German minister mum on Israeli detention policy

Justice minister meets with her Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni; does not criticize Israeli detention practices.

May 27, 2013 04:40
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser- Schnarrenberger

Sabine Leutheusser- Schnarrenberger370. (photo credit: Reuters)

Germany’s liberal Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser- Schnarrenberger, declined multiple chances to slam Israel’s administrative detention policy for terrorists and for migrants in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post.

Speaking a combination of German and English, with a translator interpreting for the Post in Hebrew, Leutheusser- Schnarrenberger, 52, said that the reason she had come to Israel now was to discuss with top officials such as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (with whom she met on Tuesday) “her and the German government’s success in passing a law to allow ritual circumcision following a court decision which raised problems.”

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, in her second stint as justice minister, is known in Germany for her successful campaign to end the aggressive post-9/11 approach to preventative detention in Germany, and to return the system to a more liberal stance.

The German justice minister has abolished retrospective detention and severely limited and systematized the application of preventative detention.

While even prior to her term in office, Germany did not have administrative detention – indefinite pretrial detention often of suspected terrorists to prevent their release, while also avoiding giving them a full trial – Germany had invoked close cousins such as retrospective detention and preventative detention.

Retrospective detention and preventative detention are both mechanisms in which, after defendants are convicted and have completed their sentences, the state is able to indefinitely extend their detentions because of some danger they may pose.

The idea of preventative detention, she noted, is that while it is aggressive by extending the detention of convicts beyond their sentences, it gives them advance notice that they will be rejudged “at the end of their sentence and that, with good behavior and other factors, they can positively impact their chances of being released.”

So it was surprising that the minister – one of the leading liberals in the German government coalition – in a wide ranging interview with the Post, took a pass on several chances to criticize Israel’s administrative detention policies when one of her primary missions has been to reduce the already smaller use of indefinite detention in Germany even more.

For example, asked what would be the most powerful tool law enforcement could use to keep an arch-terrorist of Osama Bin Laden’s stature in custody, she said that pretrial detention would still need to be in the context of an investigation with a “ticking bomb” scenario in play and in order to file an indictment (and anytime an indictment is filed, the case could also be lost and the arch-terrorist released).

The most she would say, in addressing the differences between German attitudes toward detention and Israeli-American attitudes (which have overlapped significantly since 9/11), was to note that “there are different systems even within the EU, very different systems. I don’t know the system is in the UK, but I think it is nearer to the US.”

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s raising of the UK example could have either been a subtle way to avoid criticizing an Israeli policy she dislikes while on a diplomatic mission clearly focused on emphasizing the positives of the German-Israeli relationship, or it could have indicated that she believes different countries need different approaches than what she might use in Germany.

Pressed on Israel’s detention of migrants at Saharonim in the South, she said “I can only tell you about what we have in Germany.”

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger did add that even in “Germany there are different situations.”

In Bavaria, migrants could be kept living in the same joint residence for one to one-and-a-half years, but that unlike in Israel “they can come and go.”

She said that “Israel has a different solution, and that at this moment there is no way” for Israel to similarly implement “the EU’s right to asylum.”

The German minister was also animated to discuss her fight via an investigative commission to unveil the “continuity of the Nazis in the Justice Ministry and in other government ministries after World War II.”

In a 2010 speech, she indicated that “judges and public prosecutors had been henchmen” of the Nazis.

In the same speech, she said that the betrayal of the Jews in Germany was not only a general society one, but a “betrayal of colleagues and co-workers” of fellow judges and lawyers.

Some Jewish judges and lawyers were also persecuted because of their liberal “commitment to democracy” and for “strongly advocating” the right to “public gatherings.”

The commission is charged with investigating how the Nazis who continued to wield significant legal power within the government “impacted legislation in the first decades.”

Some early findings may have indicated ex-Nazi involvement in continuing to push racism from the Justice Ministry, and a source indicated that ex-Nazis who remained in power may have protected other Nazis from conviction and harsh penalties.

In the German newspaper the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a recent article said that “known facts like the history of Eduard Dreher, the Nazi-linked jurist, prosecutor at a Nazi special court and later deputy director-general in the federal Ministry of Justice – are being brought together” in investigating the Justice Ministry of the 1950s and 1960s.

The report is due in mid- June.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger also expressed optimism in the peace process. based on vibes she received from Livni and the personal involvement of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said she tried to explain to Livni why the small but loud neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany had not been officially banned from politics in Germany, indicating that this had been tried once before and been voted down.

She said that the German government could not take the chance of bringing it to a vote a second time and losing the vote again, and that some coalition partners opposed the banning.

Asked what she would speak to the Palestinians about during her meeting Thursday, she said that the Palestinians also wanted to hear from her about the circumcision issue, and that she wanted to offer assistance and guidance in human rights areas, such as “the rights of women.”

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