Sunday, December 14, 2014

Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras get Carl von Ossietzky Award

Edward Snowden is in the German news this morning for two distinct reasons.  First off, he has, along with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, been awarded the Carl von Ossietzky medal in Berlin today for defending human rights. This follows on two similar awards the team has received recently.  Glenn Greenwald won the Geschwister Scholl Prize for 2014 in Munich for his courageous journalism, and the same day Edward Snowden was awarded the “alternative Nobel” prize in Stockholm, the Right Livelihood Award. 

The second reason Snowden is in the news today is that Germany’s Constitutional Court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, has denied a request by a coalition of Germany’s Green and Left Parties to have Snowden granted asylum in Germany long enough for a court to investigate charges he has made about crimes committed against German citizens.  The court argued it would strain relations with the United States, which would be obliged to demand extradition for Snowden – a demand which Germany would then be required to comply with.  So no.  He stays in Moscow.  Laura Poitras, who lives in Berlin, received the award for the three of them.  The award is sponsored by the International League for Human Rights.  The New York based organization has a branch office in Berlin.

A parliamentary (Bundestag) investigative committee was formed last March  to determine not only the role of the American NSA in spying on ordinary citizens, but to what degree their own Bundesnachrichtendienst (literally, “Federal Intelligence Service” - the German “CIA”) was involved.

While the German government agreed that Snowden should be asked to testify on his charge that the NSA had spied on Germans all the way up to and including the German chancellor, they disagree on how and where.  The ruling Union parties (CDU/CSU) and the Socialists allowed it could be done in Moscow, but the Green Party and the Left Party sued the German government and the NSA last September for neglecting their duty to bring Snowden to Germany to provide that information.  Snowden isn't making it any easier by insisting he will testify only if he is given safe haven long enough to do so in Germany.  

Now, the German Constitutional Court has denied that it has standing to involve itself in the case, since the government’s decision on the matter is actually still in progress, and there are other issues at stake, such as whether Snowden can get a passport – the U.S. has taken his away – and whether the Russians would allow him to travel.   The Constitutional Court has suggested this is a matter for Germany's other Supreme Court, the Federal Court of Justice, which decides civil and criminal matters.  I am at a loss to explain their reasoning, except that they simply don't want to touch this hot potato.

The entire issue is highly politicized in Germany.  For the opposition parties, this is the story they want to tell – that the ruling coalition is illegally stonewalling the work of their investigative committee.  For the ruling coalition, they are merely acting sensibly by arguing their hands are tied because of the extradition treaty with the United States.  Some have raised the issue of technical problems in testifying about sensitive issues via the internet; others have called that a red herring. 

What is going on behind the scenes, of course, is that the left opposition parties (Green and Left) are pushing for permanent refuge for Snowden in Germany and playing off the popular disgust of the average German for American arrogance, and the suggestion that their government is in America’s pocket.  As much as members of the ruling coalition may be in sympathy, and in some cases even agreement, as long as Snowden is routinely labeled a traitor and it is clear that if Snowden is tried in the U.S., the trial can be done in secret, nobody wants to be responsible for Snowden’s capture.

Now, on top of all this comes the question of what, if anything, Germany can do about the revelations that the CIA's use of torture is worse than originally thought.  Wolfgang Büttner of Human Rights Watch is pressing for Obama to admit that the torture was illegal.  This would raise questions, of course, about how one should proceed against those who broke the law.  It turns out a Hamburg court, in 2007, admitted testimony obtained by the Americans under torture.  Human Rights Watch wants the German government to recognize this is a direct flouting of the Geneva Convention.  To say nothing of what it means to modern-day Germans to have a German court using testimony obtained by torture. Germany is bumping up against American international offenses all over the place. So far, the German government has not taken any significant steps in opposition to the U.S. way of doing things, but it is clear this decades long relationship is cracking at the seams.

This latest Snowden award is, like the previous ones, getting an almost universal response of silence; only the Deutsche Welle has carried it so far.  Is this because people would start making connections with the Nazis? – the Scholl siblings and Carl von Ossietzky are heroes in modern-day Germany for having been opponents of the Nazis, remember.  And because of a common understanding that only hysterical folk make comparisons with the Nazis?  And to do so destroys one's credibility instantly? We still have to remind ourselves that we are, after all, the Good Guys.  We still wear the White Hats. We still lead the world in democracy.

Yeah, right.

photo credits - waterboarding

Carl von Ossietzky award

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