Opinion: Time for Explanations | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.01.2007

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Opinion: Time for Explanations

Unless he manages to produce new evidence, Germany's foreign minister will have to resign over the failure to get a German-born Guantanamo prisoner released despite a US offer to do so, says DW's Heinz Dylong.


It seems right to keep asking why the former Social Democratic-Green party government had so little interest in getting Bremen-born Turk Murat Kurnaz released from the US detention camp at Guantanamo -- especially since a US offer apparently existed to set Kurnaz free after he had been wrongly accused of terrorist activities. Berlin allegedly rejected that, and a special committee of the European Parliament says there's enough proof to back the allegation.

This alone would be a scandal that cannot be covered up by claiming that Kurnaz has Turkish and not German citizenship and placing the blame on Ankara instead of Berlin. A visit by German secret agents to Kurnaz in Guantanamo completes the picture.

Let's be clear about this: Barely 20 years of age, Kurnaz was captured by the Americans in Pakistan. He was possibly naive, but certainly not a terror suspect. In January 2002, he ended up at Guantanamo, he was abused, but even the Americans were eventually convinced of his innocence and wanted to send him back to Germany. Berlin rejected the offer. What's more: the German authorities didn't merely not work towards his release, rather they boycotted it. The man wasn't able to leave the camp until 2006.

Political responsibility for the Germans' behavior lies with a group of state secretaries and intelligence agency heads, who regularly discussed the security situation under the leadership of the chancellery's chief-of-staff. At the time in question, the latter position was occupied by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current foreign minister. He'll have quite a bit of explaining to do to a parliamentary committee which is investigating the case. It's certain that Steinmeier will have to resign if he cannot offer any new information to make Berlin's behavior plausible.

His resignation would obviously not explain why Berlin behaved the way it did. Foreign policy considerations may have played a role. The German-American relationship was already tense because of Germany's "no" to the war in Iraq. It might have made sense not to put additional strain on ties with the US -- whether by insisting in the case of Guantanamo or by the released prisoner one day possibly making public accusations. Be that as it may; it's certainly not in line with a foreign policy oriented toward human rights which the Social Democratic-Green party government had claimed to pursue.

Heinz Dylong is an editor at DW-RADIO (win).

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