Freedom for Mohnhaupt and Klar?

Yesterday on my local radio station there was a call-in show on the future of two convicted terrorists of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF). The RAF existed for almost thirty years, but its heyday was in the late 1970s, and especially in 1977, when the group staged a series of kidnappings an assassinations that caused a serious crisis atmosphere in Germany. This period was known as the "German Autumn."

MohnhauptNow two of the most infamous RAF prisoners, Brigitte Mohnhaupt (looking icily suave in the ‘man’-hunt photo at left) and Christian Klar, might soon be released (G) after serving twenty-four years behind bars. Mohnhaupt, one of the leaders of the German Autumn attacks, is serving a sentence of five terms of life imprisonment plus fifteen years. She’ll have a hearing before the Fifth Criminal Senate of the Stuttgart Regional Court on January 22 to determine whether she should be released early on parole. Klar, convicted of nine counts of murder and 11 counts of attempted murder, submitted his application for executive clemency years ago, when Johannes Rau was the President of Germany. Rau’s successor, Horst Koehler, has signaled he might be near a decision.

Back in the day, these two were ideologically disciplined, stone-cold ‘urban guerrillas’, capable of planning and carrying out  sophisticated operations against heavily-guarded state and industry targets. Executing their targets, if necessary, was no problem to them, although not all of the murders charged to their account were execution-style.

Neither of them has publicly expressed any regret. In the early 1990s, Mohnhaupt (whose name, I feel compelled to report, can be translated as "Poppy-seed Head") rejected a government offer of possible clemency consideration, calling anyone who agreed to "cuddle up to the State" a "traitor." Klar, in a 2001 interview, said he didn’t understand (G) how concepts like "remorse" or "guilt" applied to him, given the thousands of victims capitalism was still claiming. Apparently, though, Klar has had some sort of change of heart since then, otherwise there would be little point in submitting a clemency request to the Federal President.*

I found it somewhat remarkable that all of the callers to the show (G) were in favor of early release for Klar and Mohnhaupt. Keep in mind that this is a public-radio talk show, so the callers are not representative of German society — they’re more educated and more left-wing. Still, I was surprised at the relative unanimity. Even Gerhart Rudolf Baum, the show’s guest was in favor of their release. Baum, a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), was a high-ranking official in 1977, and thus a potential target of the RAF. However, Baum is also a civil-liberties crusader, and supports strict limits on the state’s power to gather evidence and imprison people.

Only one caller to the show (an old lady from a small town) stated unequivocally that she wanted the terrorists kept behind bars. All other callers said as a sign of "humanity" or "moderation" that the former terrorists should be released, since they would not harm society in the future. Several of the callers specifically referred to the USA: "We should let them out. They have paid their dues to society, they’re not going to hurt anyone else, and unlike the USA, we shouldn’t be executing people or keeping people in prison just for revenge." The callers stuck to their guns even when they were confronted with the outspoken demand by the victim’s families that the RAF members be kept in prison, and with the fact that neither Klar or Mohnhaupt has publicly, clearly expressed regret for their actions.

The refrain among the callers was constant: It’s not about them, it’s about us. We, said the callers, want to live in a state which focusses on rehabilitating criminals, recognizes limits on retribution, and shows mercy and moderation toward prisoners, even if the prisoners may not appear particularly deserving. The callers also noted the extreme severity of twenty-four years in prison. After twenty-four years in a high-security prison, the prisoners’ lives have been ruined, their personalities have been fundamentally altered and perhaps gravely damaged, and they will never have a chance to resume a normal life. That, surely, is punishment enough.

Mohnhaupt’s chances are regarded as slim — she’s asking for early release from prison, which has to be earned. Klar’s chances may be better, since Koehler has broad latitude to grant clemency, and has made some slightly favorable noises about Klar’s application.

* Nota bene: Do not make the frequent European mistake of blaming George W. Bush for every execution that’s happened in the United States during his presidency. Unlike Germany’s president, the president of the United States has no power to pardon death row inmates, except for the tiny fraction of inmates imprisoned under federal law. The 152 executions that happened while Bush was Governor of Texas, however, can be charged to his account. But don’t worry — every one of them was guilty, as Bush could certify during the 30-minute sessions he conducted with his counsel Alberto Gonzales before the execution.

29 thoughts on “Freedom for Mohnhaupt and Klar?

  1. Referring to the linked article in the Sueddeutsche newspaper: Thank you for reminding me to feel sad about this and that dead person in 2007. I am always glad when authorities dictate my emotions.

