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Oliver Rohe

By Oliver Rohe

“According to our latest information”, the lawyer tells me, “he is said to have sympathized with the Islamic State, and even sworn allegiance to it. I haven’t the slightest idea if that’s true. He won’t talk to me anymore. No one I know from his circle is still willing to keep me up to date. Neither his wife and children, nor his former employers, nor his friends from the mosque. The social authorities have lost his track, which they never really followed anyway. He no longer has a fixed place of residence, no one knows how he is doing or where he is, even when it’s said he’s in Hungary or Austria. Or in Bosnia. Of course, those who don’t know the process or know it too well – those who have slandered him from the start: government, police, press, whether right-wing or middle-class, sometimes even left-wing – see this turn to the Islamic State, to terror, as a result of his development, as a logical consequence of his life; they will say that what began with the views of his youth, when he fought for a radical Islamic movement in the Lebanese Civil War in 1982 or 1983, has now come full circle, that all the scepticism, all the suspicions towards him, have proven justified in the end.

Der Autor Oliver Rohe © C. Hélie (éd. Gallimard) In retrospect, he would actually have had coming what the CIA did to him more than fifteen years ago, when after he had been interrogated and beaten by the local police, it abducted him in front of this shabby hotel in Romania and put him in a prison in Afghanistan. He disappeared for six months. Six months. You still don’t understand anything about the whole story”, he says to me. “You just came across it; you were still in school at the time when it all happened, you don’t know the details – the ones that came to light later, bit by bit, here in a report, there in an internal CIA memo – all the appalling details about his imprisonment; you know nothing of the humiliations, beatings and torture he suffered there, in secret, abandoned and, of this I am convinced, with the knowledge of the German state; and this although my client, as you know, is a perfectly normal citizen of our country, a German like you and me, but with one restriction, one flaw, that he’s been a German only since 1995 or 1996; German, yes, certainly, but previously Lebanese, which he inevitably still is a bit; everyone here has the Lebanese men hereabouts in sight, all of whom are drug dealers, car thieves, cheaters and welfare recipients, who have such a bad image that even the Syrians, who have just arrived in Germany, know about their bad reputation and do everything they can to avoid being confused with them. Now where was I?”

“The imprisonment.”

“He was held captive for six months. He asked to speak to a German embassy official, even went on a hunger strike; at last a man shows up who introduced himself as a German official and had a first name which couldn’t be more German: Hans. Hans interrogated him and promised that he would soon be released. No one knows today whether this Hans was actually German or not, whether he really came from the embassy or whether he was a CIA agent posing as a German. Assuming he was a German working for our embassy or intelligence agency, our state then knew that my client was being held prisoner and did nothing, much less got him out. I’m convinced that this Hans had nothing to do with the subsequent release of my client. At some point the CIA people realized that the man they had kidnapped in Romania and tortured in Afghanistan was not the Al Qaeda fighter they wanted, that his only offense was to bear the same name as a wanted alleged member of Al Qaeda. They evidently made a mistake, caught the wrong man; the CIA kidnapped a Muhammad, just the wrong Mohammed. When they realized their mistake six months later, they dragged my client out of the dungeon where they had thrown him and tortured him, and dumped him in no-man’s land, somewhere in Romania. With a few dollars stuffed in his shirt pocket, with which he was supposed somehow to survive. Maybe too with a pat on the back, as much as to say: Come on now, no hard feelings. You will want to know: How did he find his way back to his native Germany?”

“No, I was just thinking about his wife and kids.”

“His wife and kids were left completely in the dark. She went to her husband’s former co-workers, looked for him everywhere, where he used to go regularly, in cafes, in grocery shops; she talked to the vendors, asked the family doctor if her husband told him about any plans to flee or whether anything about his health had changed, whether he had a serious illness that might explain his flight; she collected all the conjectures and rumours circulating in the neighbourhood, she rang up everywhere: nothing. She went to the police several times and got the answer that they didn’t know anything; then they said they were going to investigate, but that they didn’t know anything – which may well be true, perhaps even the police were groping in the dark. His wife did everything possible to find her beloved husband. Then she came to terms with the situation, came to the conclusion that the most painful and at the same time most common thing must have happened: her husband had left her from one day to the next for another, a young, pretty woman, a German, why not; he had moved to another city, to another country, to another continent; he had changed his name. He had put an end to their life together, the shared flat and the children, without a twinge of conscience. She had no reason to stay in Germany, which for her meant only suffering. So she packed her things and went back to Lebanon with the kids.

