Klein addresses closed Kunduz air strike inquiry

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10 Feb, 2010 Updated Wed 10 Feb 2010 18:04 CEST
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Colonel Georg Klein, the German commander who ordered the controversial air strike that killed up to 140 Afghans last year, appeared before an parliamentary inquiry on Wednesday after defending his actions publicly through his lawyer.

Klein appeared around midday to give evidence to the parliamentarians in the notorious Kunduz affair, in which American fighter jets – on Klein’s orders – bombarded two stranded petrol tankers in September.

While Klein gave his statement behind closed doors, his lawyer Bernd Müssig spoke to the media outside the Reichstag building to make the case that Klein acted justly and lawfully based on what he knew at the time.

“Considered impartially, the decision for this air strike on the basis of the available information and resources was, according to key criteria of humanitarian international law, understandable and indeed lawful,” Müssig said according to website of Der Spiegel magazine.

Klein was forced to take a difficult military decision in his role as commander of German soldiers that could affect the Afghan security forces as well as civilians caught in a armed conflict.

“He was well aware that every decision – including non-action and omission of action – had to have far-reaching consequences,” the lawyer said.

Shielded by federal police – at his own request – Klein was ferried into the Reichstag building as Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle addressed the parliament on the issue of Afghanistan. The media were banned from taking his picture.

The committee of Bundestag parliamentarians examining the affair met in a blocked off area of the Reichstag building.

Müssig said Klein wanted to be able to speak absolutely frankly, even though he was entitled to silence because of a simultaneous criminal investigation against him.

Klein carried a thick folder upon which he drew to give a lengthy presentation, however he was not understood to have answered questions.

Müssig said Klein regretted all of the deaths and injuries that happened in the Afghanistan conflict, and in particular civilian deaths, “independent of the legal situation.” every victim was one too many, he said.

Westerwelle, meanwhile, used some of the strongest language the government has mustered so far on the sensitive issue of Afghanistan, calling Germany’s deployment an “armed conflict in the sense of humanitarian international law” – rendering all but meaningless the government’s long refusal to call it a “war.”

“Whether or not that pleases us, it is the situation,” he said.

And in a direct reference to the situation with Colonel Klein, Westerwelle added: “This legal qualification of the objective mission status of ISAF has consequences for the ability of the soldiers to act, for the chain of command and for the assessment of the behaviour of soldiers in respect of legality.”

That said, how the government defines the Afghan mission would not have any actual legal bearing on Klein’s case.

Previously the government has avoided a precise definition of the German mission in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has previously spoken of “war-like” conditions.



2010/02/10 18:04

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