Frank-Walter Steinmeier need not worry anymore about whether the affair of Guantanamo Bay inmate, Murat Kurnaz, could have political consequences for him. Testifying before a special parliamentary committee, the German foreign minister managed to credibly explain the difficult and complex situation he found himself in when it came to deciding the fate of the German-born Turk but also when it came to protecting the security of the German population.
The monstrous attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in the US were just a year old and the United Nations and NATO, with the help of the Germany, prepared to overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In such an atmosphere, Germany was a potential target for hate-filled terrorists. It's a danger that still exists if you consider the German nationals held hostage in Iraq and the recent circulation of threatening videos on the Internet.
Fending off danger was and is the duty of responsible politicians such as Steinmeier, who was former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's chief of staff and thus responsible for coordinating intelligence. With its vehement opposition to the Iraq war, Schröder's government stood for the moral authority of the West in the eyes of many. That's why there was understandably deep outrage when it became evident that the same government could have helped the Americans cart off innocents to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp which violates international law.
Steinmeier stands accused of doing exactly that in the case of Kurnaz, because the minister in his previous role is said to have prevented a possible return of the former inmate. Steinmeier can't be blamed for relying on the judgment of the intelligence agency chief. But he must ask himself in a self-critical way why he waited so long to give his version of events.
In his own interest and in the interest of German foreign policy, Steinmeier should have done that as soon as the first allegations appeared in the media. His long silence as well as that of other politicians inevitably had to lead to speculation and conspiracy theories that Steinmeier, his predecessor Joschka Fischer and the former interior minister, Otto Schily, had skeletons in the closet.
Their hesitation made it easier for the opposition to attack. And it should not be forgotten that at least some of the demands and criticism are justified. For instance, the often exaggerated withholding of files whose often unspectacular content is long known thanks to publication in the media. What did they really have to hide? The question arises automatically. In any case, a blemish will stain the former Social Democrat-Green government's as well as the current foreign minister's record for having handled the case quite bureaucratically and cold-bloodedly.
A veil of secrecy still hangs over why alleged security risk, Murat Kurnaz, had to be kept away from Germany for years under all the circumstances and then in 2006 could return home due to the initiative of Schröder's successor Angela Merkel.
Steinmeier's explanation that Kurnaz was released for humanitarian reasons sounds construed because then by that logic, he should have been freed at the end of 2002. The real, inhuman nature of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp was already notorious worldwide at the time. One way out would have been to get Kurnaz back to Germany and to try him here if the allegations against him had proved to carry weight. Instead, Steinmeier tried to get Kurnaz released to Turkey. It was a strange tack and a reminder of the fact that ever after his release, Kurnaz until today is described as a security risk by German security officials.
Marcel Fürstenau is a political correspondent for DW-RADIO in Berlin (sp)