German minister under fire over prison inmate

22nd January 2007, Comments 0 comments

22 January 2007, Berlin (dpa) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is under growing pressure to explain his role in the prolonged detention of a German-born Turk in the US military prison at Guantanamo. Murat Kurnaz spent four-and-a-half years in Guantanamo after his arrest as a suspected al-Qaeda supporter in Pakistan, shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Secret government documents circulating in the German media claim the US offered to release him in 2002 after

22 January 2007

Berlin (dpa) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is under growing pressure to explain his role in the prolonged detention of a German-born Turk in the US military prison at Guantanamo.

Murat Kurnaz spent four-and-a-half years in Guantanamo after his arrest as a suspected al-Qaeda supporter in Pakistan, shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Secret government documents circulating in the German media claim the US offered to release him in 2002 after concluding that he was not a terrorist, but that Germany refused to take him back.

The newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung claimed Steinmeier was actively involved in his role as coordinator of the country's intelligence services under the then government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Kurnaz was not freed until August 2006 on the intervention of the present government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last week he appeared before a parliamentary panel investigating whether the country's foreign intelligence service BND breached German regulations while assisting US anti-terrorism operations after September 11.

The bearded 24-year-old described how he was subjected to physical and psychological abuse by his US captors that included being sprayed with "knock-out" gas and chained for 12 hours day.

Kurnaz's account of the indignities he suffered during his time in Guantanamo "got under my skin," said Max Stadler, an opposition Free Democrat member of the parliamentary committee.

"It makes you really angry to learn that an innocent man was forced to spend five years in such conditions," he added.

Kurnaz also told the panel that he was interrogated on two occasions by German intelligence agents, who also concluded he was not a terrorist, the Sueddeutsche report said.

Despite this evidence, German authorities actively blocked his release, the report said, quoting official documents which showed the interior ministry drew up a five-point plan to prevent his return.

The plan, said to have been approved by Steinmeier's office, called for his home town of Bremen to withdraw Kurnaz's residence permit because of his Turkish citizenship and the fact that he had been absent from Germany for more than six months.

Bremen did cancel his residence, but was forced to rescind the decision in November 2005 on the intervention of the Turk's lawyer, Bernhard Docke.

"The new documents which have appeared in the media confirm my suspicions that the then government tried with a mixture of enthusiasm and coldness to prevent the return of man who was in extreme danger," Docke told dpa.

The government "acted maliciously in trying to make use of bureaucratic procedures to wipe out his existence in Germany," Docke added.

The documents obtained by the Sueddeutsche also suggested the intelligence services ask the Americans to hand over Kurnaz's Turkish passport to a German embassy so the page with his residence permit could be removed, leaving him without any chance of returning.

Other media reports claimed the US attached conditions to Kurnaz's release, including one that he be placed under round-the-clock surveillance to make sure he did not engage in terrorism.

"Berlin wanted him to be completely exonerated," an unnamed member of Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party (SPD) involved in the case told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper.

"They were reluctant to be saddled with someone who didn't have German passport but a Turkish one and who was so dangerous in the Americans' eyes that they felt he needed 24-hour observation," he said.

Steinmeier is scheduled to appear before the committee after Kurnaz gives evidence again on February 1 and the agents who interrogated him at Guantanamo are also questioned.

"I'm certain that when he addresses the panel he will be able to demonstrate that he acted without reproach, SPD chairman Kurt Beck said in coming to the minister's defence on Sunday.

In November last year, Kurnaz told a European Union parliamentary committee that after his arrest in Pakistan, authorities there handed him over to US officials who took him to Afghanistan before Guantanamo.

Kurnaz said then that while in Afghanistan, he was quizzed by two members of the German Special Forces Command, KSK, one of whom pulled his hair, banged his head on the floor and stamped on him.

German prosecutors have launched an investigation into two soldiers after Kurnaz identified one of them from photographs.

DPA

Subject: German news

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