Two German lawmakers urge greater control of criminal cases involving US troops
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 14, 2021
STUTTGART, Germany — Two German lawmakers are calling for changes in an international treaty that leaves most criminal cases involving U.S. troops in the hands of the military justice system, saying local authorities should have more say in such matters.
Federal parliamentarian Angelika Gloeckner and Rheinland-Pfalz state representative Daniel Schaeffner, both members of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, cited a German teenager’s death following a car crash with an airman from Ramstein Air Base as the reason why more oversight of criminal cases is needed.
In July, Airman 1st Class Tolman D. Roman Bahena, 21, was found guilty by a court-martial jury of negligent homicide for the teenager’s 2019 death.
Bahena was demoted two ranks and ordered to perform three months of hard labor without confinement. The offense allowed a maximum prison sentence of three years and a bad conduct discharge.
Some in the German community were angered by what they said was a light sentence.
“This has prompted us as the responsible parliamentarians to take up this information and strive for a dialogue on this issue,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement.
At the federal level, the lawmakers said plans are in the works for addressing the issue within the SPD, which is the junior partner in Germany’s coalition government. Bilateral talks will soon be held at the state level, they added.
Gloeckner and Schaeffner didn’t spell out in detail how much more jurisdiction over criminal cases German authorities should have in cases involving U.S. troops.
But the idea is already being met with resistance.
Federal parliamentarian Anita Schaefer, of the Christian Democratic Union party, blasted the idea as political grandstanding and an attempt to capitalize on a tragic car accident by stirring up anti-American sentiment.
“Since it is very obvious that the initiative has no prospect of success or political substance, from my point of view, that means it is nothing more than populism,” Schaefer said in a statement.
Making such adjustments to the NATO Status of Forces Agreement also would require broader support within the 30-nation security pact, and there is no sign that NATO’s other 29 members have any interest, Schaefer said.
Gloeckner and Schaeffner, who said they also would like allies to review SOFA rules for local nationals employed on bases and military property transfers, denied they were trying to rouse anti-American sentiment.
“As a member of the Bundestag for the SPD, I can assure you that I stand by German-American friendship without any ifs or buts,” Gloeckner said. “That is precisely why we do not have to fear a mutual dialogue among friends.”
While jurisdiction over criminal cases involving U.S. forces is intensely debated in countries like Japan and South Korea, it rarely emerges as a point of contention in European nations. Still, the recent calls for changes to the SOFA in the Ramstein area underscore how actions by U.S. forces at the local level can reverberate at higher levels of government.
Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this story.