21 December 2017

Moving closing statements by victims’ counsel, and one question mark

Today’s closing statement by counsel Prof. Behnke, who represents a brother of Mehmet Turgut, killed by the NSU in Rostock, leaves us at a loss as to how to report on it: how to report on a statement calling for a “return” to the code of criminal procedure – but hardly mentioning any procedural arguments at all? How to answer a counsel who states that institutional racism does not exist in German administrative agencies, that claims to the contrary are the actual problem – and who obviously does not even understand what the term means, who talks about “structural racism” and claims that the term has been invented during the trial  (on which claim see only wikipedia)?

How to report on such a statement when it is framed by a number of very moving statements which describe the suffering caused to the victims of the NSU’s crimes by that very institutional racism, by the investigations conducted against them? We believe that Behnke’s statement can largely be ignored and will instead focus on the other statements – which by the way, also show – contrary to a few media reports who base themselves on the very few dissenters – that victims and their counsel in the trial are far from divided, are instead very much agreed on decisive aspects of the trial.

Counsel Ferhat Tikbaş, who represents the daughter of Abdurrahim Özüdoğru, praised the prosecution for quickly putting together an indictment and voiced his confidence that all accused would be convicted. He too was certain “that local persons/supporters had chosen targets in advance according to certain criteria and had passed them on. I cannot give you any names. But I am certain that there were co-perpetrators/aiders and abettors.”

Addressing accused Zschäpe, he stated:

„But I can tell you one thing, Ms. Zschäpe, you and the people around you have failed. Not only because you are sitting in the dock, but also because nobody has left the country.”

He then read out a statement from his client, from which we would like to reproduce the sections on her beloved father and her statement to the accused:

„My father had been living in Germany for 29 years when the crime happened. A young man who had been given a scholarship to study in Germany based on his good grades, who began studying at the University of Erlangen in 1972. A man who spent his entire youth here in Germany and had many German friends, a man who had become one with German culture and German people. This man, my beloved father, was killed in a First World Country, in Germany, this economically and technically highly developed country […]. My father has become a victim of hatred and violence, a victim of the trivialization of right-wing violence.”

„You have not reached your goal of dividing society. And you have not succeeded in forcing people like me to leave this country. Quite to the contrary: all of us, Germans as well as foreign citizens who live their lives in Germany, have become even more sensitive. This is my home country. I am a young German woman with foreign roots who was born in this country. And nobody feels foreign anymore.”

Tikbaş was followed by counsel Hilka Link, who represent the son of Ismail Yaşar. Her client had wished to be present during the closing statements and to look the accused in the eyes, but the destructive behavior of the defense had prevented him from doing so. She related the life of Ismail Yaşar and the murder itself and pointed to one perfidious detail: the crime scene was very close to the school where her client was a student at the time, he would often visit the kebab shop after school to spend time with his father. Accordingly, said counsel Link, “it is only luck that he did not become an eye witness to the murder of his own father – or even a murder victim as well”.

She, too detailed the consequences of the crime, of the investigations directed against the family and of their having to guess as to the motive. The family was left alone with their suffering, even other family members turned away from them due to the suspicions voiced by the police. They even had to pay the costs for the paramedics and the cleaning of the murder scene out of their own pockets.

On the other hand, Link, too, reported on how the NSU had failed to reach its goals: her client, described by friends as a smart and level-headed young man, had succeeded in finishing school and two apprenticeships, was now working in his chosen profession “and a useful member of society – something that by God cannot be said about the perpetrators and their supporters.”

And Hilka Link also detailed why she too believes that there must have been supporters in Nuremberg who had provided the NSU with reports of possible targets. She asked herself whether they might even have been customers „who ate in the kebap shop, who looked into his friendly, mustachioed face.” And she referred to the statement of an eye witness who had seen Beate Zschäpe in the immediate vicinity of the crime scene. As to the role of the domestic secret service, Link stated that this could not be cleared up fully in the trial, but that it had to be mentioned. She then turned to Zschäpes statements in court and detailed why they are from believable.

After the lunch break, counsel Dr. Monika Müller-Laschet presented her closing statement on behalf of three victims of the Keupstraße nailbomb attack. The question of “Why”, she began her statement, was the thread that ran through the entire trial, for others, but also for her clients. Their hopes to receive an answer to that question had been dashed.

Her clients had been waiting since the attack – waiting first for their wounds to heal, for the true perpetrators to be found and their names to be cleared, waiting for the trial to begin, for the time where they would receive an answer to their questions, and finally waiting “for the whole thing to be finally over.”

Now it had become clear that this trial, that these accused would not provide the answers her clients sought. Her two male clients had drawn the conclusion that they would simply go on with their lives and counter and disprove the NSU’s plans and its ideology in this way. To have a good life, to be integrated, part of a circle of friends, that was already a form of victory over the NSU. And her clients have such a good life, in contrast to the perpetrators: “They are poor. Their lives are empty and defined by hatred, hatred which killed not only others, but also themselves. Their souls are empty, that is why they are poor.”

Her female client, on the other hand, was still suffering immensely from the consequences of the attack. She, who wished for no harm to ever befall another human being, could simply not understand these crimes: “for someone like her, the crimes of the accused are literally from another world.”

In any event, if was clear that her three clients, like the other victims, had not been „in the wrong place at the wrong time”; quite to the contrary:

“They were exactly where they belonged, on a street in Cologne, in Germany, where they were minding their own business in our midst. It was the nail bombers and their helpers who never belonged there. The people in the Keupstraße are not some exotic island […], but a part of our society – a part we sorely need because it has enriched us and because the people of the Keupstraße, by standing together after the attack, are role models for us. The NSU has never understood that.”

She was followed by counsel Marcel Matt, who also represents a victim of the Keupstraße attack. Matt stated that his client, too, hoped that some day all the questions of victims and survivors would be answered. Nobody should forget that “prior to the NSU’s uncovering the wrong persons – the victims – had formed the focus of the investigations instead of the actual perpetrators”. It was quite likely that the NSU had taken this consequence of its deeds into account in planning its crimes.

Marcel Matt then pointed to the several pieces of evidence which show that the accused Zschäpe, contrary to her statement, had known of the nailbomb attack in advance, that she had planned it as part of the NSU and that she had wanted for it to happen based on her own convictions, as shown once more after the death of Mundlos and Böhnhardt when she sent out the NSU DVDs. In addition, the logistical challenges of building, transporting and detonating the bomb clearly pointed to the existence of further members or supporters of the NSU.

At the end of his statement, Marcel Matt, visibly fighting for composure himself, read out his client’s plea to the court to

„find adequate penalties for the accused for all the traumata, the injuries, the anguish and terror caused, for the fact that sisters and brother lost their beloved siblings, that fathers and mothers had to live without their beloved children, that beloved children had to grow up without their beloved fathers, for the immense anguish, the almost immeasurable human suffering of those who have become victims of the so-called NSU.”

This deeply moving moment marked the conclusion of the NSU trial for this year. The trial will continue on Tuesday, 9 January 2018. If there are no further disruptive actions by the defense, the closing statements of victims’ counsel will likely conclude by the end of that week.