SWIFT will likely escape criminal penalties in Belgium

Today’s Le Soir is reporting on the conclusions that the Belgian parliamentary committee on intelligence services (the Comité R) seems to be coming to in its closed door hearings on the SWIFT banking information affair (see here and here). The article is in the print edition of Le Soir, and online for a fee.

According to the paper, SWIFT will likely escape criminal sanction, but may face civil penalties if the courts decide they gave the Americans more data than was strictly necessary to fight terrorism. Much of the logic appears to be based on the fact that the data itself is outside of Belgium, in the Netherlands and the USA. Furthermore, it seems likely that SWIFT employees will not face charges for failing to inform the Belgian government of its decision to give the CIA access to its records, since such a disclosure would have meant criminal penalties in the US.

The article also claims that the Belgian National Bank, which was informed of the program, will likely face the most criticism. The bank had decided that since SWIFT’s decision did not affect financial stability, it was not the bank’s responsibility to take any action. The committee, however, seems to have decided that this was a serious error. The National Bank had a responsibility to inform the state and would not have been subject to criminal penalties for doing so.

The committee has also apparently let the state security services and the federal police off the hook for not doing anything, claiming that the first had no responsibility outside of military threats and that the second didn’t know until the New York Times broke the story. As is typically the case in Belgium, the legislation controlling the police’s responsibility is somewhat vague. The federal police are supposed to protect Belgium’s “scientific and economic potential” and no one seems clear on what that means in practice.

… and the cross is a symbol advocating crucifixions

You will all recall, I’m sure, that Germany had a problem with nazis sixty or so years ago. After this problem had been cleared up (primarily by non-Germans), the Germans resolved that they didn’t want that sort of thing to happen again. And towards that end they enacted some laws.

One of those laws is § 86a of the Criminal Code. In pertinent part it reads:

Mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe wird bestraft, wer … im Inland Kennzeichen einer der in § 86 Abs. 1 Nr. 1, 2 und 4 bezeichneten Parteien oder Vereinigungen verbreitet oder öffentlich … verwendet.

(Any person who, on German territory, distributes or uses symbols of a party or association listed in § 86 para. 1, 2 and 4, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to three years or with a monetary penalty.)

The parties and associations in question include what the statute somewhat coyly calls ‘the former national-socialist organisations’.

Though nobody decent likes a nazi, a prohibition against displaying their symbols on pain of criminal penalty does rub rather against the liberal grain. Still, this is Germany, and one can understand why Germans feel they need to take a sterner line against this sort of thing than would, say, Americans.

Now you have all heard about the annoyance of skinheads and other excrescences of neo-nazi yoof culture in Germany. What you might not know is that there is also a countervailing and at times rather, ehh, exuberant anti-nazi cultural stream. This ranges from admirable young students acting earnestly against racism and xenophobia to beersodden neonhaired neopunkers who (one sometimes suspects) know as little about what they oppose as their fuzzy-skulled adversaries know about what they espouse, save that it pisses off their opposite numbers. Wherever on this spectrum of seriousness Germany’s young antifascists fall, many of them are united in the use of certain popular symbols to express their disdain for the brown. These symbols are typically displayed as buttons or on patches sewn (or quite often, safety-pinned) onto one’s bomber or biker jacket. You’ll find some pictures below the fold.

Whether idealistic antifascists or mohawked louts, these are not the sort of people, surely, that § 86a was meant to sweep up. Yet as the Frankfurter Rundschau reports, a few German prosecutors have been using this law against them, and some German courts are handing down convictions.

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This is not an analytical “perspectives” type post. Just a number of bitty threads that seem in one way or another worth noting (small pieces loosely joined). They could basically be grouped together under the following headings: photos, suicides, explosives and origins.

Maybe I should also point out the obvious: that living in Spain while coming from the UK gives me a rather unusual perspective on what is happening. I lived the days surrounding the Madrid bombings intensely, now I am doing the same with London (where I had my home for many years). In some ways I can’t help but see this in terms of similarities and differences.

The big difference is of course in the government reaction, and the way that this is transmitted to a wider public. The British official reaction is one of ‘containment’ in every sense of the word. I think this is a good approach, since I think that excessive shock and panic only serves the purposes of the terrorists. The overall sensation was that London was as prepared for this as it could have been, and that many of those working in the crisis management and emergency services areas were following through on already well rehearsed roles.

Things in Spain couldn’t have been more different.
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Torture does not pay

As you consider the ongoing saga of US treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere, spare a thought for Wolfgang Daschner. As I wrote in an earlier post, Daschner, Frankfurt’s former deputy police commissioner, faced trial for threatening one Magnus G?fgen with torture. G?fgen had kidnapped young Jakob von Metzler, and the police were trying desperately to find the boy. What they didn’t know at the time was that G?fgen had murdered him very shortly after the abduction and disposed of his body in a lake.

Daschner struck me as a model of the “well-meaning torturer”. He couldn’t have known that Metzler was already dead, and was frantic to find him. But when G?fgen kept shtum, Daschner decided to use torture as an ultima ratio. Well, he didn’t actually use it; but he threatened it, and that was enough both to make G?fgen talk and to make Daschner face criminal charges. In my earlier post, I had said that, if the court found Daschner guilty,

he should be punished. I would hope that the court, in meting out a punishment, would take into account the inhumanly impossible position Daschner found himself in (and the Criminal Code does allow for significantly milder penalties for criminal coercion than a three-year prison term)…. But I cannot accept that his deed be dismissed … because he was acting in good faith and sought to achieve a desirable result.

As the S?ddeutsche reports (in German, alas), the State Court in Frankfurt has now found Daschner guilty. His punishment, though, is mild indeed.
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