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For students of the German judicial system, a film recommendation

Went to "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex" last night, a dramatic account of the birth, growth and destruction of the German terrorist band. After nearly two-and-a-half hours, one concludes that the Baader-Meinhof Gang, or Red Army Faction, was made up of murderous thugs.

Those revelations aside, it's always interesting to see depictions of the German judicial system, in this case the high-profile trial of the four leading terrorists held in the prison. Most Americans, we wager, have a passing familiarity with the British legal system, if only from "Monty Python" or "Rumpole of the Bailey." But the German?

You learn from the film that the German court system -- despite having no juries-- allowed the same kind of circus and media manipulation that U.S. radicals used in trials like that of the Chicago 8. The German authorities were also so solicitous of the terrorists' desire to coordinate their defenses that they made it possible for the prisoners to communicate with their outside comrades as well as orchestrate their own suicides -- politically motivated suicides not romanticized by the filmmakers, to their credit.

Interesting note: Early on we see the 1967 Berlin demonstrations against the visiting Shah of Iran, depicted to provide context for the radicalization of Ulrike Meinhof, a journalist. During the riots a policeman shoots a student, portrayed as being an accidental killing. The death of Benno Ohnesorg was captured in an iconic photo -- the German equivalent of the girl holding the dying Kent State student -- and inflamed the public mood that fueled the 1968 student movement.

Since the movie was released, the world has discovered that the Berlin policeman who shot and killed Ohnesorg was, in fact, an East German spy, i.e., a member of the Stasi and a devoted communist. It's not clear whether Karl-Heinz Kurras shot Ohnesorg as a provocation to destabilize West Berlin, but it's possible.

This fact revealed this year from the Stasi archives essentially destroys one of the creation myths of the German left and makes the subsequent murders and terrorism by the Baader-Meinhof Gang seem even more cruel and pointless.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.