German minister under pressure over Guantanamo inmate By Mike Swanson


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Sunday January 21, 2007

By Mike Swanson,
Berlin- 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 1, 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 Deutsche Presse-Agentur 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.

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency