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Two Gitmo Guys Go to Germany

The German government agreed to resettle a Syrian and a Palestinian Guantanamo detainee. AP quotes a State Department spokesman saying: "We greatly appreciate Germany's decision to resettle these two detainees." I think it is too little too late to really to impress Obama.

ENDNOTE: The German soccer team attacked the Spain too little too late as well in today's semi-final. That damn octopus Paul was right again in predicting the winner. Congrats to Nanne for the Dutch victory over Uruguay. I will certainly cheer the Dutch team in the upcoming final.

Top Democrat on Auschwitz, Guantanamo and Europe

Dutch lawmakers claim that Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told them that "Europe was not as outraged by Auschwitz as by Guantanamo Bay."

Michael van der Galiën from the Netherlands takes issue with that comparison as well as with Lantos' demand: "You have to help us, because if it was not for us you would now be a province of Nazi Germany." Michael writes in his Van Der Galiën Gazette:

This is a great example of just why America is so unpopular in European countries right now. Granted, there's a lot of irrational anti-Americanism as well, but these are the kind of comments by which American politicians anger just about every single Europe; whether they're pro- or anti-America. (...) As I wrote recently, the Democrats dont seem to be any better at diplomacy than the Republicans are. If this is the Democratic way of reaching out, well, Im afraid that the hand thats reaching out will be politely ignored by the world.

Personal comments: I am surprised that the Democrats have not chosen someone else as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Tom Lantos is 79 years old. He has earned and deserves his retirement. (As usual, emphasis in bold added by me.)

I did agree with Lantos here: Rep Lantos Calls Ex-Chancellor Schroeder a Political Prostitute

"Guantanamo in Germany"

The two well-known sociologists Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen claim that their colleagues are being persecuted for the crime of sociology and in the name of the war on terror. Their op-ed in The Guardian has the headline: "Guantánamo in Germany." Yeah, right...
They also claim that the "state of emergency prevails" in Germany, France and the US: "The laws meant for real threats are invoked to counter shapeless fear."

Alleged "Guantanamisation" of Germany (UPDATE)

"The New York Times has a front-page article today about how the fear of terrorism in Germany is leading to a slow but inexorable erosion of civil liberties," writes David Vickrey in Dialog International.
David also translates an editorial in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which accuses Germany's Interior Minister Schaeuble of hysteria and of talking "as if it were vital to prepare the way for the Guantanamisation of Germany's judicial system."
Personal sarcastic comment: Great that the Sueddeutsche Zeitung is not hysterical...
Besides, I agree to some extent with the professor of law quoted in the NYT: "If something happened, the same people who are criticizing him [Schaeuble] for going too far would criticize him for not going far enough." A serious debate about the usefulness of certain counter-terrorism measures and their impact on civil liberties is good.

German president joins in debate over terrorism policy
Koehler urged Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to show restraint in presenting ideas which he said could unnecessary unsettle the population. It was the duty of the minister 'to wrack his brains' over the best way to protect citizens, the president said in an interview on Germany's second television channel ZDF. But the staccato 'manner in which the suggestions came about' was not ideal.
Schaeuble called for legal powers to intern terrorist 'combatants' before they struck and said that Germany might have to introduce a US-style criminal offence of conspiracy to commit a crime. The minister, who outlined his thoughts in the news magazine Der Spiegel last week, also proposed a ban on the use of the internet and mobile phones by people the state deemed to be dangerous. Schaeuble also called for clarification under what conditions the constitution permits the state to target and kill terrorists. President Koehler said he had his doubts whether 'the killing of a suspected terrorist without a court ruling could be treated so lightly.' The minister's remarks, particularly those about targetted assassinations, provoked outrage in Germany, with opposition Greens party leader Claudia Roth calling on him to resign.

