Skip to content

Quick Links: Germany, Iran, American TV, Jacksonian etc

•  "Keen to clear up the accusations raised by former Guantanamo inmate Murat Kurnaz that he was physically abused by elite German soldiers, the German parliament will set up an investigative committee to look at the case."

•  "Germany, France and Britain have put finishing touches on a draft resolution on UN Security Council sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment."

•  German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggests the establishment of an independent, shared enrichment plant under IAEA control on an "extraterritorial" plot with a status similar to U.N.'s in New York.

Via: Kosmoblog: Joschka Fischer, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke at the Foreign Policy Association (FPA) in NYC about the state and challenges for the transatlantic relationship, Iran, terrorism etc. Transcript and video availabel at FPA.

•  "New studies in Germany shed light on the twin problems of growing poverty and a deficit in the child-welfare system."

•  The Karnick blog thinks that "the reports of an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Europe may be a bit exaggerated", because American TV series are very popular in Europe.

•  Bruce Miller has added "a 20th century Jacksonian to the blog title:  Kurt Schumacher, leader of the German Social Democratic Party from 1946 until his death in 1952."

To Talk Turkey (Tacheles reden)

Here are a few reading recommendations featuring some harsh words:
• The Heritage Foundation about President Bush's trip to Germany:
German public opinion is still largely hostile toward U.S. foreign policy, and anti-Americanism remains a major force in German politics.
Hostile? Major Force? If that is an accurate description of German public opinion and politics, how does the Heritage Foundation describe the situation in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Iran or many other countries?

• The Canadian paper Macleans has a long article about Angela Merkel with the peculiar headline "The most popular German leader since, well..." Here's an untypical quote from that article:
The Germans are used to taking abuse from the British tabloid press, whose schoolboyish journalists seem to be locked in a 1940 time warp. Germans are routinely described as "Krauts" and "Fritz," and one newspaper's photo spread of supposedly the ugliest girls in Germany featured women with black Hitler moustaches airbrushed on their faces.
How Would A Patriot Act?: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok  By Glenn Greenwald • Glenn Greenwald, author of How Would A Patriot Act?: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok (,, writes in his popular blog about some Neocon responses to the war between Hezbollah and Israel:
The mindless casualness with which such people blithely advocate starting a new war -- like it's no different that deciding what one will eat for dinner tomorrow -- is breathtaking.
Too Much Cookies has a video of the popular comedian Stephen Colbert pretending to talk to a Guantanamo detainee:
You were innocent. Four years ago! This place has changed you. I mean all that time, you’ve been kept in a cage without trial - aren’t you a little angry?

The Burden of Guantanamo

Guantanamo is an image problem for everybody who is considered close to the Bush administration. As soon as the news about the suicide of three prisoners at Guantanamo spread, the German government stated that it assumes it will be briefed by the United States on the circumstances involved, although none of the three was related to Germany in any way. The press release continues:
The German government's critical stance with regard to Guantanamo remains unchanged. The German government was informed of the suicide death of the three detainees by President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley. (...) In an interview granted to the news magazine "Der Spiegel" earlier this year Chancellor Angela Merkel urged that the prison camp be closed down, saying an institution like Guantanamo cannot and must not be allowed to go on existing. Ways must be found to deal in a different manner with the prisoners.
The government's press release, however, does not mention Murat Kurnaz. For background on him read our post about The Guantanamo detainee from Germany. About half a year ago, Chancellor Merkel promised to work on his release. There have been press reports in recent months stating that the US and Germany were close to a deal, but nothing happened so far.
Mr. Kurnaz' lawyer, Prof Baher Azmy, describes his visits to Guantanamo in an op-ed for Die Zeit (translation at Dialog International) and claims:
Continue reading "The Burden of Guantanamo"

