World from Berlin: NSU Crime Spree Report Finds 'Devastating' Errors
Nineteen months in the making, a panel of German parliamentarians across the political spectrum have released their report on a series of right-wing murders that authorities failed to detect for years. German media say the findings show surprising unanimity, but lack the legislative power to effect real change.
A committee of German lawmakers have published a long-anticipated report on the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the murderous neo-Nazi cell uncovered nearly two years ago, and how its three members were able to commit dozens of crimes without arousing the suspicion of law enforcement.
The report is more than 1,000 pages long, and was presented to the public on Thursday. It lays out 47 recommendations on how to improve the German state security system so that cases like that of the NSU don't happen again. Notable among the committee's recommendations is a call for more racial diversity among police and security forces. Yet in Germany's fractured and decentralized system of law enforcement, any kind of affirmative action program would face immense challenges.
The NSU is believed to have committed 10 murders between 2000 and 2007, and nine of the victims were of Turkish or Greek origin. Rather than looking into racial motivations for the murders, police immediately suspected the victims were involved in organized crime and drug trafficking. They pursued family members of the deceased as potential suspects, and ignored clues pointing to the right-wing extremist origins of the crimes.
All five political parties in parliament had representation on the committee, and German media commentators praised the rare unanimity with which they all spoke. However the media also noted the recommendations are non-binding, and may be difficult to implement on a nationwide basis.
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"In the next legislative period, lawmakers must ensure that the necessary reforms are implemented and the desired culture of reporting mistakes can actually develop. Wherever the committee looked, they came across mistakes and negligence, sometimes even subtle or outright racism. The beginning of a long chain of failures began when three neo-Nazis slipped away from police in Jena in 1998. Domestic security agents crouched down to look at clues, but failed to interpret them correctly. Commissioners became obsessed with the idea that Turks were killing Turks. They traveled to Anatolian villages to interrogate relatives. The neo-Nazis were the only ones no one thought to suspect."
"Many an investigator tried to downplay their failures to the tune of, 'First we were unlucky, then we were even more unlucky.' The verdict of the committee is more along the lines of, 'First the authorities were incompetent, then they were amateurish.'"
"It would be good if the federal prosecutor general, as recommended by the committee, were granted more power to seize authority over cases in other jurisdictions. A dense federalist bureaucracy hindered the work of the domestic security system. This is where the unanimous recommendations of the committee are unfortunately weak. Exchange of information should be better, but the authorities have already committed to that. And the parties were unable to agree on an end to the federalist patchwork of jurisdictions."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"With the NSU committee, Germany's parties managed to diverge from the (typically politicized) path that such inquiries frequently take, working together to find out the causes for one of the country's most brutal series of terrorist murders. Together, they co-authored the 1,000-page report that named failures and made recommendations. With that, the committee has marked the end of a great moment for parliament, one in which all participants were clear on what they had to address -- a failure of the state on a scale that was unimaginable before the NSU came to light."
"But the clarification of the events surrounding the terrorist cell continues in court. Though there, too, not all of the open questions will be answered. Still, the difficult search for answers is necessary to fulfill the promise the politicians made in their report: Never again!"
Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The final report of the NSU committee in the Bundestag is an impressive document of self-enlightenment. With the same bluntness that the PISA study exposed the shortcomings and injustices of the German educational system, the NSU report shows the vulnerabilities and blind spots of the security apparatus on matters of racism."
"Of course it could have been formulated with more harshness, as noted in criticism from lawyers for the murder victims' relatives. But the committee's judgment of civil servants, state attorneys and ministers is damning. The police? Conducted one-sided investigations. The domestic security agency? Grossly underestimated the danger of right-wing terrorism. Politicians? Were uninterested. Yes, technically we knew all that before. But now it's official, we have it in writing."
"It's good that there's consensus. Now it comes down to implementing these recommendations in the day-to-day practices of authorities. Only then will we be able to say we've learned something from this murder series that was overlooked for so many years."
Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The findings of the parliamentary inquiry are accurate. They are also devastating, shameful and, in their own way, trivial. A lack of cooperation, institutional egotism, obstinacy at the federal level and shoddy investigative work may have contributed to the fact that the racially-motivated murders and robberies remained unresolved, and that right-wing extremist terrorism remained under the radar of law enforcement. What the report does not provide, however, is an explanation for the atrocities, as well as answers to why they were able to occur in the first place."
"The parliamentary committee has oversimplified the circumstances that led to the crimes. Its criticism centers on the failings of the public authorities. According to the committee, they are to blame for the crimes, and their failings are the root of the problem. These institutional failings are repeatedly referred to as "structural," "systemic" and "multiple." This harks back to the committee's initial suspicions that the authorities had actually been contributing to the racially-motivated violence. The magnitude of these allegations -- as well as their dubious dismissal -- doesn't seem to be causing any stir."
"It seems as though the committee members did, at some point, come to their senses. Though their recommendations are numerous, they would do little to change the way in which the police, domestic security agents and the judiciary operate on a daily basis. That is, if the recommendations are taken into account at all."
-- Andrew Bowen
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Charge: complicity in 10 homicides, two bomb attacks and 15 armed robberies, membership in a terrorist organization, attempted murder and arson
Pre-trial detention: since November 8, 2011
NSU links: Zschäpe is believed to be a founding member of the NSU terror cell. According to the federal prosecutor's office, she and the group's two other members, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos -- both of whom are deceased -- held roles of equal importance within the cell. It is believed that Zschäpe did not carry out any murders herself, but was indispensable to the NSU group. According to the prosecution, Zschäpe helped to create a veneer of normalcy for the terror cell. She was in charge of logistics, served as accountant and rented vehicles for the group. In addition, she archived articles discussing the crimes of the terror cell and allegedly was involved in procuring a weapon and false documents. Finally, the 37-year-old is believed to have set fire to the apartment that had served as the final hiding place for the trio and to have sent out DVDs in which the group claimed responsibility for the crimes.
Charge: accessory to murder in nine cases
Pre-trial detention: since November 29, 2011
NSU links: Wohlleben, born in 1975, allegedly helped the terror trio financially when they went into hiding in 1998 and provided them with money later. In late 1999 or early 2000, Wohlleben, a former functionary of the far-right NPD party, allegedly helped the group acquire a handgun and ammunition with the aid of a courier. The semi-automatic Ceska 83 was identified as the murder weapon in nine cases of homicide involving small business owners and employees of foreign descent.
Charge: support of a terrorist organization in three cases
Pre-trial detention: November 13, 2011 until May 25, 2012
NSU links: Holger G., born in 1974, is believed to have been in contact with the terror trio since the late 1990s. He allegedly gave over his drivers' license, a health insurance card and his passport to the NSU, enabling its members to act covertly and commit racially motivated crimes. He also transported a weapon for the terrorists. G. confessed his crimes in a comprehensive statement to the investigators.
Charge: accessory to murder in nine cases
Pre-trial detention: February 1 until May 29, 2012
NSU links: Carsten S. -- allegedly with money from Ralf Wohlleben -- bought the weapon that killed nine small business owners and employees. The 32-year-old also delivered the handgun to the terror cell in Chemnitz. S. has acknowledged his involvement in a comprehensive confession to the federal prosecutor's office.
Charge: support of a terrorist organization, complicity in a bomb attack and accessory to robbery
Pre-trial detention: November 23, 2011 until June 14, 2012
NSU links: The trained stonemason allegedly assisted the terror cell starting in the 1990s, helping them with car rentals and the lease for an apartment. The 33-year-old and his wife allegedly visited the NSU-members regularly, and E. allowed Zschäpe to pose as his wife in 2006.