  2. Isn’t it somewhat frivolous (and probably offensive to the victims or the criminal, as the case may be) to let radio callers state their views on whether criminals should be pardoned or not? It’s almost as if you’re asking the members in the audience of a criminal trial about their opinion on what the sentence should be.

    This is a matter to be decided for by the competent institutions (in this case, the federal president), which have an enormous responsibility to make a very balanced and sane appreciation of the values at stake.

    Those in charge at the radio station should have thought twice before having done that program. They certainly didn’t act very responsible.

  3. Its a matter of free speech, Norbert. Andrew can compare George Bush unfavorably to to a tree slug, exercising his right of free speech and offending me.

    I can respond in the comments and equate Andrew to a three-toed Tree Sloth, exercising MY right of free speech. I’m NOT doing that, Andrew.

    Andrew can then obliterate my comment – though that is not free speech.

  4. And now to my actual point. Which is that public opinio n is what ultimately drives quite a bit of this. Not necessarily in specific cases but in aggregate.

    Officials usually (if not universally) repond to public opinion. So if the public climate suppoerts releases (as it evidently does in Germany) officials will be open to such pleas.

    Where the public is not supportive of such clemency – most officials will not do so.

    So is Herr Koehler inherenly more merciful than Governor Bush was or Governor Perry is now? Possibly but not certainly. The difference very possibly lies in vox populii …..

  5. Thank you for the very helpful lecture on free speech Don …and here is my actual point: this is NOT a decision for vox populi. And precisely because vox populi should not drive important decisions like that (even though it can indirectly), I think someone responsible would not give vox populi an open forum to discuss issues like this.

  6. Norbert – Vox Populi does not make the decision – but it influences it. Perhaps in a perfect world it should not, but the reality is that it does.

    My point is that the assumption that vox populi affects such decisions in the US but not in Germany is faulty. Vox populi influences the decision in both places. Absent public support for clemency in Germany I misdoubt you would see much of it from elected public officials. To the degree that clemency depends upon appointees that may differ – but vox populi can even reach that far – given enough time and enough vehemence on part of the vox…..

  7. “my point is that the assumption that vox populi affects such decisions in the US but not in Germany is faulty”

    I totally agree that such an assumption is faulty but who has made this assumption here?

  8. Norbert – many Europeans make precisely assumption when the personally blame George Bush for executions in the state of Texas.

  9. So your point is that Europeans, when blaming George W. Bush personally for executions in the state of Texas, implicitly make the (faulty) assumption that the vox populi has affected the decision to carry out the executions (contrary to Germany).

    What?

  10. “The callers stuck to their guns even when they were confronted with the outspoken demand by the victim’s families that the RAF members be kept in prison, and with the fact that neither Klar or Mohnhaupt has publicly, clearly expressed regret for their actions.” – i find that a very disturbing comment, though admittedly the first half is more irritating than the 2nd. the lack of an expression of regret obviously is an improtant issue in the decision whether or not to grant clemency, but what difference does it make what the victim’s families think? the statement quoted (and the tone of the article) seems to suggest that it is should be a deciding factor, what the victims and their families think. but the sentence imposed upon any criminal is a sentence imposed by the state, it is not an act of revenge by the victims and their families. of course it is acceptable to debate how the victims and their families feel, but that’s as far as it goes.

    and calling gerhart baum a “civil-liberties crusader” is a bit rich. baum, of course, has always been critical of the state’s reaction to terrorism, even if he was responsible for some of the decisions himself.

  11. “but the sentence imposed upon any criminal is a sentence imposed by the state”

    True. As such there is a presumption that the sentence stands – and ought to stand.

    What we are discussing is mercy however, and there the rules are more subjective. I believe that a clear and unambigous expression of regret is an absolute precondition for any kind of clemency. Not a “I acted thus for the following righteous reasons”. I could however accept something like: “I acted for the following reasons – but I was wrong to do so”. They need not apologize to the State – but an apology to the victims and family members (plus reparations if possible and practical) should be a mandatory precondition for mercy of this kind.