Bush and Merkel: Charm and Iran -- War, Sanctions and Diplomacy

Some in the American media hope and a few in the German media fear that President Bush's "charm offensive" will lead to German support for U.S. policy on Iran. However, it is very unlikely that President Bush's kind of charm has an impact on Chancellor Merkel. The importance of the personal relationship between heads of government is often overestimated. Besides, President Bush might not expect a military contribution in a potential war with Iran anyway, because he told the German tabloid Bild (White House transcript) concerning the disagreements over Iraq:
I've come to realize that the nature of the German people are such that war is very abhorrent, that Germany is a country now that is -- no matter where they sit on the political spectrum, Germans are -- just don't like war. And I can understand that. There's a generation of people who had their lives torn about because of a terrible war.
The Bush administration has high hopes in Merkel, because Blair and Chirac are pre-occupied with internal party politics and President Bush's Spanish and Italian allies, Aznar and Berlusconi, have not been re-elected. According to the International Herald Tribune,"Angela Merkel has steadily emerged as the European leader to watch" and "demonstrated a real skill in effective, low-key diplomacy. It worked in Europe, where she brokered a key compromise on the European Union budget last January."
The German government works hard for a diplomatic solution and makes use of its good relationship with Russia and China and considers using its significant leverage over Iran. Commercial sanctions against Iran could prove very effective, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung points out (translation by Transatlantic Intelligencer):
More comprehensive sanctions [i.e. including commercial sanctions] would be tied to ever higher costs also for the West – and, in particular, for Germany. Should commercial sanctions be applied, it would be first and foremost the EU states that are affected. In 2004, Germany was the most important supplier of Iran (12.3% of all imports), followed by France (8.5%), Italy (7.9%), and China (7.5%). Due to its long-term cooperation with Europe and a lack of local know-how, Iran is particularly dependent upon imports in the automobile and machine-building industries and the oil and gas sectors. As consequence, Iran could be highly susceptible to sanctions.
Part of President Bush's charm offensive -- a term that was frequently used in the media recently -- might have been his remarks about wanting to close Guantanamo, get trials for the detainees and wait for the supreme court; see our earlier post.  Prof. Hammel points out that some reaction in the U.S. media is only now starting to burble up. Slate, for instance, writes: "His statement was surprising for several reasons, not least because it represents a major reversal from prior policy statements about the camp." More at Prof. Hammel's German Joys.

Bush interview with German TV about Merkel's soul, transatlantic cooperation on Iran, Guantanamo, climate change

In an interview with the German talk show host Sabine Christiansen, President Bush stresses the need to pursue a common strategy to solve the Iran issue diplomatically and explains why Washington is not talking directly to the Iranians. He tried to calm down the wide-spread concern of another war in the Middle East, by assuring that "we're at the beginning of the diplomatic process, not the end of the diplomatic process."
Christiansen confronts him with the CIA rendition flights and the European perception that the Iraq war has made the world less safe. She also asks a few tough questions on Guantanamo and the US dependence on oil, but she does not follow up, when President Bush gives some surprising answers. In addition, President Bush impresses with comments on climate change and by knowing the price of gasoline in Germany and by stating that "we've got to change our habits when we're driving our cars." Let's see if his image improves in Germany.
Continue reading "Bush interview with German TV about Merkel's soul, transatlantic cooperation on Iran, Guantanamo, climate change"

A new chapter in U.S.-German relations

Most newspapers believe that Chancellor Merkel's warm welcome in Washington D.C. will not lead to a "new transatlantic romance," but to improved, business-like relations based on more hard-headed practicality and reliability. The U.S.-German realtionship is expected to be less tainted by populist abuse of political disagreements.
The chancellor and the president disagreed on Guantanamo, but agreed on a common approach towards Iran. President Bush did not mention the military option, but stressed UN Security Council negotiations. Chancellor Merkel said that as many countries as possible should be persuaded to ally themselves with the US and Germany and not be intimidated by Iran.
Continue reading "A new chapter in U.S.-German relations"

German Chancellor calls for closure of Guantanamo

Chancellor Merkel, who is scheduled to meet President Bush on Friday in Washington DC, told Der Spiegel (In English): "An institution like Guantanamo can and should not exist in the longer term." She would discuss the issue with President Bush, but would not allow Germany and the United States' long-standing relationship to be trivialized into one focused on differences over the fight against terror and the Iraq war. An amnesic American lost in Berlin criticizes "Angela Merkel's Lecture Tour."

