German minister under attack over Snowden remarks

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has suggested Snowden should return to the United States, setting off sharp criticism in the Bundestag's opposition parties. 2012 [SPD Saar/Flickr]

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has suggested Snowden should return to the United States, setting off sharp criticism in the Bundestag's opposition parties. 2012 [SPD Saar/Flickr]

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas has advised US whistleblower Edward Snowden to return to the United States, sparking outrage from opposition parties in the Bundestag. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Maas has sparked criticism for suggesting Snowden should go back to the US amid an ongoing debate about whether the former National Security Agency (NSA) employee should testify in Germany on US surveillance activities.

“As we have heard, Snowden’s lawyers are in negotiations with American officials and looking into the possibility of Snowden returning to the US to go on trial,” Maas told the news agency DPA in Berlin.

“From Snowden’s point of view, I can completely understand this,” he said.

Surely Snowden does not want to spend the rest of his life being pursued all over the world, Maas argued. “If both sides agree, it would serve Snowden’s purpose,” said Maas, a social democrat in the German “grand coalition”  government.

Opposition up in arms

Opposition politicians in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house, are up in arms.

“Others would be awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit for such dedication to citizen’s rights and democracy. For Snowden, the German government simply advises him to try his luck in an American prison. This cynicism is hardly tolerable any more,” said Jan Korte, deputy chairman of the Left Party’s (Die Linke) faction in the Bundestag.

“The German government is acting very cynically”, said Green Party politician Konstantin von Notz in a statement for Deutsche Welle.

The German organisation ‘Reporters without borders‘ (ROG) also voiced criticism over Maas’ statement.

“Instead of advising Edward Snowden to go on trial in the United States, where he can expect many years of imprisonment, Justice Minister Heiko Maas should publicly call on the German government to guarantee Snowden safe residence in Germany”, said ROG board spokesman Michael Rediske in Berlin.

It is a scandal that Snowden “must live in a country like Russia, that tramples on press freedom and that intercepts telephone calls and internet among its own citizens under the spy programme SORM,” said Rediske.

It is “essential” that Snowden be invited to make a statement in Berlin as an important witness for the NSA investigation committee, the ROG spokesman emphasised.

Snowden ready for Guantanamo

In an interview from mid-June, Snowden spoke to the Guardian newspaper about the discussion over his hearing before the NSA investigation committee. He called it “surprising” that he was being asked to testify as a witness and aid the investigation into mass surveillance but at the same time being barred from entering Germany.

“That’s led to an extraordinary situation where the search for truth has been subordinated to political priorities,” said Snowden, calling it a “disservice to the broader public”.

The Interior Minister does not have a factual reason to reject Snowden’s entrance under paragraph 22 of the German law on residence (Aufenthaltsgesetz), Korte explained.

“Whether or not Snowden is taken in here is a purely political decision,” Korte said, “the German government should not expose itself to letting this decision go through the German constitutional court.”

Snowden also spoke to the Guardian about the consequences of a possible return to the United States. He is not afraid: “If I end up in chains in Guantánamo, I can live with that”, Snowden pointed out.

He said he is much happier in Russia than facing an unfair trial in another country. “I feel very fortunate to have received asylum,” he said.

Bundestag NSA investigation committee

Members of the Left Party and Greens in the Bundestag’s NSA investigation committee are calling on the German government to clear the way for Snowden to testify in Germany, the news magazine Der Spiegel reported over the weekend.

By the time it meets for the first time after the summer break, a majority in the committee is expected to revise the decision not to invite Snowden to Berlin.

Otherwise “clarification of the question before the German constitutional court is unavoidable,” der Spiegel wrote, citing a joint statement from committee members Konstantin von Notz and Martina Renner.

The Bundestag’s opposition has been threatening to bring the case to the court in Karlsruhe for several months now.

Last year Snowden leaked information revealing mass-surveillance of German citizens by international intelligence services such as the NSA.

He faces criminal charges in the United States and is currently living in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum. Although his residence permit will expire this week on 31 July an extension is expected.

Edward Snowden, a former technical contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA employee, has leaked thousands of NSA documents revealing intrusive and illegal programmes of mass phone and internet interception.

He made the revelation to the UK daily The Guardian in May 2013 before fleeing to Hong Kong and subsequently being granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Europeans have reacted angrily to allegations that the United States had tapped the telephone conversations of EU leaders, as well as business and personal data of European companies and individuals.

The revelations have put to the test ongoing EU-US trade talks, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

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