  12. “As such there is a presumption that the sentence stands – and ought to stand.” – no. the german constitutional court has ruled that lifelong sentences are – as a rule – only constitutional under german law, when there is a chance that even lifelong sentences are reduced and the convicted is released on probation. this was inserted into the german criminal code as § 57a. so even convicted murderers stand a good chance of being released after 15 years. the whole picture is slightly more complicated, as the german constitutional court has also ruled that lifelong sentences that actually last the whole life of the convicted can also be constitutional, as long as the situation is reviewed in depth at reasonable intervals and there also are cases in which the 15 year-rule doesn’t apply.

    in any case, it seems to be agreed – at least in “liberal” circles – these days that the reaction of the german state to the “threat” of the RAF was disproportionate and this translates into disproportionate sentences (though admittedly not in the cases of mohnhaupt and klar).

  13. In my opinion, President Köhler should not pardon Klar and should not even have the possibility. Presidential amnesties are remnants from a pre-democratic system, in which the monarch – the sovereign – was the supreme judge of his country, and thus could personally decide who went to gaol and who didn’t. That was then, but that’s not how the Federal Republic of Germany works. Politicians make laws, but they don’t get any say in applying the laws to individual citizens – that is the domain of impartial judges.

    It is clear that the President of the Federation has the authority to grant amnesties, conferred to him in article 60 of the Basic Law. It is a traditional privilege of the office. But what’s the case for giving him that authority? The President can modify the verdict of a criminal court for reasons that are essentially emotional, personal; in any event they have nothing to do with the sentencing rules laid down in the criminal code. Even if it’s legally sanctioned, it’s still a transgression against the spirit of “rule of the law.”

    Now, clemency, pardon, amnesty, it’s a nice and harmless thing, right? If the President could send people to gaol longer, that’d be worrisome (not least because that, unlike an amnesty, would violate the rule that nobody may be punished beyond what is written down in law: nulla poena sine lege scripta), but a pardon won’t hurt anyone, right? No, wrong. We like to think of the punishment of criminals as an abstract thing that doesn’t have the purpose of “avenging” the victim and providing satisfaction to the victim or his next of kin. That’s a noble but fatuous notion. One of the functions of criminal justice is to keep the public peace: The state prohibits me from giving in to my natural urge to avenge a crime against myself or my kinsmen, but it does so on grounds of the promise that it’ll take care of punishing the perpetrator itself. Thus, the state does not simply have the right to punish criminals, to be exercised arbitrarily. It has the duty to punish criminals.

    Does that sound like very abstract, generalised reasoning? Well, the widow of Hanns-Martin Schleyer doesn’t think so. Then again, what she protests at the moment is the granting of parole to Ms. Mohnhaupt, and that’s not something she has much say in. But it does show that there’s someone who benefits from the continued imprisonment of the murderers. It’s important to notice that a pardon does hurt someone.

    If that’s not convincing, consider trials against Nazi war criminals. It’s often lamented that so many of them have gotten away with no or minimal punishment. Generally this is perceived as a great historic failure. Harsh punishment should have been visited upon the perpetrators, but wasn’t. Would anyone dare to argue that that was just a great, national show of clemency? A good Christian value, after all. Forgive them that trespass against us and all? No, certainly that would not be accepted, and likewise it shouldn’t be accepted in any other situation, from the most ruthless left-wing terrorist to the lowest pickpocket.

  14. good post, sebastian. i don’t agree with your conclusions, but it’s very necessary to point out the differences between the two cases, as only klar’s case indeed is one of clemency.

  15. So, someone killing sucesively inocents for years, is now a healthy “woman of peace”, just because she has spent years in jail. So what? Why she didn’t think about before her crimes? Is the same case of the spanish criminal (25 deaths) De Juana Chaos. He is doing a hungry strike asking for clemence. So what? What does the prime minister Zapatero should says to the victims and relatives. “He is now a good boy”? Come on!. Let be serious. the only defense the democracies have is the law. No clemence for terrorists.
    Nota bene: ETA is a TERRORIST (CRIMINAL) group. Then it can be a SEPARATIST group. But this last is not important, once they kill to reach their objectives. The Times, Newsweek an others says SEPARATISTS. This is sad, when you read it in SPain…

  16. “After twenty-four years in a high-security prison, the prisoners’ lives have been ruined, their personalities have been fundamentally altered and perhaps gravely damaged, and they will never have a chance to resume a normal life.”

    These people’s “normal life” was killing strangers for political purposes. Pray tell how their personalities could be altered to something worse than that? From that point of view there are worse things than coming out as institutionalized vegetables; they could come out still dedicated to terrorism as a means of protest.

