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German Ministers Deny Involvement in CIA Affair

DW staff (tt, ncy)December 14, 2005

During Bundestag hearings on Wednesday, the German government denied any involvement in the alleged CIA abductions of suspected terrorists, but not all parliamentarians were convinced.

Chancellor Merkel with ministers Schäuble, left, and SteinmeierImage: AP

The German authorities played no role in the alleged abduction of Khaled el Masri, a German man of Lebanese descent seized in Macedonia and held for five months in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday.

"The German government, the Federal Intelligence Agency, the Federal Criminal Police Office and the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution provided no assistance in the abduction of the German citizen Masri," Steinmeier said in a speech addressing the Bundestag.

Khaled el Masri wurde von der CIA entführt
Khaled el Masri is suing the CIAImage: AP

Last week, el Masri filed a landmark lawsuit against the US Central Intelligence Agency in a US federal court, alleging that he was wrongfully abducted and abused as a prisoner. The Masri case has fuelled the controversy over the alleged secret prisons run by the CIA and prisoner flights through Europe.

Germany respects the rule of law

The German parliament was seeking to establish how much the German government knew about a suspected CIA policy of abducting and illegally transporting terror suspects across Europe.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries were questioned by lawmakers behind closed doors before the parliamentary debate.

During the debate, Schäuble confirmed for the first time that his predecessor, Otto Schily, had been informed about the kidnapping by then US Ambassador to Germany Dan Coats in summer 2004. Coats said the US had apologized to el Masri and paid him some money, according to Schäuble.

Numerous German newspapers quoted el Masri's lawyer as saying that his client had not received any payment.

Zypries said the German justice ministry first learned about the Masri case in June 2004. According to the justice ministry, the German attorney general's office later decided against an investigation, because evidence of a politically motivated crime was insufficient.

"We did everything that was needed for a process governed by the rule of law," Zypries said.

The public prosecutor's office in Munich is currently investigating the case.

More answers needed

Dr. Werner Hoyer
More information is needed, says Werner Hoyer (FDP)Image: Presse

Members of the German opposition parties were not entirely satisfied with the explanations they received on Wednesday.

"We are expecting further information and are not yet in a position to offer a conclusive evaluation of the situation," said Werner Hoyer, foreign policy spokesperson for the free-market liberal party FDP.

Both Steinmeier and Schäuble have already denied any involvement in the abduction of el Masri. Otto Schily, who was previously interior minister under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, has said that he was only informed by the US authorities of el Masri's abduction after he had been released in May 2004.

"The anonymous allegation that German agents were involved in the transfer of el Masri is revolting and irresponsible," Steinmeier told Bild newspaper over the weekend.

The opposition Greens said that if the explanations given by the government about the Masri case were insufficient, they would push for a full parliamentary inquiry.

The foreign policy committee of the German parliament is expected to continue its hearings on Thursday.

Credible allegations?

Eve Ensler Porträt
The alleged CIA abductions are threatening transatlantic relationsImage: Getty Images /G. Gershoff

The level of involvement of German authorities also came under the spotlight when lawyers acting for Murat Kurnaz, a 23-year-old German-born Turkish man, said he was questioned by Germans in the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay where he has been held for around four years.

The lawyers told Die Zeit newspaper in an interview to be published on Thursday that the Germans had questioned him about his visits to mosques in Pakistan.

El Masri also claims he was questioned by Germans while being held in Afghanistan. He said he was "hit and humiliated" during his detention and feared he would not leave the prison alive.

The Council of Europe, a 46-member rights and democracy body, on Tuesday said the allegations of secret CIA prisons were credible and that the United States appeared to have illegally abducted and detained individuals and that some European governments may have colluded.

A report by the body's special investigator concluded that "the information gathered to date reinforced the credibility of the allegations concerning the transport and temporary detention of detainees -- outside all judicial procedure -- in European countries."