Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble must have thought he was only trying to foster an open debate on the issue of how best to prevent terrorism. But his musings in the current issue of SPIEGEL have instead triggered outrage -- and caused tension in Germany's ruling coalition government.
Schäuble called in the interview for a harder line against terrorism, saying that German law might have to be changed to allow the state to fight terrorism effectively. "The struggle against international terrorism cannot be mastered by the classic methods of the police," he said. "We have to clarify whether our constitutional state is sufficient for confronting the new threats."
The measures which he said might have to be considered include taking terrorists into preventive custody, deploying the German army in domestic operations, searching suspects' computers online without their knowledge, and -- most controversially -- the targeted killings of terrorists.
His remarks have been harshly condemned by members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who are junior coalition partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which Schäuble belongs to. SPD leader Kurt Beck on Sunday criticized Schäuble's plans, saying, "We can not protect freedom until death." Senior SPD politician Peter Struck also spoke out against the plans, saying that such proposals could only be implemented in a totalitarian state.
Editorialists writing in Germany's papers Monday were similarly critical of the proposals, saying that Schäuble was over-stepping the limits of the state based on the rule of law and even accusing Schäuble of "complete insanity."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Unfortunately Germany has an interior minister whose ever-diminishing sense of proportion leads to a feeling of insecurity rather than security. Wolfgang Schäuble makes people feel scared. The minister talks as if Germany can only be safe if it turns into an '007' state, by the mutation of the constitutional state based on the rule of law into a regime where the extra-legal becomes legal. He talks about prudence and practices the opposite; he warns of hysteria, but spreads it himself; he disapproves of Guantanamo, but talks as if a 'Guantanamo-ization' of the German legal system is urgently necessary. ... In his recent interview with DER SPIEGEL he not only trumps his predecessor Otto Schily, but also exceeds even himself with his pithy musings about whether one shouldn't actually kill genuine or alleged terrorists."
"After 9/11 and the following terrorist attacks, experts carried out assessments of where and how terrorists could attack the country, and about how nuclear power plants and water supply plants could be protected. But the terrorists did something else at least as dangerous. They penetrated mindsets in the centers of power, contaminating the thinking of democratic politicians and poisoning the legal system. Schäuble's suggestions are the result of this poisoning: Fundamental constitutional and legal values are being questioned out of fear of terror. ... The interior minister is no longer a prudent opponent of terror, but its pawn."
The center-left Berliner Zeitung writes:
"If there is still a true trans-Atlanticist left in Germany, then it is Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. With an eye to the American model, Schäuble has now announced a catalog of new legal ideas for the fight against terrorism. It is a list which causes fear. ... Schäuble says new legal principles must be created 'to give us the necessary freedoms in the fight against terrorism.' In reality it is all about unethical principles, a kind of martial law and ultimately about a German version of Guantanamo. One would be very grateful if the chancellor (Angela Merkel) would point this out to her 'minister for martial law.'"
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"There is no reason why the German government should not consider how best to defend against terror. After all, the state's duties include guaranteeing the physical safety of its citizens. Schäuble's concrete suggestions show something else however: complete insanity. ... With the suggestions, Schäuble is demonstrating his absolute will -- his will to take action for the sake of action. His motto is: If we cannot ban terror from the world, then at least we can show the citizens how active we are. ... A law which allows Osama bin Laden to be shot may be irrelevant for bin Laden, but it is not irrelevant for us. Giving permission to kill humans without a concrete danger being present is tantamount to an execution. Such killings contradict international law. The death penalty is forbidden in Germany. At least in terms of preventing terrorism, though, that no longer seems to be a given."
-- David Gordon Smith, 2:30 p.m. CET