  17. What is Germany thinking?

    with more than 10 Islamic (known) terrorist walking out of their jails, giving into demands of terrorist in the middle east, trying to buy off any adversions and now releasing their own home grown terrorist and murderers. Unbelievable.

    all the while…
    intolerance towards foreigners, dark skinned people and any other religion than christianity is displayed.

    soft stance on far-right extremism

    trying to get the entire EU to take away freedom of speach rights and clamp down on anyone who has any political or historical belief that differs from what the few in Germany want.

    is this 2007 or 1937?

  18. What is Germany thinking?

    with more than 10 Islamic (known) terrorist walking out of their jails, giving into demands of terrorist in the middle east, trying to buy off any adversions and now releasing their own home grown terrorist and murderers. Unbelievable.

    “Germany” isn’t thinking anything, a judge in Stuttgart thought that Mrs. Mohnhaupt fulfills the conditions necessary for a release on probation. He has, therefore, no right to deny it to her. That isn’t unbelievable at all, it is in fact quite plausible.

  19. Well, we all know now how “frugal” your very own thinking works, steve…that’s definitely straight from the 1940s…

    I am Germany and I will crush you with my 160 million fists! *roar*

  20. Bullshit, Germany is a civilization in decline.

    releasing murderers, islamic terrorist (due to giving into demands of Iraqi insurgency), etc. the justice system in Germany is soft, unless you are a scholar and deny the holocaust.

    so killing someone in cold blood is no big deal, speaking your mind, opinion and exercising a basic democratic human right is punishable.

    No wonder Germany is a 3rd world.

  21. You realize that you use the exact polemic reasoning the nazis did use in the 1930s (and Imperialists use today) to manipulate the public, don’t you?

    “Germany is a civilization in decline” “the justice system is too soft” “people apart from society must be dealt with extreme measures” “germans aren’t allowed to freely express their point of view” “germans are kept down by foreign powers”…

    There is a whole lot of reason why german legislatives chose to punish holocaust denial, and to assume that Germany doesn’t support free speech because of one constriction that derivates directly from the intrinsic historical backround, therefore preventing the decline of free speech in the end, is absurd.

    I think the world (and most germans) favour a “3rd world Germany” and a “civilization in decline” to a “Über-Germany” that constantly tries, through their certain obsessiveness, to be the best in the world by all means.

    And by the way, some news for you. The whole western civilization is in decline…you can wish your Mercedes bye-bye and watch how it’ll be shipped to China soon.

  22. well, yes Phazonfreak. It’s well-known that the US is the new Third Reich, since approximately 1948. Or is that Fourth Reich?

    Anyway, whether Third or Fourth the idea is the same – and hardly new….

  23. Bullshit, Germany is a civilization in decline.

    releasing murderers, islamic terrorist (due to giving into demands of Iraqi insurgency), etc. the justice system in Germany is soft, unless you are a scholar and deny the holocaust.

    Aaah, so that’s the direction from which the wind is blowing. You could have mentioned that earlier, I’d have spared my serious reply as I generally don’t debate with your ilk.

  24. i only state facts and welcome anyone to do the same. Please, no germans…as germans have the reputation of being uneducated, narrow-minded and totally clueless to reality and what is really going on. after all, the majority of germans believe in conspiracy theories and take micheal moore’s books for fact and dont quite get the idea, that Moore is a comedian with much satire. Stupid Germans, no wonder they are the dog slaves of the americans and brits

  25. yes, it is quite apparent that you are not used to any intelligent debate or repartee. No doubt a product of your poorly ranked German educational system. No wonder we rule you people.

  26. Okay ……. Thanks to the Martins, Marek Möhrings, Steves, ShutTheFuckUpNazis (some of which might or might not be identical) this blog has finally reached the interlectual niveau of the average political blog. I’ll make sure to print out a few of the best comments to share them with my friends tonight in the pub.

    It was fun while it lasted.

  27. I dunno Ben. Why don’t we all IgnoretheFookedUpNazi who invaed our sylvan glen? Instead of surrendering to the first utter fool who drops a turd in here?

  28. Good coment, Norbert. But, This might apply to 70% of media and news content.
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: American Bloggers about Germany
    URL: http://atlanticreview.org/archives/564-American-Bloggers-about-Germany.html
    IP: 80.67.17.167
    BLOG NAME: Atlantic Review
    DATE: 01/19/2007 11:09:32 PM
    German Joys about RAF terrorists: Freedom for Mohnhaupt and Klar? Dialog International about Innovation Deficit in Germany Coming Anarchy about policy on Russia: Merkel Lets the Cat Officially Out of the

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