The comments thread on my post on baby sale/adoption has made me very happy -- our readers are able to politely disagree with each other, a rare feat on most blogs. Especially the comments by Raoul and Pouncer have given me food for thought and expanded my views - although I stick with my analysis of the Romanian adoption law as very stupid. Since I trust that I can write about controversial issues without flames shooting out of my laptop, let me tell you about a disturbing law suit in Germany which has been on my mind a lot. In September of 2002, the 11-year-old child of a wealthy Frankfurt banker is being abducted. The parents pay the one million Euro ransom but Jakob von Metzler is not freed. A suspect is quickly found but he says nothing. Four days after Jakob went missing, the situation escalates. The chief of Frankfurt police orders to threaten the suspect Magnus Gfgen with torture unless he reveals the location of the child. The threat works, Gfgen leads the police to the child. Jakob is dead. This week, the chief of police who ordered and the investigator who actually carried out the threat are standing trial for coercion, and Magnus Gfgen is the prime witness. His account of the threats is chilling. No matter the circumstance, people cannot be treated that way. Or can they?
It took over two years for the trial to happen which shows how intrinsically complicated and painful this issue is. Our Basic Law (our constitution) absolutely prohibits torture (and the threat of it). Article 1 states: Human dignity is inviolable, thus torture is unacceptable. But Article 1 also bases on the judeo-christian idea of the holiness of life. Jakob's life had to be saved -- but with all means? It's up to the judges to decide what weighs stronger -- the rights of Magnus G. or the desperate attempt to save Jakob's life. It seems almost impossible to apply legal logic to a case where, as the Zeit puts it, normative aspects collide -- namely, inviolability of life and saving of life. German jurists and publishers warn of a German Abu Ghraib. If Mr. Daschner, the chief of police, were to be acquitted -- would that break all hell loose in German police stations? (The answer is: probably not. Suspects won't be tortured, threatened or abused in Germany, no matter what the outcome of the trial. We're too much of a constitutional state.) Politicial enfant terrible Oskar Lafontaine defended Daschner on TV and in a column in the German Bild Zeitung.
Lafontaine very consciously made his comments in a situation where the legitimisation of torture is not a theoretical issue. For weeks, not a day has passed without disclosures about the sadistic methods employed to defend “freedom and democracy” in the “war against terror.” And if torture is acceptable in the case of a kidnapping, supposedly in order to rescue a human life, it is all the more so if a large number of lives are threatened by terrorist attacks. This was the explicit argument of Jrg Schnbohm. Lafontaine’s demagogical remarks on TV follow the same logic.But since we are a constitutional state, Mr. Daschner and officer Ortwin Ennigkeit, will very likely not be acquitted. The Zeit finds an interesting loophole for the two policemen, though. Article 60 of the Basic Law gives the president "the right to pardon" in individual cases. The Zeit states that legally, the two men were doing wrong. But they tried to save a life. Maybe, says the Zeit, the president should execute his right in this case. The Zeit has two more very good articles on this case, here and here. If you can read German, that is. These articles illuminate very nicely how controversial the topic is and how the heroic myth around Daschner, who was forced to decide between two horrible possibilities, is breaking apart. Two-thirds of all Germans side with Daschner, though. Me, I'm very torn. I can understand the anxiety, the desperation that would drive you to threaten, yes, even actually hurt someone if you think you can save a child's life with this act. Imagine it's your child. I could do worse than just telling someone I would lock him up with big black guys who would rape him. But it's not right, and this is why we have a police, and laws, to keep order and not have anarchy. This is exactly what we have the Basic Law for -- to tell us how to behave when our instincts scream too loud for reason to be heard. (It also seems that Daschner was actually prepared to have Magnus G. tortured, "under medical supervision". If that's the case, then he must be sentenced.) The whole case is very sad and among the legal mantraps, one should not forget that little Jakob is dead. He was killed on the very first day of his abduction -- because he knew his abductor. Magnus G. was a friend of the family.