'Obama Is not God' US Drone Attack Raises Uncomfortable Questions for Germany

A US drone attack in Pakistan in October is thought to have killed a German citizen. The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel would prefer the case to simply go away, but one parliamentarian is refusing to let it be forgotten.
Predator drones like this one are used for targeted killings in Pakistan (2008 photo).

Predator drones like this one are used for targeted killings in Pakistan (2008 photo).


When a German citizen is killed in a foreign country under mysterious circumstances, one might expect an outcry from politicians and the media. But the case of Bünyamin E., a German of Turkish descent who is believed to have died in Pakistan on Oct. 4, has caused remarkably little fuss in Germany -- partly because the 20-year-old was a suspected terrorist, but also because he was apparently killed by an American drone. 

The case is awkward for the German government, as it involves the country's most powerful ally and also raises uncomfortable questions about whether Germany provided support for the targeted killing.

But one opposition politician in particular is determined not to let the government off the hook. Wolfgang Neskovic, a member of parliament for the far-left Left Party, has been pursuing the case and demanding answers from Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration.

The German government "has done everything to conceal the facts of the case," Neskovic told SPIEGEL ONLINE in an interview. "If German citizens are executed in a foreign country -- and that's the only way to describe the targeted killing by the US -- the German government has to provide both the general public and the parliament with sufficient information."

Possible Legal Consequences

One reason the case has not caused a greater outcry is due to fears of an impending terrorist attack in Germany, caused by a recent warning  from Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, meaning that sympathy for the rights of suspected terrorists is limited. But Neskovic -- a member of the Bundestag's Parliamentary Control Panel, which monitors the work of Germany's intelligence agencies -- insists that the intentions of the alleged victims of the attack are irrelevant.

"It does not matter whether the people killed were actually terrorists or not," he said. He called for the circumstances of the fatal drone attack to be thoroughly cleared up. "The US should state whether it actually killed a German or not," he said, adding that the German government "cannot allow or support such attacks on German citizens."

Neskovic suggests the German government could bear partial responsibility for the attack. "The Germans would be complicit in the US's execution operation if they, for example, continued to give information to the US about German Islamists while knowing about a planned targeted killing," he said. "That could have legal as well as political consequences."

Open Questions

Bünyamin E. is believed to be one of three suspected Islamists  from Germany who were killed in a US drone attack in the town of Mir Ali in Pakistan's North Waziristan region on Oct. 4. He was apparently the only one of the three with German citizenship, however.

Officially, the authorities have not yet confirmed if a German citizen died in the attack, but sources in the government told the German magazine Stern that they assume Bünyamin E. was one of the people killed. Germany's Federal Public Prosecutor is currently looking into the case to see if it needs to open an investigation.

The US is increasingly using drones for air strikes in Pakistan's border area, with the CIA controlling the unmanned aircraft from the US. Drone attacks against insurgent targets  form a key part of US President Barack Obama's anti-terror strategy, and are estimated to have killed over 500 people in 2010 alone. The approach has been criticized by some human rights experts as violating international law, given that Pakistan is not a war zone.

'Fire and Brimstone'

"Such attacks are happening outside the law," says Neskovic. "International law does not provide any legal basis for the killing of suspected terrorists outside of a combat situation. … No intelligence service has the license to kill."

According to Neskovic, if other countries adopted such a strategy, the entire world would become a war zone, with "American drones over the Brandenburg Gate (in Berlin) and North Korean drones over Washington."

Neskovic reserves his strongest criticism for the American president, who he sees as being ultimately responsible for the drone attacks. "Barack Obama is not God, able to freely decide about life and death," he says. "Nevertheless he behaves like an Old Testament God who kills people as he sees fit with fire and brimstone."

With reporting by Matthias Gebauer and John Goetz