German Interior Minister Otto Schily on Monday defended his plan to extend preventive detention measures which would allow police to keep terror suspects in custody for several months without having committed a crime.
Schily rejected claims that his proposals harked back to the Nazis
Schily said in Berlin that such a measure might be the only way of keeping terrorists in check when other steps could not be taken or failed to achieve the desired effect.
Schily rejected criticism from some German lawmakers who had compared his ideas to the Nazis' system of detention in the 1930s, which was installed with a view to eliminating critics of the dictatorship.
Addressing the media at a press conference in Berlin, Schily insisted that an extended preventive detention system could become an effective means to clamp down on the activities of potential terrorists.
He was reacting to massive criticism voiced by Green party ministers last week who claimed that such a system would be highly undemocratic and reminiscent of the Nazis' practice of dealing with unwanted people:
Schily rejects 'unconstitutional' claims
"It's silly to liken a democracy which defends itself against terrorism to a terrorist dictatorship which used to prosecute democrats," he said. "Preventive detention -- no matter for how long a period -- is not unconstitutional, as long as it has the judiciary involved to the extent it should be, and I'm not saying we should do away with that."
"But we have to ask ourselves in all seriousness," he continued, "whether our hands should be tied, if certain persons known to have contacts with terrorist networks and who cannot be extradited under German law cannot be held in preventive custody for a longer period, if need be. We have a different threat perception now, and we are called upon to react to it accordingly."
Schily addressed the media together with the heads of the country's most important intelligence agencies. He used the occasion to call for more powers for the Federal Criminal Office (BKA) which can only act when a crime has already been committed.
Current situation "unsatisfactory"
"We have to see to it that the federal criminal office is put in a position to take preventive measures in order to avoid a possible crime," said Schily. "It's absurd that right now it can only step into action when a crime has already been committed. If the constitution needs to be changed to furnish the office with wider powers then let’s go for it." he says.
"The current situation is highly unsatisfactory in my view, but I know that some ministers at state level are of a different opinion," he added.
Schily also called the news conference to report about the work of a new anti-terror center in Berlin, founded in December of last year. The center employs 180 intelligence officers from about 40 agencies and is designed to exchange information about terrorist threats directly.
Information exchange aiding investigations
Otto Schily, Jörg Ziercke, right, president of the BKA, Heinz Fromm, president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The president of the BKA, Jörg Zierke, said the office had been doing an excellent job in helping to ward off terrorist threats.
"With the center in place, we are now much faster in exchanging relevant intelligence information among our various agencies," Zierke said. "It's all about creating a more efficient early warning system, as far as terrorist threats are concerned. And it’s all about closer coordination and making sure that our findings are of more value when it comes to taking suspects to court."