Sunday, February 04, 2007

13 Central Intelligence Agents Indicted in Germany

From the February 05, 2007 edition

In Europe, pushback against US 'war on terror'

German solidarity with the indictment of 13 CIA operatives underscores a shifting tone across Europe

By Robert Marquand
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Reaction in Germany was hardly neutral when a prosecutor in Munich indicted 13 CIA officials last week for kidnapping a German of Lebanese descent and interrogating him in Afghanistan before apparently realizing they had the wrong man. Germans solidly backed the prosecutor.

Since Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld took the unprecedented step, both the right and left in Germany have supported the "rule of law" principles he articulated.

The media have been unified as well. Typical is the centrist Süddeutsche Zeitung: "The justice system has stood up for the rule of law. Whether the government will do so is a different matter. Berlin must push for the kidnappers to be extradited, or ... tried in the USA. But it is unlikely to have that much courage."

The solidarity underscores a shifting tone in Europe. As changes of leadership loom in Britain and France, and capitals contemplate relations with a post-Bush US, Uncle Sam may expect stronger "pushbacks" from Europe, experts here say. Public disapproval of the US-led "war on terror" is also growing, spurring the change.

"There is a deep gap between government policy and public opinion in Europe, and that opinion may be shaping the direction here right now," says Frederic Bozo, professor of European Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. "Europe doesn't want to upset the careful balance with the US. I don't think there is a united opposition against the US at all. But Europe is setting the groundwork for its own identity."

Gordon Brown, who is shortly expected to take over as prime minister in Great Britain, opposed the Iraq war from the start, and has made no secret that he plans to carve out an independent line on the venerable "special relationship" with the US. Many anticipate that British troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year.

In France, even the avidly pro- American Nicolas Sarkozy, current front-runner in the French elections this spring, stated in an interview taped in New York last week that Americans need to "get interested in the world, and the world will learn to love you."

To be sure, European cooperation with the US on a wide range of areas, including counterterrorism, is extremely strong, even in France, where the Chirac government has steadily gone it alone in Europe in opposition to the Iraq campaign.Yet Europeans have steadily refused to accept the concept and phrase, "war on terror," a sentiment that extends to its application to Iraq.

Last week, European Union officials in Brussels sought to reduce the amount of information given to US agencies on air passengers leaving Europe. An official in charge of data protection for the European Central Bank similarly advised that millions of pieces of financial information being sent regularly to the US after Sept. 11 were in violation of EU privacy codes.

The "secret, routine, and massive access" by US agencies to banking SWIFT codes – needed to transfer in and out of European financial institutions – is "unacceptable," stated Peter Hustinx, the Brussels official responsible for EU data oversight.

Boosting this sentiment is Europeans' recognition that the US is also in flux with an election season starting up, and that President Bush's term appears to be winding down with the United States in a vulnerable position overseas.

The US legal basis for conducting interrogation centers at Guantánamo Bay, for example, has long rankled in Europe.

"Most of the French opinion, many of the German people, a large share of the Labor constituency in the UK, the Spanish, and now Italy, don't just oppose the policy, but the basis of US policy," says Georges Le Guelte, of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. "You can't have renditions and Guantánamo and talk human rights at the same time. That is more clear to many of us."

In Italy, prosecutors put out warrants several months ago for 25 members of a CIA team that abducted a Muslim cleric in Milan.

Nor is Europe alone in its willingness to speak more pointedly to the White House about its foreign affairs. On page 1 of last Thursday's People's Daily, a newspaper of record in China, a Chinese official criticized Mr. Bush for inflammatory rhetoric that turned the war in Iraq into a "religious war."

The comment was unprecedented in a state where official decorum is rigidly maintained. (For nearly a decade, China has conducted a brutal campaign of summary executions of Muslims in its far-west Xinjiang region, as documented in human rights reports.)

In the case of the Munich renditions, announced Jan. 31, 13 American CIA operatives allegedly apprehended German citizen Khaled el-Masri in Macedonia in 2004 and whisked him to an Afghan prison called "the Salt Pit." Realizing he was the wrong man, they left him on a hillside in Albania five months later, warning him never to talk of his experience. Mr. el-Masri instead filed suit in a Virginia court. Masri's case was dropped in Virginia after arguments that a trial would jeopardize US security operations.

But with help from Spanish police, the Munich prosecutors discovered the identity of the operatives through flight and hotel records in Palma de Mallorca, where they stopped to relax.

On Friday, in Washington, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the Munich warrants were only valid in Germany at present, but that Berlin felt the local court might issue an international warrant, according to German papers.

Ms. Rice said the warrants would not harm US-German relations. Justice Department officials have not responded to approaches by the German prosecutors.

