws to fight terroristsImage: AP

Wolfgang Schäuble of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is the government's most vocal advocate of taking strong measures to prevent and punish terrorism. Over the weekend, he called on developing new laws to fight terrorism, such as allowing preemptive detention.

Germany could benefit from a law that jails suspected terrorists before they launch an attack, Schäuble said. The United States already has similar laws which allow a suspect to be arrested for conspiring to commit a crime.

"Another question is whether one can treat such dangerous people as combatants and intern them," Schäuble said in an interview published Monday in the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Silke Stokar, a spokeswoman for the Green party, said Stäuble was trying to lay the legal groundwork for starting a Guantanamo-style prison in Germany.

After the attempted terrorist attacks in Great Britain, Schäuble renewed calls for legislation which would allow computers of suspects to be monitored without their knowledge. He also called for increased video surveillance in public places and for suspects to be prohibited from using mobile phones.

Preventative measures?

Großbritannien Terror Polizei in London
Britain's terror attacks have raised concerns in GermanyImage: AP

Schäuble defended his controversial proposals by saying he is trying to prevent a terrorist attack.

"You must take risks to defend liberty, but you can't just sit back and do nothing, either," Schäuble said on a German television program Sunday.

Social Democrats, who are part of the ruling "grand coalition" along with Schäuble's CDU, rejected the suggestion.

"We mustn't kill liberty in an effort to defend it," said Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Kurt Beck.

"One cannot defend the rule of law from terrorism by weakening the principles of the rule of law," said Sebastian Edathy, a senior SPD member.

Police call suggestion a "diversion"

Vorbereitung in Stralsund vor dem Besuch von Georg W. Bush
Police say the're understaffed in terrorism fightImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The German police union also offered a sharp critique of the suggestion, calling it "a political diversion strategy."

Schäuble is engaging in "pure party politics" instead of offering solutions to fight terrorism, police union head Konrad Freiberg said Monday. Germany's current laws are strict enough, the problem is a lack of manpower and financial resources to implement them, Freiberg said. There aren't enough police, for example, to watch suspected terrorists around the clock.

"It's scandalous and irresponsible," Freiberg said.

Killing terrorists

Schäuble also angered other politicians by suggesting there were scenarios in which it was appropriate for terrorist suspects to be killed. Schäuble called for a clarification of laws over when this was appropriate. He used Osama bin Laden as an example. In the United States, if the terrorist's hiding place was discovered, it would be appropriate to bomb it and kill him, Schäuble said. But in Germany, the legality would be unclear.

"The Americans would execute him and most of the people would say, 'thank God,'" Schäuble said.

Max Stadler, an interior affairs expert for the opposition FDP party, said he was irritated that Schäuble had launched a debate about the killing of suspected terrorists.

"I don't know why he instigated this discussion," Stadler said. "There is a prohibition against killing in Germany."