While investigations into alleged spying on German journalists continue, the Federal Intelligence Service has now been accused of interrogating a German national in a Syrian jail for torture.
Under pressure for allegedly spying on journalists, the BND now faces a new scandal
The on-going scandal involving members of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the alleged shadowing and surveillance of journalists took another turn Monday when the parliamentary commission in charge of overseeing security operations publicly rebuked the BND.
The BND was accused of exceeding its powers by carrying out surveillance on reporters to identify their sources. Volker Neumann, the chairman of the Bundestag's secret service committee, told reporters that the German government must do everything in its power to prevent such incidents.
"The government must publicly explain the details (of such cases) when it doesn't betray secrets or endanger people," said committee member Hans-Christian Ströbele.
BND chief Hanning suggests more recent spying may have taken place
The cases currently under observation by the committee date back to the early 1990s, but it was revealed earlier this month by BND chief August Hanning that more current examples of journalists coming under observation could not be ruled out. Hanning admitted that there was a possibility that reporters may have more recently been put under surveillance to identify "disloyal staff" behind leaks of sensitive information.
Secret questio n i n g?
The embarrassment of the public parliamentary criticism was exacerbated by an article published in the German news magazine Der Spiegel which reported BND agents had secretly questioned a German national in a Syrian jail for torture.
Zammar is allegedly being held at the Far-Filastin prison in Damscus
The report states that BND and federal police officers traveled to Syria in November 2002 to question Mohammed Haydar Zammar in the Far-Filastin prison in Damascus.
Zammar, a German citizen and associate of the Hamburg terror cell that led the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, was captured by the CIA in Morocco in 2001. The report suggests that he was interrogated by the German agents over a period of three days after Syrian authorities had broken down his resistance.
It is alleged that the BND was granted access to Zammar after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's office agreed to back down over the prosecution of two Syrian-born spies. A group that included Syrian President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat secretly visited Berlin in July 2002 to arrange the deal.
Zammar family lawyer Gül Pinar is quoted in the report as saying that the German authorities had repeatedly told her and the suspect's relatives that they had no idea where Zammar was being held and that they had no way of contacting him. Pinar told Der Spiegel that if the reports of the BND visit were true then the authorities "obviously lied."
"You can't say on the one hand 'we can't get to him and the Syrian authorities are blocking everything', and then go in together with them and question him," Pinar, who is planning to file a legal complaint to establish if German officials had indeed interrogated Zammar, told Reuters.
Co n troversial priso n
Amnesty's report states that 38 forms of torture are used at the facility
Far-Filastin, a facility in the basement of the Syrian military intelligence headquarters, has a notorious reputation with human rights groups which claim to have documented evidence that it is a torture center. Amnesty International has documented 38 different torture methods, including electric shocks and beatings with wires, being used there.
Human rights groups say the United States and its Western allies deny the use of torture by their own agents but are happy to use intelligence obtained under torture by third countries.
Recent allegations suggest the CIA transports suspects to prisons via Europe
Washington denies outsourcing torture but has acknowledged secretly moving suspects between countries to be interrogated in the "war on terrorism," a process known as rendition.
The BND and federal police, as well as the German foreign ministry, have so far declined to comment on the magazine report.