German Papers Germany Released al-Qaida Terror Suspect

When something goes wrong with German laws, the fingers often start pointing at Brussels. But on Monday, the Federal Constitutional Court overturned Germany's law implementing the EU arrest warrant because it didn't take advantage of the flexibility Brussels envisioned. And that, the court said, is dangerous for Germans. The price of the sloppy draft: a suspected al-Qaida terrorist had to be released from jail.

Following Monday's ruling, Mamoun Darkazanli, the man suspected of being al-Qaida's bookkeeper in Germany, is back on the streets.

Following Monday's ruling, Mamoun Darkazanli, the man suspected of being al-Qaida's bookkeeper in Germany, is back on the streets.

On Monday, the German government suffered a major setback in its efforts to combat terrorism after the country's highest court ruled that Berlin's implementation of a European Union-wide arrest warrant was unconstitutional. The court said the EU idea was compatible with Germany's constitution, but that the law drafted by Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries was sloppily written and didn't go far enough in framing the leeway offered to prosecutors by the EU arrest warrant. Just hours after the ruling, German police released terrorism suspect Mamoun Darkazanli, who has been held since October awaiting extradition to Spain where he is believed to have been linked to al-Qaida activities.

The ruling is widely being seen here as a setback in the German government's efforts to battle terrorism. After all, most international intelligence agencies believe Darkazanli to be a fairly big fish in the al-Qaida pond. Darkazanli allegedly knew Mohammed Atta and his 9/11 Hamburg terrorist cell and also is thought to have had power of attorney over a Deutsche Bank account held in the name of Mamduh Mahmud Salim, al-Qaida's suspected bookkeeper who has since been imprisoned. Officials believe Darkazanli was his deputy in Germany. Charges have been filed against Darkazanli in a number of countries and he hasn't left Germany since the Sept. 11 attacks. Many consider his eventual extradition to Spain to be the last remaining hope of prosecuting him. Ironically, under German anti-terrorism laws passed after the 9/11 attacks, Darkazanli could be deported. Problem is, Darkazanli's alleged offences took place before the law went into effect and the government hasn't found any evidence of wrong-doing since.

"The suspect's release is a setback in the government's efforts in the war against terror," a visibly frustrated Zypries said Monday. The court has called for a revised version of the law, and Zypries has promised to deliver it in four to six weeks. In its ruling, the court gave Zypries specific guidelines for improvements. Among the court's key concerns was the thought that a German sought by another country could be extradited before even getting a hearing here at home or tried in another country for something not against German law.

German newspapers on Tuesday see the court ruling as a major debacle for the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

"This is a slap in the face for the federal government and parliament," lambastes the business daily Handelsblatt. "Neither the executive nor the legislative branch was capable of adopting the EU arrest warrant into national law in accordance with the constitution." The great irony here, as the paper points out, is that now the judiciary is rescuing Germans' fundamental rights not from directive and legislation-happy Brussels, but from their own government in Berlin. "Unfortunately, amateurish treatment of EU law is nothing unusual in Berlin," the paper continues. It concludes by saying that the EU constitution would have given European citizens a stronger parliament that could have acted in cases like this when "national representatives fail."

The conservative Die Welt continues with the rope-a-dope against the government, saying the thrust of the verdict is not aimed against European institutions, but at the national legislature, "which failed to make full use of the scope of the directive for the benefit of its citizens." The paper also sees the ruling as a victory for the EU concept of "subsidiarity," which holds that decisions should be made and implemented at the closest level possible to citizens. The concept, the paper writes, "prohibits the abandonment of national legal systems under the pressure of increasing European unity. Citizens have the right to be treated and judged based on the standards they have been entrusted with."

For its part, the center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung goes totally trailer park in its analogy for the Bundestag muck-up. "An EU directive is no TV dinner from Brussels that comes with a sell-by date," the paper writes mockingly. "And you can't just heat it up in the national microwave ... (The court in Karlsruhe) has told legislators that you also need to add some German ingredients, sometimes for constitutional reasons. Legally, that's called: leeway in implementation." The paper then peers over the southeastern border into Austria, where it notes that politicians did a good job of writing the EU arrest warrant into national law. "A look at Austria," the commentator writes, "would have revealed how parliament there exhausted the scope of the EU directive down to the last millimeter to protect its citizens from dubious extraditions to other EU states.

The leftist Die Tageszeitung also sees the court ruling favorably. Of course it could lead to a German being extradited to another country to be tried for a crime that wouldn't be prosecuted in Germany, the paper writes. But the generally EU-skeptical Constitutional Court thought it would be worse to wait for a unified EU penal code than to allow extraditions within the 25-member Union. The arrest warrant, at least, is more palatable to them than a European super-state. "The justices also determined that the EU regulations provide enough playing room to fulfil their wishes. This time it isn't Europe, but rather the federal government and parliament that have been given a thrashing."

But the most damning commentary of the day comes from the Financial Times Deutschland, which accuses the government of shooting itself in the foot in the fight against terrorism. "The subsequent demands made by the constitutional justices appear to be things that should have been taken for granted," the openly affronted editorialist snipes. "It is frightening that no court review was planned for extradition orders," it continues. "And now Justice Minister Zypries is trying to distract attention from this failure by discrediting standards that are inherent to any country with a constitution as unnecessary bureaucracy." Worse yet, it continues, is the release of terror suspect Darkazanli, which it describes as "beyond infuriating." Rather than blaming the court for the setback, the paper concludes, it should instead "quickly learn a lesson from (the constitutional court)."

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