German justice official blasts Ashcroft
13 January 2004
HAMBURG – The justice minister of the German city-state of Hamburg, Roger Kusch, harshly criticised US Attorney General John Ashcroft for “arrogant” remarks about the decision by a Hamburg court to release an 11 September suspect from trial custody.
The criticism came in an interview in Tuesday’s edition of the local Hamburg daily, the Abendblatt, in which Kusch said the top US law enforcement official should pay better heed to how the German justice system works.
“The comments by Mr. Ashcroft were rather superfluous and arrogant,” Kusch said.
“Every American who takes an interest in Europe will know that courts in Germany make independent decisions,” he said, referring to the Hamburg superior court move in December to let Moroccan defendant Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi be released from detention while on trial on charges of being an accomplice to the 11 September attacks.
The court had based its decision on a written account of testimony purportedly made by the top 11 September planning suspect, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, to US interrogators.
The Hamburg court had sought to gain bin al-Shibh as a trial witness, but the Americans refused to hand him over, instead sending Germany a written summary of an interrogation.
It was on the basis of those notes, in which bin al-Shibh is said to have indicated that Mzoudi was not in the plot, that the Hamburg court agreed to release Mzoudi from trial detention, in turn triggering Ashcroft’s attack.
Kusch said the Hamburg trial judges had not deserved the criticism given the trouble they had gone to find as much evidence as possible before reaching the decision on Mzoudi’s trial detention.
Nor should the United States be surprised about Mzoudi’s release, since the US itself had withheld witnesses in the case, Kusch said.
He said there may have been good reasons why the US did not make bin al-Shibh available as a trial witness.
“But this also means that the United States must live with it when court proceedings do not go the way that it would like them to go,” Kusch told the Hamburg paper. “If witnesses are withheld for possible affairs of state, then you also have to live with the consequences.”
Kusch’s comments come two days before defence lawyers will present their summary to seek Mzoudi’s acquittal. The Hamburg court is to issue its verdict on 22 January.
Last week, prosecutors demanded a guilty verdict and the maximum 15-year prison term for Mzoudi, charging that as a member of the circle of Arab students in Hamburg who carried out the suicide plane attacks, he was part of the plot.
Mzoudi is the second 11 September suspect on trial in Hamburg, facing some 3,000 counts of murder and a charge of belonging to a terror group in connection with the suicide plane attacks.
In February 2003, the same court served a 15-year term to Moroccan national Mounir al-Motassadeq after finding him guilty of the same charges.
Subject: German news