Transatlantic Obsessions

Europeans and Americans should mind their own business. That's the main thesis of watchblogs for Anti-Americanism and French-bashing.
Blogs like Davids Medienkritik complain that the German media is obsessed with America's real and imagined wrongdoings, while blogs like SuperFrenchie complain about the American media's obsession with France's domestic politics. So, I guess, it is time to acknowledge that both Europeans and Americans have their obsessions about their distant relatives on the other side of the Atlantic. Prejudices and unfair reporting is not unique to one side, as some people sometimes seem to claim. It is not rocket science to come to this conclusion, but I guess it serves as a good reminder.
Still, it remains weird and unfortunate that the German media is soo obsessed with the United States and that the US media is soo obsessed with France. Both country's media outlets would do good to reduce the obsessions on some silly topics and cover more important issues like poverty in our own countries and around the world, wars and conflicts in Africa, how to increase energy efficiency etc.

Two relevant quotes from the watchblogs: Flocon asks in SuperFrenchie: "Will you please mind your own business?"
The recent presidential elections in France have been a renewed opportunity for most of the American MSM to display a permanent feature that is to be found in many articles reporting on our country: an obsession which translates into an incessant set of criticisms about how France is run, particularly its economy. Above all, the 35-hour workweek, the 5-week paid vacation and the free and high-quality healthcare and educational systems seem to be particularly unbearable to those many journalists, columnists and reporters who also seem to have trouble understanding why the labor market is regulated, why workers are entitled to social rights and protections, and even sometimes are allowed to go on strike.
Likewise, Ray D. has listed some "Pet issues common in German media coverage of the United States" in Davids Medienkritik:
# Perceived American religiosity.
# Perceived American obsession with guns and violence.
# The death penalty.
# The perceived excess and superficiality of American capitalism and (non)culture (i.e. fat people, the super rich, SUVs, fast-food, M-TV/hip-hop culture, Hollywood, corporate scandals, buy-outs and "excessive" profits.)
# Perceived social inequality in the United States (i.e. amerikanische Verhaeltnisse, poor Americans are starving and freezing to death or at least struggling with 2-3 jobs and no health insurance while the rich live it up. Perception that America has no social safety net or a woefully inadequate social safety net.)
# Perceived American unilateralism/exceptionalism (i.e. Iraq, Kyoto, ICC, Guantanamo)
# Perceived American "hurrah" patriotism or "hyper" patriotism (i.e. flag-waving).
# Perceived American paranoia/overreaction about terror and obsession with security and the "war" on terror and the perceived willingness of Americans to sacrifice key civil liberties (the Patriot Act has become a favored target) and take extrajudicial actions involving torture, renditions, etc.
# The perception that the Bush administration controls (or at least dominates) the media and can somehow intimidate media into following the party line. The perceived view that there is a lack of diversity of opinion in US media and that FoxNews, talk radio and blogs are the menacing conservative vanguard of what all US media are becoming or have already become. (i.e. US media are "gleichgeschaltet" or in lock-step.)
# Anything that casts a negative light on the US military (i.e. Abu Ghraib, trials of US troops, bombings or killings of civilians real or imagined).
# Anything that casts a negative light on the Bush administration.
# Iraq is a disaster-quagmire-catastrophe-debacle perhaps unparalleled in human history. Iraq = Vietnam = defeat and humiliation for America, the US military and Bush.
# The perception of the US as an imperial hegemon out to expand its global power and military-industrial complex while using democracy as a convenient (yet false) excuse to do so. Oil = blood = Halliburton = war.
I do not fully understand the irrational obsessions with the US and France. I sort of know why it is popular, but I do not fully understand the feelings.
Besides, I also do not fully understand why soo many Americans and French are interested in reading about the latest Anti-American headline or the latest French-bashing comment every single day. No, I am not envious of the huge readership of Medienkritik and SuperFrenchie, but I simply fail to fully understand the huge interest into such single topics. Anti-Americanism and French bashing are pretty boring to me: The same magazines and the same politicians make the same stupid statements. Why do I want to read about (more or less) the same stuff every single day?

