German Troops Allegedly Posed as Journalists for Interview | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.12.2005
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German Troops Allegedly Posed as Journalists for Interview

The German ministry of defense has admitted that it is carrying out an internal inquiry into the possible extracting of information on suspected terrorists by Bundeswehr operatives posing as journalists in Bosnia.

The German ministry of defense is investigating the Bundeswehr in Bosnia

The German ministry of defense is investigating the Bundeswehr in Bosnia

The confirmation of an inquiry on Wednesday, reported in the German media on Thursday, follows allegations that German soldiers attached to the United Nations mission in Bosnia had operated outside official army regulations and interviewed members of the public under a pretence.

While stating that nothing concrete was known at this time, Bernhard Gertz, the chairperson of the German armed forces federation, told German television that it was the responsibility of the army to go everywhere and do everything it could in areas where it operates in a security role to unearth anything which could lead to "risks and dangers."

In July 2003, Anela Kobilica, the wife of Bensayah Belkacem, a prisoner being held in Guantanamo Bay, received two mysterious visitors at her home in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Two men posing as German journalists arrived to ask questions about her husband, check personal documents and take photographs of her and her daughter. However, the interview never appeared in any publication. Instead, the details of the visit turned up on the very same day in a German secret service report at a base in Bosnia.

Secret Service report i n cluded i n terview details

Deutsche Soldaten der Nato Schutztruppe in der bosnisch serbischen Stadt Celebici SFOR

The team accused of undertaking the interview usually compile info on operational areas

The report was carried out by a group within the army which undertakes investigations into the surrounding areas of an armed forces operation. The report contained detailed descriptions of Kobilica's living conditions, a table of contents showing the topics of conversation, detailed personal information, copies of documents, photos of herself and her four-year old child and letters she had received from her husband in Guantanamo.

Kobilica had no suspicions that the men were not who they claimed to be, she told reporters investigating the Bundeswehr allegations. Since her husband was arrested under suspicion of terrorist activities in October 2001, she had been interviewed by a number of foreign journalists, including those from Time magazine and The New York Times. Each time, the interviews had centered on her husband's incarceration.

Germa n "jour n alists" told of husba n d's dete n tio n by US

Guantanamo Camp Delta Eingang

Kobilica's husband was taken to Guantanamo Bay despite being acquitted by a Bosnian court

She told the Germans the very same thing that she had told other reporters: that her husband had been arrested on suspicion of being a member of the so-called Algerian Six, a cell allegedly affiliated with al Qaeda, but had been released after a campaign by Amnesty International and a ruling from the highest court in Bosnia which cited lack of evidence.

But after his release, the men were taken by US authorities in January 2002 in disregard of the court's judgment and spirited away to Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay. There the six men remain prisoners despite no charges being made publicly against them.

"I explained everything to (the Germans)," Kobilica said. "These were the first German journalists whom I had spoken to." She had hoped that the Germans would be especially objective in their reporting and would help publicize her husband's case. The behavior of the men had differed from the other reporters who had visited, she remembered.

"They were too kind for journalists, too nice and too calm," she said.

No press ID a n d n ame-checked papers de n y i n volveme n t

And in further contrast to the others, they left no calling cards. They only briefly showed Kobilica an identity card baring a photo, and when she wanted to contact her lawyer to find out if it was okay to do the interview, they convinced her that it was not necessary.

Frankfurter Rundschau für Analphabeten

The Frankfurter Rundschau and the Süddeutsche Zeitung deny sending reporters to the interview

Kobilica remembers that during the four-hour conversation, the names of two German newspapers were dropped. Yet the editorial staff at both the Süddeutsche Zeitu n g and the Fra n kfurter Ru n dschau had tasked none of their reporters with talking to her and knew nothing of the interview.

When the story first began to come to light, the ministry of defense claimed the same thing. But since a number of investigations and inquiries have been launched, the ministry has changed tack.

Saying that no position can be taken while internal investigations are on-going, a ministry spokesperson stated that while no concrete evidence has been unearthed yet, any soldiers carrying out such a procedure would have done so against official guidelines. The spokesperson would not confirm or deny the existence of any other cases of the kind.

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