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Germany exploits legal advice in attempt to avoid Snowden testimony

As Der Spiegel reports, German chancellor Angela Merkel no longer makes a public display of protesting the recent discovery that the United States has been spying on its allies, herself included.

Merkel could be especially quiet on the matter currently as German lawmakers have just decided to invite Edward Snowden to testify on US surveillance. Der Spiegel explains:

there is a kind of special relationship between Berlin and Washington at the moment – special in that the Chancellor wants to do everything to avoid a conflict with the US. She had every reason in the world to veer from diplomatic politesse. Her very own cell phone, after all, had been targeted by the NSA. But instead, she brought along a valuable gift for Obama: The promise that whistleblower Edward Snowden would not be coming to Germany to give testimony in the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into NSA spying practices.

What is particularly troubling is Germany’s reliance on a US legal firm’s advice in attempting to block Snowden’s testimony.

the government has based its position in part on legal guidance
provided by an American law firm.

The expertise came from the Washington DC-based firm Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke and essentially means that anyone who has anything to do with Snowden, even journalists, is a potential criminal.


“We are of the opinion that if Snowden provides classified information or documents to the Bundestag or to German diplomats who interview Snowden, such acts give rise to criminal exposure under the laws of the United States. The United States would have jurisdiction to prosecute these acts regardless of where they occur,” writes firm partner Jeffrey Harris.

If accurate, the ramifications of this advice would be enormous: should the the bodies – including the European Parliament and Council of Europe – that have already received testimony from Edward Snowden fear “criminal exposure under the laws of the United States”? Should Der Spiegel and the other media outlets that have seen and reported on large numbers of documents provided by Snowden?

By hiding behind US legal advice rather than their own, German officials can thus have it two ways: they can oppose Snowden’s testimony by pointing to fears of illegality without taking a definitive position and, if Snowden does testify, they can protect themselves by claiming to have opposed it from the start.

Committee members intend to contest the government’s position and hear from Snowden regardless. Whether they invite him to testify in person, in Berlin or Moscow, or by video feed remains to be seen.