Germany's Secret Baader-Meinhof Files Prosecutors Revisit Notorious 1977 Assassination
The 1977 assassination of Siegfried Buback by the far-left Red Army Faction is one of Germany's most famous unsolved murders. Now new evidence suggests that former RAF member Verena Becker may have been involved. But the intelligence services, who used Becker as an informant, are keeping the lid on a top-secret file which could clear up the crime.
Bergengruenstrasse in Berlin's upmarket Zehlendorf district is an exclusive street, the kind of place where well-off residents of the German capital live. Attractive apartment buildings, home to flats with stucco ceilings and polished timber floors, can be seen behind rows of trees. The people here seek the quiet life: They like the lawn trimmed, the Volvo gleaming, the hedge at eye level, maybe a white wooden bench in the garden. The small house in the second row is no exception, plastered in bright colors and impeccably well kept. It is the house where Verena Becker lived.
In this idyll, the ex-terrorist tried to live with herself, with her memories of the blood-drenched time of the RAF. For years she sought a normality in these surroundings -- the unlikely normality of her life's second act, minus the bloody first act.
At some point she began an internal dialogue, listening to her inner self and writing about herself. And perhaps not just about herself, but also rewriting a piece of German history: the story of the assassination in 1977 of Siegfried Buback, the German chief federal prosecutor. Becker, now 57, was more closely involved with the assassination than was previously assumed. The question is the extent to which she was involved, now that federal prosecutors have seized her notes, searched her computer, and brought Becker back to the place where she lived for 15 years -- behind bars.
Becker was transferred from Karlsruhe, where she was being held in custody, to a women's prison in Berlin on Tuesday of this week. Investigators assume that she will be charged and sentenced next year for her part in the Buback murder. It would be a unique undertaking: a trial involving the far-left Red Army Faction, which terrorized Germany during the 1970s and 1980s, using the resources and standards of the 21st century and far removed from the bitter mood of the time.
That said, it is by no means certain that Becker will be alone in the dock. Did investigators at the time overlook or even suppress evidence, as the murder victim's son Michael Buback has speculated for the past two years? Did Becker work as an informant for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, not only in the early 1980s, as SPIEGEL revealed in 2007, but also earlier, before Buback's death? Was there a cover-up of Becker's involvement so that the terrorist never stood trial for the Buback murder, despite there being indications of her complicity as early as 1977?
Over two years, though only from 1981 to 1983, Becker supplied the Office for the Protection of the Constitution with insider details on the RAF in a secret operation titled "Zauber" ("Magic"). It had been hoped that Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble would release parts of the previously secret files on the operation this week. However the Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday that it would not open up the files, although it said it would allow prosecutors limited access to the files to help them build their case against Becker.
The RAF's war on the state might be over, but the battle over its history still rages. Many secrets have not been told; the former terrorists remain silent, not wanting to incriminate their one-time comrades in arms, themselves even less so. Certainly, many who were members during the early years had put the RAF behind them even before 1989, when the terrorist group announced it had disbanded. A handful were willing to come clean, but none over the murders. Who shot industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer? Who was involved in the later and still completely unexplained attacks, namely the 1989 killing of Deutsche Bank head Alfred Herrhausen, and the 1991 murder of government official Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, who was responsible for the privatization of the state companies of the former East Germany?
Proceedings against Verena Becker, it is hoped, could clear up at least one secret: Who shot Buback on April 7, 1977 from the pillion seat of a 750cc Suzuki motorcycle, who was driving the bike and who was waiting in the getaway car? And what was Becker's role?
As it happens, some mysteries are easier to solve today than at the time. As a DNA report from Feb. 27 establishes, Becker handled the letters claiming responsibility for the act that were posted in Düsseldorf and Duisburg; she had licked the flaps and stuck the stamps on the envelopes -- striking evidence that she was involved with the RAF structures responsible for the attack. As a result of the DNA evidence, federal prosecutors began eavesdropping on Becker's telephone conversations in the spring.
On other questions, the passage of time obscures the picture, such as the motives of the judiciary, which are difficult to comprehend from today's perspective. Was cheap opportunism, for example, part of their thinking? After all, Becker had already received a life sentence, so why go to the expense of making her stand trial for Buback again?
It is possible that at the time, the law was bent or even perverted, and that in the Buback case charges were filed, not on the strength of evidence, but because of the national interest. This would surely have been unworthy of a constitutional state like Germany which prides itself on being based on the rule of law. On the other hand, it was certainly not a conspiracy in favor of the public enemy Verena Becker. To date, no evidence has been found to support such conspiracy theories.