Friction as Steinmeier under fire over prisoner

30th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

30 January 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Continuing criticism of Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier by supporters of Chancellor Angela Merkel has brought renewed friction to the federal coalition in Berlin. Steinmeier is under fire over his actions five years ago when he headed former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office and allowed a man from Germany to remain in US custody at Guantanamo Bay. Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen, now 24, was finally released last year and returned to Bremen, the German

30 January 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Continuing criticism of Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier by supporters of Chancellor Angela Merkel has brought renewed friction to the federal coalition in Berlin.

Steinmeier is under fire over his actions five years ago when he headed former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office and allowed a man from Germany to remain in US custody at Guantanamo Bay.

Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen, now 24, was finally released last year and returned to Bremen, the German city where he grew up.

It has now emerged that the Americans were willing to let Kurnaz go in 2002, a year after capturing him in Pakistan, but Berlin was concerned he might be a terrorist and did not press for his release.

Steinmeier, who categorically denies that he actively hindered Kurnaz's release, affirmed this week that his decision to do nothing had been in line with his conscience and information available to him at the time.

"We made decisions under difficult conditions and did not downgrade or sacrifice the principles of human rights," he said. "Even from today's perspective, I would not have done anything different under the circumstances at the time."

The case has highlighted how the Schroeder government quietly supported the US War on Terrorism which began in 2001, while publicly criticising Washington over the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

A German newspaper, the Financial Times Deutschland, commented Tuesday, "His statement is strikingly similar to the US policy against terrorism. It shows that in Germany too, a supposed threat from a suspect was enough to suspend principles of the rule of law.

"This was exactly what the holier-than-thou (Schroeder) government repeatedly accused the Americans of. But in the heat of the moment, they acted likewise," the newspaper said in an opinion piece.

At the time, Steinmeier was head of the federal chancellery under Schroeder and responsible for the German security services.

Now familiar on TV screens as Germany's chief diplomat with the neatly combed white hair, Steinmeier has enjoyed high popularity ratings in Germany since taking office in November 2005.

Merkel and Steinmeier belong to opposing parties that have become uncomfortable bedfellows in the current coalition government.

Several of her Christian Democrat supporters have joined in the criticism of Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, this week.

The Christian Democratic whip in parliament, Norbert Roettgen, said he wanted a "fair" review of Steinmeier's conduct.

"Under our government, Kurnaz was allowed back into Germany. So one legitimately asks why that wasn't possible under the last government," he said. He said his party would press Steinmeier to explain to a parliamentary committee.

Social Democrats have been upset at what they see as bids to undermine the credibility of one of their top figures. Social Democrat leader Kurt Beck was set to meet Tuesday evening with Merkel.

Kurnaz is meanwhile working with a ghost writer on a book about his imprisonment. The German publishing house Rowohlt said it would bring out Five Years of My Life: A Guantanamo Story on April 23.

Last week Kurnaz told a parliamentary panel that he had been subjected to physical and psychological abuse that included being sprayed with "knock-out" gas and chained for 12 hours day.

Though he was influenced by radical Islamic ideas, no evidence has been produced that he committed any crime.

DPA

Subject: German news

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