A voluntary return home, imagine that, the dream of our right-wing parties. So no one was waiting for him the day my client stood outside his apartment door. After the martyrdom of captivity, a second martyrdom began for him now, which was never to end. All his lawsuits in American courts have failed, in spite of support from various organizations and influential lawyers. No chance to get a confession of responsibility from the guilty party for his suffering. He was not entitled to any compensation, not even only a symbolic one, not even an apology, because the USA had committed no crime against him. Go on, get lost. When his incredible case became known in Germany, our government immediately put all levers in motion to diminish or disguise its direct or indirect responsibility for the fate of one of its citizens. We know, however, that Germany has allowed CIA aircraft to fly across its airspace and therefore very likely is aware of the worldwide abduction practice of this parallel system of extrajudicial prosecution. We know that several European countries have allowed the use of secret prisons on their territory under this programme. We know that the mosque where my client prayed was under surveillance by American intelligence agencies, with or without the knowledge of the German secret service, which was also watching the mosque. We know that someone – we? the Americans? somebody else? – must have told the Romanian police that my client was suspected of something, because the Romanians then interrogated him for three weeks with no legal basis. We know that Germany, under pressure from its American allies, refused to enforce the arrest warrants for CIA agents involved in the kidnappings.
Illustration Oliver Rohe
In spite of these facts, in spite of all this incriminating evidence, our government continues to hide behind ‘reasons of state’. And so it follows”, the lawyer continues, “that my client still hasn’t received even the least financial compensation so that he could to start a new life, and above all receives no support or care in his advanced state of mental decline. He sleeps all the time, and when he’s not sleeping, he roars; he can’t manage to keep a job, stick to working hours; he has panic attacks; it can happen that he suddenly stands up in the middle of a conversation and leaves, that he flares up, has violent outbreaks, fits of rage in a shop where a salesperson refuses to apologize for a faulty piece of clothing; he wreaks havoc, he slaps a man in the post office, as perhaps you’ve read in the papers, because allegedly the official had given him a dirty look; he beats up a Polish building site manager. He’s sentenced to prison, first with, then without parole; he is in jail and is committed to psychiatric treatment. He abuses and threatens the patients, beats up his orderlies, destroys furniture in the dining room and his room. First he was turned down in court as a plaintiff, as a victim of a terrible injustice, an international political conspiracy; then he was summoned before the law as a petty criminal or for abnormal behaviour due to his state of mental health. The court dismissed his charges, one after the other. But he found ways and means to come back to court again and again, now as a defendant, now as the accused, as if he was constantly seeking contact with the court, as if he was constantly trying to make himself heard before the law, somehow to communicate something, to get what is rightfully his, even if this is punishment. His imprisonment in Afghanistan will never be recognized; he never lived through his six-months of martyrdom, he only dreamt it. He is a liar.”

“But isn’t there any evidence of his kidnapping?”

“You’re right. Your attentiveness does you honour. How can you believe a man who claims to have been kidnapped on holiday by the CIA and tortured in Afghanistan? Who can accept such a monstrosity? Why not say you were abducted by Martians? The evidence”, the lawyer says, “can be found in his hair. His body speaks for him. The hair analysis has shown that he spent several months in the Asian climate zone in which Afghanistan is located. His hair bears witness to the mental despair, to the torture and hunger. But you’re not the only one who demands evidence, who doubts. This doubt, which states nourish out of self-interest, is firmly rooted in our minds, it lurks in everything that is said and written about history. Many people in Germany and the United States, friends and acquaintances, young journalists to whom I talk, continue to question that my client is telling the truth, in spite of what has already been published about the kidnapping programme, in spite of the disclosure of internal CIA memos and the statements of fellow prisoners in Afghanistan. They question my client’s testimony and at the same time refer to his distant past as an Islamist in Lebanon or to his connection to a German mosque that was visited by alleged Al Qaeda members, thus justifying by way of his past the kidnapping they really don’t want to believe in. On the one hand they question the arbitrary arrest, on the other they support and defend it. Or they ignore the timing: the criminal acts and delusions of my client, all of which came after his imprisonment in Afghanistan, are supposed to be an incontestable expression of his political radicalism or his predisposition to such. But even the worst psychologist knows that this form of violence is only the response to an experienced suffering or the constant negation of that suffering, like the aftershock of an earthquake. But in any case my client has – as the doubters, to whom I hope you don’t belong, say – tempted fate. He deserves what he got.”

“You keep back the information that he has now disappeared again, that he has recently admitted to sympathizing with groups even worse than Al Qaeda.”

“His renewed disappearance is, I think, a way of at last taking the fate intended for him into his own hands. He has been forced to disappear under dire circumstances, without anybody having been troubled about it, without having been believed or having his fate acknowledged; now he disappears on his own, he disappears according to his own rules, as he sees fit. He takes on the role of the outcast. He confesses to what he was first falsely accused of, with a doggedness that is both morally repugnant and illegal. He becomes a supporter of the radicals.”