Gitmo case rankles Germany
By Jeffrey Fleishman
Angeles Times" -- -- BERLIN -- A tale of
torture and imprisonment told by a man with a scratchy
voice and a beard flowing to his waist has shaken the
German parliament and sparked an intelligence agency
scandal that has engulfed Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The case of spies and leaked documents has pointed up
the injustices that can arise in the fight against
terrorism. It has revealed to this nation, a frequent
critic of Washington's treatment of suspected militants,
that its own officials may have let an innocent German
resident languish for years in a Guantanamo, Cuba,
The case began in 2001 when Murat Kurnaz, a German-born
Turk, was suspected of being a militant. He was detained
by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where, he says, American
interrogators hung him from chains. He was transferred
to Guantanamo and held until last August, when he was
released. He was never charged with a crime.
Intelligence documents cited by German media suggest
Kurnaz could have been freed years earlier.
The files indicate that the CIA offered to release
Kurnaz and return him to Germany in 2002. One German
intelligence operative noted that the 24-year-old
shipbuilder might be persuaded to turn informer and
infiltrate radical Islamic networks. At the time
Kurnaz's fate was being decided, Steinmeier oversaw
German spy agencies as chief of staff to then-Chancellor
Documents being examined by a special committee of
parliament allege that Steinmeier and August Hanning,
the former foreign intelligence director, rejected the
U.S. offer. It is unclear why the Germans apparently
balked, but American officials have said in recent
months that foreign nationals detained in Guantanamo
often are not freed because their home countries fear
they may be extremists and don't want them back.
The chance to have Kurnaz released "should have been
taken," said lawmaker Max Stadler, a member of the
Steinmeier, who became Chancellor Angela Merkel's
foreign minister in 2005, has denied the U.S. planned to
send Kurnaz to Germany.
"I am not aware of ... such an official offer," he said
this week. He is expected to testify before the special
committee in March.
The documents suggest there were at least informal
discussions between U.S. and German intelligence
officials on releasing Kurnaz. Some lawmakers and
commentators have blamed Steinmeier for ignoring
Kurnaz's predicament because the young man, although
born and raised in Germany, has retained his Turkish
"To ask why we should bother about this Turk at all is
inhuman," said Siegfried Kauder, chairman of the special
committee. "After all, Kurnaz grew up in Germany. And if
the government thought they shouldn't be concerned, they
should have informed Kurnaz's lawyer so that he'd be
able to seek help elsewhere."
Kurnaz had been a media curiosity to many lawmakers
until last week when, his unruly red beard splayed
across his chest, he testified before the committee. He
said he was beaten by American and German interrogators,
forced to sleep naked on the floor and held in an
isolation cell. Lawmakers described the testimony as
harrowing and credible.
"We need to ask ourselves how it could happen that we
moved away from the state of justice after 9/11," Cem
Ozdemir, a German representative to the European Union,
The case is not the only spy scandal damaging the
reputation of the former Schroeder government, which
opposed the Iraq war and the CIA's handling of suspected
militants. Recent disclosures suggest a close
intelligence relationship between the U.S. and Germany
that included collaborating on another detained German
resident and providing U.S. forces with potential
military targets in Baghdad during the invasion in 2003.
These disclosures, along with Germany's role as a
flyover country for U.S. planes transporting suspected
terrorists, have angered the public. Writing in the
Berliner Zeitung newspaper Thursday, journalist Andreas
Foerster said the actions of Steinmeier and former
intelligence officials in the Kurnaz case were
"cold-hearted and anti-constitutional."
Merkel so far has supported Steinmeier, who has emerged
as a key negotiator in Middle East peace efforts and the
standoff over Iran's uranium enrichment. If Steinmeier
is forced to resign, Germany's fragile coalition
government will be in crisis just as the country has
assumed the European Union's rotating presidency.