The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) center is located in Stuttgart. From there, attacks in Somalia are coordinated that are possibly in violation of international law.
U.S. military personnel stationed in Germany take part in drone attacks on Somalia. Investigations of the ARD Panorama Magazine and Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) have revealed this. Politicians from the Left and the Greens are now demanding an explanation and justification of the German support of U.S. actions “against international law.”
The two media outlets report that in 10 U.S. drone attacks in Somalia to date, up to 29 people have been killed. For the most part, they were members of the al-Shabab militant group and allied al-Qaida fighters.
Most U.S. drone attacks indeed take place in Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan and Yemen. From the German point of view, the Somalia operations are something special because in this case U.S. military institutions in Germany are involved.
AFRICOM, which is responsible for all U.S. operations in Africa — except Egypt — is based in Stuttgart-Möhringen. According to the reports of Panorama and Süddeutsche Zeitung, “Secret Service analysts” are also involved in the selection of U.S. targets.
In addition, pictures from U.S. surveillance drones in Somalia are evaluated in the Air and Space Operations Center at the U.S. military airbase in Ramstein (in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate). And in the end, communications between the U.S. and the lethal drones that start from bases in Africa are transmitted through a relay station in Ramstein.
Süddeutsche Zeitung and Panorama therefore posed the question of whether the members of the German government have possibly participated in the U.S. military’s offense against international law.
The use of armed drones in war is certainly not generally forbidden, no more than tanks and weapons. For the time being, the legal situation in Somalia is still to be clarified.
The weak Somali government is only in control of part of the country. They are militarily embattled by Islamist al-Shabab militants, among others; one can by all means speak of an armed conflict in Somalia.
The U.S. can intervene in this conflict by force of arms with the approval of the Somali government. It can be assumed that such approval exists, but such approval isn’t as a rule confirmed publicly. Insofar as al-Qaida fighters are involved, they are also combatants and therefore legitimate military targets.
What is legally problematic are primarily drone attacks in which an inordinate number of civilians die as “collateral damage.” That would be a war crime that would be punished in Germany, according to the international code of law.
It could also be punishable if a killed Islamic terrorist were not integrated into the structure of the militants. After all, terrorists — from the European viewpoint, anyway — cannot simply be slain. It would then be a case of an extralegal execution —a murder. How many of the U.S. drone attacks in Somalia are problematic is unknown to date.
Should individual attacks be punishable according to German law, then there would be many accomplices. All the way at the top would be U.S. President Barack Obama, who personally approved each of the lethal U.S. drone attacks in Somalia.
The direct order to fire the rocket at the targeted person also takes place in the U.S. Insofar as U.S. soldiers in Germany take part in the selection and identification of the targets, they become accessories, either as accomplices or, in the case of lesser contributions, abettors.
Investigators without Leverage
German investigators, however, have no leverage for prosecution of U.S. soldiers because of official actions in Germany. According to the NATO Status of Forces agreement, U.S. duty stations are responsible for that, but they in all probability consider everything to be legal.
It is improbable that German positions are liable for prosecution. They quite certainly had no active command and are therefore not accomplices. And as for accessory to murder, at least an active supporting deed as well as a rough knowledge of the planned crime would be required.
That the establishment of AFRICOM headquarters was permitted for the U.S. in Stuttgart would be just as insufficient for this as the approval of the U.S. facilities in Ramstein.
Whether the federal government is in agreement whether to have drone attacks in Africa undertaken on their soil is primarily a political question. At present, the government says it has no knowledge at all of such attacks. Apart from that, each targeted kill must be evaluated on a concrete individual basis, which is, however, “highly complex.”
Greens Are Outraged
Green Party leader Jürgen Trittin is outraged. “We expect from the federal government that they stop playing dumb about this issue.” He asks, “Is it true that illegal or questionably legal targeted kills are being operated from Germany?”
Jan van Aken, foreign policy speaker of the Left, goes further: “The federal government must not accept that the U.S. is carrying out its drone war from military bases in Germany and thereby violating international law.” He is now already demanding the closure or AFRICOM and “all facilities that make the deployment of combat drones possible.”
Independent ex-Left representative Wolfgang Neskovic is even demanding the use of the public prosecutor against U.S. military personnel.
Edited by Gillian Palmer