Key documents withheld in German CIA probe: lawmakers

BERLIN Thu Mar 1, 2007 8:58am EST

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BERLIN (Reuters) - German lawmakers investigating the case of a man held for nearly five years at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay said on Thursday an inquiry was being held up as some official documents were being withheld and others had been delayed.

The papers relate to Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish man born and living in Germany, who was freed without charge last summer and says he was tortured and abused at the U.S. prison camp on Cuba where he was taken in 2001 from Pakistan.

Siegfried Kauder, chairman of a parliament investigation committee, said he had requested the files from authorities in the northwestern city-state of Bremen and had been assured weeks ago that they were on their way.

"As of today, they have not arrived at the secretariat of the committee," the conservative politician said. "In this situation, sensible work by the committee is impossible."

According to German media, the files are reports from German domestic intelligence sources in Bremen alleging that Kurnaz had links to radical Islamists.

Questions over Kurnaz and over charges Berlin may have helped the CIA kidnap a German citizen of Lebanese origin, Khaled el-Masri, three years ago have haunted Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier for more than a year.

SECURITY RISK

German media have accused Steinmeier, who as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's chief of staff at the time had responsibility for intelligence matters, of rejecting a U.S. offer to send Kurnaz from Guantanamo back to Germany in 2002 due to worries that he would be a security risk.

Steinmeier denies the allegation.

Kauder said it was unclear why the files had not been delivered. He added that the files were in Berlin at Bremen's state representation office.

Other committee members offered various explanations for the withholding of the files, with one suggesting the interior ministry was trying to censor them and another blaming the incompetence of Bremen state authorities.

An interior ministry spokesman confirmed it had reviewed the files but denied censoring them in any way before handing them back to the Bremen representation office.

The spokesman said the ministry had determined that some files were classified and should not be given to the committee, while the rest could be passed on.

Bremen's representation office declined to comment.

Ernst Uhrlau, the head of Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency, and his predecessor August Hanning had been scheduled to testify at the inquiry on Thursday.

But committee members decided to postpone the testimony until they receive the files, which Kauder said were essential if they were to be able to effectively question the men.

(Additional reporting by Markus Krah)

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