Terrorism Interview with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble: 'We Could Be Struck at Anytime'
In an interview that has outraged politicians and media commentators alike, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, 64, calls for changes to Germany's constitution to simplify the fight against terror. It's a discussion that goes to the fringes of what's allowed in a constitutional state: preventative detainments, clandestine seizure of private computer data and even targeted killings.
Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is considered a hardliner on security issues. Many have criticized his proposals for redrafting parts of Germany's constitution.
Schäuble: The problem is that such groups now form spontaneously. In the case of the suitcase bombers last summer, the suspected perpetrators met each other only a few months before. It seems to have been similar in Britain, according to the first investigation results. To that extent, it is true that we are far from knowing all potential attackers.
SPIEGEL: It seems as if it were now purely a question of luck whether or not an attack can be prevented.
Schäuble: It was indeed luck that the suitcase bombs in Cologne did not detonate, but we must not rely on that. The intelligence agencies and the Federal Criminal Police Office in particular need to do everything conceivable. But in the case of us suffering a heavy attack, we should retain the necessary measure of composure, as the British are doing now. That is what I am thinking of when I say: We could be struck at anytime. It is a form of political precaution.
Schäuble: When we say the likelihood of an attack is greater than ever before, there is no fearmongering involved in that. It is a representation of reality. Unfortunately, the public tends to believe we are not threatened.
SPIEGEL: The way the situation is currently coming to a head can be traced back to the Americans, who warn of imminent attacks in an analysis and call for doing more to prevent them. To what extent do you feel pressured by Washington?
Schäuble: We are currently cooperating more closely with the US intelligence agencies than ever before. No country has global intelligence as good as that of the Americans. We profit from it every day. In recent weeks, I have met several times with Michael Chertoff, the US Secretary of Homeland Security. In mid-May, he also visited me with his wife back home in our house in Gengenbach, and we had a very open exchange about the danger of terror.
SPIEGEL: That exchange seems to have had a lasting effect. Following Chertoff's visit, Angela Merkel's chief of staff in the Chancellery, Thomas de Maiziere, summoned the so-called Security Group -- a crisis task force formed to prepare for terrorist attacks -- for the first time since the fall of 2001. The government wanted to discuss plans for responding to the real thing.
Schäuble: We and the Americans have known about the increased threat to US installations in Germany for months. We are observing the travel movements of suspicious people between Pakistan and Germany.
SPIEGEL: In your view, the regular security policy tools are insufficient for dealing with Islamic terrorism, because it represents a blend of crime and war. Are you searching for a third way beyond adversary criminal law and the classic constitutional state?
Schäuble: The fact is that the old categories no longer apply. We are not waging a classic war in Afghanistan, but the international legal order does not fit there either, which is why we need new concepts. The fight against international terrorism cannot be mastered by the classic methods of the police, in any case. If for example potential terrorists, so-called endangerers, cannot be extradited -- what do we do with them? One could, for example, create a law making conspiracy a criminal offense, as the United States has done. But the other question is: Can one treat such endangerers like combatants and detain them?
SPIEGEL: You want preventative detention for Islamists?
Schäuble: No. But we have to clarify whether our constitutional state is sufficient for confronting the new threats. So-called preventive detention already exists today -- for hooligans at soccer games, for example -- albeit with tight legal restrictions. And we must discuss whether the degree of prevention that is already a feature of our police laws today is sufficient. One could for example impose conditions on someone who cannot be extradited, such as a ban on Internet or mobile phone communication. The legal problems extend all the way to extreme cases such as so-called targeted killing ...
SPIEGEL: ... meaning the systematic assassination of suspects by the state. Your predecessor Otto Schily already threatened Islamists with such a measure when he said: "Those who love death can have it."
Schäuble: Imagine someone knew what cave Osama bin Laden is sitting in. A remote-controlled missile could then be fired in order to kill him.
SPIEGEL: Germany's federal government would probably send a public prosecutor there first, to arrest bin Laden ...
Schäuble: and the Americans would execute him with a missile, and most people would say: Thank God. But let us be honest: The legal questions involved would be completely open, especially if Germans were involved. We should try to clarify such questions as precisely as possible in constitutional law, and create legal bases that give us the necessary liberties in the struggle against terrorism. I think nothing of citing a supra-legal state of emergency, in accordance with the motto: "Necessity knows no law."
SPIEGEL: You stretch the constitutional state to its limits when you reshape it into a state of prevention and thereby also accept state killings.
Schäuble: Oh, not at all! Just take a look at the police laws of Germany's states: The so-called final saving gunshot has long featured there. Our constitution would fall apart if we did not adjust it, especially when it comes to such central issues. Whoever wants to preserve freedom has to act when social circumstances have changed. We no longer live in the world of 1949.
SPIEGEL: Could it be the price of security is so high that the constitutional state abandons itself for fear of terror?
Schäuble: The opposite is correct. The liberal constitution would be threatened if we were to create the impression that we can provide less protection than other, less democratic state forms. That is the lesson learned from Weimar. I am an enthusiastic adherent of the liberal, rule-of-law constitution. But if we do not want terrorists to take it away from us, we must act.
SPIEGEL: Would it not be timely -- six years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and in light of Guantanamo -- for the German interior minister to say: We are vigilant, but we will not cross a certain red line, because that would irrevocably transform our society?
Schäuble: I cannot accept this question. I would like to see a less hysterical discussion culture. The red line is very simple: It is always defined by the constitution, which can however be changed. A proposal to modify constitutional law is not an attack on the constitution. To me, strengthening the idea of prevention also means strengthening the constitution, because it gives people faith.
- Part 1: 'We Could Be Struck at Anytime'
- Part 2: 'The Internet Has Become the Central Medium for Islamists'
© DER SPIEGEL 28/2007
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