Germany seeks arrest of 'CIA agents'

By Hugh Williamson in Berlin
February 1 2007 02:00

German prosecutors on Wednesday issued arrest warrants for 13 suspected Central Intelligence Agency agents in connection with the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen in a forced renditions case that diplomats said could further strain relations between Washington and Berlin.

Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld, the Munich prosecutor, said the unnamed people were wanted on suspicion of false imprisonment and causing serious bodily harm in the case of Khaled al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German detained in December 2003 in Macedonia and allegedly held until May 2004 by the CIA in a secret prison in Afghanistan.

The prosecutor said the 13 people were "clearly identifiable" based on information from authorities in Spain, Italy and the European Union. He noted, however, that the "personal details contained in the arrest warrants are, according to our current knowledge, aliases of CIA agents".

The US was not informed in advance of the arrest warrants, according to officials in Berlin. This could have "serious consequences" for bilateral anti-terror co-operation, diplomats said.

The German justice ministry was also not informed in advance of the warrants being issued, a ministry spokesperson said.

The 13 people comprised the crew of the aircraft that, according to Mr Masri, flew him from Macedonia to Afghanistan, the prosecutor said. German public television reported that many of the 11 male and two female suspects live in North Carolina.

The crew operated out of Majorca, Spain, and worked for Aero Contractors, the successor to the CIA's former secret airline Air America, the television channel said.

Forced renditions by the CIA – the capture and removal to secret locations of alleged terror suspects – have caused a political outcry in Europe, with reports of hundreds of secret flights and dozens of abductions fuelling resentment of US anti-terror tactics.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German foreign minister, in December told a German parliamentary inquiry into Mr Masri's case that it was a prime example of "differences [with Washington] on which methods are acceptable in fighting terrorism and which are not".

The German government says Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, apologised for Mr Masri's abduction on a visit to Berlin in December 2005, although US officials said no formal apology was given.

Mr Masri's lawyer said the issuing of the arrest warrants was a "major success" in his client's case.

● A Spanish judge has asked the country's defence ministry to declassify all documents the intelligence services might have that deal with the use of the country's airports to transfer terror suspects secretly, AP reports from Madrid.

Judge Ismael Moreno, who began probing the alleged flights last June, asked for "all data, documents, notes, reports, information, analyses, studies and investigations" that the National Intelligence Centre has relating to flights made in 2004 and 2005.

Spain denies the government knew of any illegal activity by the CIA to transport terror suspects on secret flights through Spanish territory.

Additional reporting by Hubert Wetzel in Berlin

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

German foreign minister criticised over Guantanamo

By Hugh Williamson in Berlin
February 4 2007 11:21

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s standing as one of the country’s most popular politicians has fallen sharply in a controversy over the release of a former Guantanamo prisoner.

Public support for Mr Steinmeier fell from 69 per cent to 47 per cent, according to a poll, reflecting concern over the controversy, which is weighing both on the minister’s reputation and on unity in chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

Opposition parties and human rights groups have called for the minister's resignation if it is proven that in 2002 he helped block the early release from the US prison camp of Murat Kurnaz, a 24-year-old German-born Turk who was held there with out charge until his return to Germany in 2006.

Legislators agreed this week that Mr Steinmeier should on March 8 appear before a parliamentary inquiry into Mr Kurnaz's case, several weeks earlier that previously envisaged.

Senior Christian Democrat allies of the chancellor have also criticised Mr Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, leading to tensions in the coalition. The controversy has in Germany also cast a shadow over the minister's role in guiding Berlin's presidency of the European Union.

The minister, who handled the case until 2005 as ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder's chief of staff and intelligence co-ordinator, said he was pleased he would "relatively soon [in the inquiry] get the chance to clarity points that need to be clarified".

Ms Merkel, who has publicly backed Mr Steinmeier, held talks this week with Kurt Beck, SPD party leader, to avoid further coalition strains on the issue.

Mr Schröder on Thursday defended Mr Steinmeier and accused CDU legislators of hypocrisy, since they had previously criticised his government for “doing too little for national security”.

In the same poll in which Mr Stienmeier’s standing fell a majority of respondents nevertheless supported Mr Steinmeier's argument that it was correct at the time, soon after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, to cite security concerns as a reason against Mr Kurnaz's possible return to Germany.

Mr Kurnaz was detained in Pakistan in late 2001, and transferred by the CIA to Guantanamo in early 2002 under suspicion of being an al-Qaeda activist.

Leaked German government documents indicate that US officials in October 2002 raised the issue of returning Mr Kurnaz to Germany, possibly to be placed as an informer within Germany's radical Islamic community.

Mr Steinmeier attended meetings where the offer was rejected, according to the documents - sparking the claims that he helped prolong Mr Kurnaz's suffering in the US prison. Mr Steinmeier argues that no formal US release offer was made and in any case Mr Kurnaz could have returned to Turkey.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

No comments: