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2008-12-11

Radical German Attorney Kurt Groenewold on Representing the Baader-Meinhof and Being Tried Himself

Guests

Kurt Groenewold, German attorney

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One of the last members of the left-wing militant group Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, to remain in prison is set to be released after twenty-six years behind bars. Christian Klar was was given six life sentences plus fifteen years in prison after being convicted for the murder of German business leaders in the 1970s. We speak with radical German attorney Kurt Groenewold. During the 1970s, he made headlines when he was disbarred and sentenced to jail for representing members of the Baader-Meinhof Group. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Hamburg, Germany. One of the last members of the militant group Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, to have remained in prison is set to be released after twenty-six years behind bars. Christian Klar was given six life sentences plus fifteen years in prison after being convicted for the murder of German business leaders in the 1970s. Last month, a court in Stuttgart ruled he no longer posed a threat. He’ll be released on parole in January.

I’m joined right now by the German attorney Kurt Groenewold. During the 1970s, he made headlines when he was disbarred. He was convicted for representing members of the Baader-Meinhof Group. In recent years, he’s been a vocal critic of many of the anti-terrorism measures taken by the German government, as well as other nations.

Kurt Groenewold, we welcome you to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us. Give some context so people can understand the Baader-Meinhof Gang in the 1970s, a violent group here protesting the violence of the state, bombing many places. In fact, when I walked into this building, and it said Springer, a major media conglomerate here, that was one of the sites that the Baader-Meinhof bombed.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

They did not bomb this building, but they bombed another building in Hamburg of Springer, a publishing house. But the other thing is, why do they start it? Where do they come from? And they — as persons, they come from out of the protest movement, of the movement against the Vietnam War. But then, they decided — that was a big difference to the mainstream of the movement —- they decided to go underground, to be orientated on the terrorist group in South America and maybe to the Americans, the North Americans, similar to the Weathermen. That was -—

AMY GOODMAN: To the Weather Underground.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

The Weather Underground, yes. And because they came out of the anti-Vietnam movement, they had sometimes friends or people they try to understand them. And this was one of the big problems in Germany for the government, one of the big problems for the government in Germany.

AMY GOODMAN: How were they captured?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

They were captured by normal police actions, because somebody says they are the friends. Sometimes they could not [inaudible] who were police control. And the main thing was, most of them were captured, the central group, in 1972. That is two years after they started to form the Baader-Meinhof Group, the Red Army Faction.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who Baader and Meinhof were.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

It’s different. My personal way to Ulrike Meinhof was, I was a divorce counsel —

AMY GOODMAN: Ulrike Meinhof.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

— and she was a public figure in the German left-wing journalist society. And Andreas Baader was a part of the students’ movement, although he, as a person, was not a student. And he was more of a [inaudible] of anarchistic events and so on. And they came together, because Andreas Baader and his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin, they made a fire on a warehouse in Frankfurt. It was the beginning, the informal beginning, of the group, of the coming together of the group members. And Ulrike Meinhof covered this event in a newspaper, in konkret.

AMY GOODMAN: So, a number of them are arrested. They’re held in which prison?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

They were always in different prisons. And some were in solitary confinement from the beginning, and they got a special prison statute that means they had no contact to the prison population, to friends. They couldn’t write to everybody, and so on. That was a real isolation program, starting in 1972.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I want to get to the point where you ended up being tried yourself as their attorney, and you were put on parole or probation for two years. You were not allowed to practice law. It reminded me very much of the Lynne Stewart case in the United States. You were basically charged with too zealously representing them. What was your crime?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