Twists and Turns in the Murat Kurnaz Affair

Two agents of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service contradicted Foreign Minister Steinmeier and told a closed session of a parliamentary inquiry that the Pentagon officially backed the offer to free Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz in November 2002, writes United Press International. Another surprising twist, reported in a different UPI article:
Germany's former Interior Minister Otto Schily, who was part of the top-level group that decided to forbid Kurnaz's return to Germany, said the man was considered a security risk. "A man who shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, buys a camouflage suit, binoculars and laced boots, and leaves for Pakistan without saying goodbye to his family in Bremen -- I don't think such a man wants to look for Allah with his binoculars," Schily told the German weekly Die Zeit.
More twists and turns in German. Oliver Luksic makes good points about the hypocrisy of the red-green government in Antibuerokratieteam (in German).
For some background on Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany, see the Atlantic Review post The Guantanamo detainee from Germany.

Endnote: The case of the Canadian citizen Maher Arar is different, but it is interesting to note that the Canadian government issued a formal apology and paid $10.5-million compensation for Maher Arar, because an inquiry recently concluded that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police "passed misleading, inaccurate and unfair information to U.S. authorities that very likely led to Arar's arrest and deportation to face torture in Syria." I wonder what the Kurnaz inquiry will conclude.

Press Reviews regarding the State of the Union address and Murat Kurnaz

German Politicians Praise Bush's Climate Change Initiatives: "German politicians reacted positively on the whole to Bush's State of the Union address, welcoming what they saw as a new pragmatism and praising his climate change initiatives."

Shadow Creeping Over Steinmeier: "German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in the firing line over whether he blocked the release of a German-born -- and innocent -- Guantánamo prisoner in 2002. The affair could turn ugly for him and the German government, write German media commentars. Meanwhile the German papers wonder what is to be done in Lebanon to stop Beirut burning."
For some background on Murat Kurnaz see the Atlantic Review post The Guantanamo detainee from Germany.

Senior German Government Official Puts Guantanamo in Perspective

The human rights commissioner of the German government, Guenter Nooke (CDU), said on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Guantanamo that the prison with its 395 inmates was "not as special as it is portrayed in the public" given the "thousands of human rights abuses" in Darfur, China, Russia, Cuba and other countries.
While many American news outlets wrote about European criticism of Guantanamo and fueled the claims of European double standards, only United Press International briefly mentioned Nooke's comments and focused on the criticism from opposition parties.
Yes, the United States is a democracy and deserves to be held to a higher moral standard than China, Russia and others, but that does not mean that much worse human rights violaters should get a free pass. Sueddeutsche Zeitung (subscribers only) and Netzzeitung quote Germany's human rights commissioner as saying that one should not grant a 90 percent discount to autoritarian regimes who violate human rights, while demanding from America 110% compliance with human rights:
Man kann nicht sagen, in Diktaturen oder autoritären Regimen gibt es 90 Prozent Menschenrechtsrabatt, während für Amerika die Einhaltung der Menschenrechte zu 110 Prozent gefordert wird.
Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Europe's Moral Outrage and Why is Abu Ghraib a cover story again, but not Darfur?
Merkel called for the closure of Guantanamo prior to her first trip to Washington DC as chancellor in January 2006 and has repeated that position frequently.
Mr Nooke
deserves credit for demanding more attention to human rights violations in other parts of the world. He reacted to criticism of his comments by reaffirming that Guantanamo is a "catastrophe for the West's credibility," reports N24 (in German). Yes, the "West's credibility," not just America's credibility; see The Burden of Guantanamo. Gitmo does damage to US allies. Therefore strong criticism is justified.
ENDNOTE: German Joys writes that a new Human Rights Watch report "calls
on the European Union to take the lead in human-rights enforcement, as the U.S. no longer has sufficient credibility to fulfill that role," but also criticizes Germany and the EU for being "too generous" toward human rights abuses in Russia and other important energy suppliers.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has learned:
Germany is investigating two special forces soldiers accused of assaulting a Turkish man while he was held in Afghanistan in 2002, prosecutors said on Monday. Murat Kurnaz, who has German residency, was sent from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorism suspects where he spent nearly five years before his release in August. (...) The Kurnaz case is an embarrassment in Germany which also faces allegations that the previous government secretly aided a U.S. program to kidnap and fly terrorism suspects to third countries for interrogation.