The German site of Der Spiegel reports about a German-Turkish initiative for the release of Murat Kurnaz, who was born and raised in Bremen, but has Turkish citizenship. This would mean that the Merkel government is much more active than the Schroeder government, who has cooperated with the US in Guantanamo according to some reports. Dialog International writes:
The neoconservative gang was anxious to see Gerhard Schroeder leave office, but Angela Merkel could be a much bigger headache, since she is seen (so far) as having a much more independent position (outside the Schroeder - Chirac - Putin axis).
The Atlantic Review wrote in November that Kurnaz has been detained at Guantanamo without charge since 2002, although U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked him to a terrorist organization. The Court of Appeals currently contemplates the case of Murat Kurnaz and other detainees on the basis of habeas corpus. The Observer, however, writes on January 8th:
Last week, President Bush signed into law a measure removing detainees' right to file habeas corpus petitions in the US federal courts. On Friday, the administration asked the Supreme Court to make this retroactive, so nullifying about 220 cases in which prisoners have contested the basis of their detention and the legality of pending trials by military commission.
If Murat Kurnaz is released, he may not immediately return to Germany, because the German authorities believe that his four years long detention at Guantanamo without charge radicalized him, writes Der Spiegel, but his lawyer points out his valid residence permit for Germany. What an irony it would be if Murat Kurnaz were only to be considered a threat due to his experiences at Gitmo.

Many of our posts have led to thoughtful and provocative debates in the comment sections. Steve commented on our previous post about the Guantanamo Detainee from Germany:
The evidence to date overwhelmingly makes clear that jihadi terrorists are provoked by American weakness, not the harshness of American policies. (...) When [former Syrian president] Hafiz Assad leveled Hama, he went out of his way to show the devastation on TV for a reason--jihadi terrorists are intimidated by brutality greater than their own. On the other hand, our humanitarian interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo have won us no credit in jihadi terrorist circles. These are not people you can cozy up to. They treat friendly gestures with contempt.
You find both of Steve's elaborate comments by scrolling down here. Many great and thought provoking arguments are made by our wonderful readers in the comments section of Europe vs. America and Isolationism on the rise.

UPDATE: The full interview with Chancellor Merkel is now available on Der Spiegel's English site.

The Guantanamo detainee from Germany

One of the more than 500 detainees at Guantanamo is the 23 years old Murat Kurnaz, who was born and raised in Bremen in northern Germany. He travelled to Pakistan in October 2001, was arrested shortly afterwards and detained at Guantanamo Bay since at least January 2002, because a military panel ruled that he was a member of Al Qaeda. However, according to a March 2005 article in The Washington Post:

Evidence, recently declassified and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked Kurnaz to al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization or terrorist activities. (…)

The Command Intelligence Task Force, the investigative arm of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the Guantanamo Bay facility, repeatedly suggested that it may have been a mistake to take Kurnaz off a bus of Islamic missionaries traveling through Pakistan in October 2001. "CITF has no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with Al Qaida or making any specific threat against the U.S.," one document says. "CITF is not aware of evidence that Kurnaz was or is a member of Al Quaeda."

According to a Wall Street Journal article from January 2005, Murat Kurnaz isn't an isolated case:

American commanders acknowledge that many prisoners shouldn't have been locked up here in the first place because they weren't dangerous and didn't know anything of value. "Sometimes, we just didn't get the right folks," says Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, Guantanamo's current commander." 

Continue reading "The Guantanamo detainee from Germany"