It was — the chancellor said we are too much identified with the clients, because we were fighting prison conditions, we were fighting for hunger strike, we were fighting for a fair trial. That was the three points we had. And we made press conference. We went to foreign countries, to Paris, to Amsterdam, and later to New York too. And I think that is the background. And the government wanted to fight the idea. They wanted to fight the idea represented by the lawyers, or, on the other side, they wanted no political trial. They wanted to hamper the clients to make public statements on United States, on the work together of Germany and United States, and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: And they tried to keep them in solitary to prevent their words from getting out, but you were repeating those words. You were saying what your clients felt.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Yes. We were saying — now, first, we were lawyers. We made motions. We went to the constitution courts. At one point, we went to the European court. But other people say it is for these people, for these defendants or for these prisoners, it’s necessary to make a confinement. On the other side, the government said they have so many visits of lawyers, they have so many letters of lawyers, it was the reason, which is no privilege, which is a normal right. And we said it, and we said it in the public. But we were attacked in the parliament as a project — by the government in the parliament. And in the picture of the parliament, every — each lawyer was a criminal. But we were — not only the lawyers. The other things were some intellectuals, like Heinrich Böll, the later winner of the Nobel Prize, and some others. All these people were attacked, because they were fighting for human rights for these defendants.

AMY GOODMAN: I thought it was interesting. One of the protests of lawyers against the crackdown on the lawyers of these people were to take off the robes. The defense attorneys, like the prosecutors and the judge, wore robes. Why would you wear a robe?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

In Germany, it’s a tradition. You must know, in the United States, I was very often visiting lawyers in the United States, especially of the civil rights movement. In Germany, the lawyers are appointed by the state, by the kings, and they are part of the administration of the government or of the state. And we have not the civil rights tradition like the lawyers had of the press cases, of the Boston Tea Party cases, where the lawyer is against the government and do not fear to become an enemy of the government. In Germany, that’s not —

AMY GOODMAN: The lawyer in the United States represents the client.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

But in Germany —

KURT GROENEWOLD:

In Germany, we have to represent the system or the truth, or we are part of the legal system. And I think we have changed this [inaudible], this feeling, by the context with the liberal lawyers of the United States, by the civil rights movement, and so on. So we were impressed by these people.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re often called the William Kunstler of Germany, the late attorney. You were co-lawyers, defense lawyers, with Otto Schily, who then became the police chief of Germany?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Yes. He was not really the police chief; he was a minister for Internal Affairs. But then, that was a police chief on the federal — on the platform, not on the country.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s certainly a different position.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Oh, yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

In charge, for example, of internal monitoring, surveillance.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Yes. He’s pushing and doing all the things he did not like before. And I thought always he’s changing the client, first RAF, Rote Armee Fraktion, now BKA, Bundeskriminalamt. But then he was very strict to his client.

AMY GOODMAN: Kurt Groenewold, would you come to the United States today?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

I was very often in the United States. In the last years, after PATRIOT Act —

AMY GOODMAN: After the USA PATRIOT Act.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

After USA PATRIOT Act, I did not think I should go there, because I feel that I will be refused, because it is possible that they look at all these activities and statements. And I think I should wait a little bit.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re afraid you’d be arrested under the USA PATRIOT Act?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Not, I don’t think, arrested, but I would not like to come back to Germany in the next night.

AMY GOODMAN: You don’t want to be deported?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

No, no. I don’t like to, this.

AMY GOODMAN: The members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a number of them died in prison.

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Committed suicide?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

I think they committed suicide. That’s a very — that’s a point where there are different opinions. But my feeling is that they made suicide, committed suicide.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think things have changed for the better in Germany?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

From those days? I wouldn’t say this. It is — we have — there is a bigger group of lawyers who are fighting for clients. But generally, it’s not better, because the security law will be more accepted as before. And the connection to European security police and American security police is so strong that we don’t know really what is happening. Sometimes we know it, if a lawyer is working in a case. Then he can look in the file. Otherwise, not.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, lawyers can no longer represent more than one person here?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is that?

KURT GROENEWOLD:

That is — was one of the laws against us, because we make a group defense, like the Berrigan case in the United States, where a group was indicted and represented by three or four lawyers. And we had the same system. And the system was accepted by the German court, because the court appointed five lawyers for four defendants. In the beginning, it was accepted — a group defense — but when — shortly before the trial, it wasn’t. It changed.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I’ll continue the conversation —

KURT GROENEWOLD:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

— after this broadcast, so hopefully we can air part two. Kurt Groenewold, often referred to as the William Kunstler of Germany, as we broadcast here in Hamburg.

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