Germany Faces Dilemma in Combating Asymmetric Terror Threat | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.12.2005
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Germany Faces Dilemma in Combating Asymmetric Terror Threat

In the past year, events have forced governments to adapt to an ever-changing threat in the "war on terror." Germany faces tough decisions in its own fight.


Are armed troops on the streets the way forward?

The recent scandal surrounding secret prisoner transports by the CIA in Europe has energized the domestic security debate in Germany. One of the main questions raised is what tactics and strategies should, or should not, be allowed in the global war against terrorism.

There is consensus on at least one aspect of the security debate: that the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world.

"Since 9/11 we know we are faced with a terrorism that challenges virtually every facet of the rule of law," Dirk Niebel, secretary general of the free-market liberal FDP party, summed up sentiment in Germany. "It is an asymmetric threat that has realigned the division between internal and external security, and the division between intelligence gathering and police work."

The problem is that the enemy operates in the shadows, often blending into the surroundings. So, to protect its citizens, governments have had to alter their defensive strategies. This raises a number of legal questions about what intelligence services can and cannot do. What limits are there to collecting information and how should that information be used? The debate over these issues is only just beginning.

Involvement in rendition poses human rights questions

Much of it has been triggered by revelations in the recent CIA affair. For Germany, the scandal mainly revolves around the kidnapping of German citizen Khaled el Masri in Macedonia and his subsequent rendition to Afghanistan for interrogation. Europe is aöso investigating the alleged cooperation of states in providing airspace and runways for secret CIA flights.

It has also emerged that German intelligence agents interrogated terror suspects in the United States' controversial Guantanamo prison as well as in Syrian jails that were known for torturing their inmates.

Khaled el Masri wurde von der CIA entführt

Khaled el Masri's case is at the heart of Germany's own CIA scandal

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was responsible for the intelligence services in the previous government, found himself having to clarify the German position in parliament. "The German government has always made clear that its cooperation with others is based on the rule of law. And that is especially true in the Masri case," Steinmeier said.

Green party domestic policy expert Wolfgang Wieland, however, has criticized the government for "overstepping the red line" and making use of what he called the "fruits of torture."

There is nothing in the new German government's coalition agreement about the status of incarcerated terror suspects. But the ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats has agreed to expand the Federal Criminal Office's so-called preventative authority to simplify the pursuit and prosecution of terror suspects.

Bundeswehr deployment on home soil a hot topic

But that's not enough for Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who wants to use the German armed forces for domestic activities.

Deutsche Soldaten bereiten sich auf einen Einsatz in Mazedonien vor

Schäuble wants troops on the streets for events like the World Cup

"It would be easy to imagine using the army in situations such as the World Cup soccer championships," said Schäuble recently. "If we don't have enough police, then I think, for example, they could temporarily be used to protect buildings."

Schäuble's proposal has divided the coalition. The Social Democrats have called it galling and damaging to the armed forces. Even Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung has said the army is not some kind of sheriff's deputy.

It will certainly take a lot of haggling for the coalition to reach a consensus, if it ever does. In the meantime, however, the terrorist threat will not be going away anytime soon.

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