Half an hour later, Popal was sitting on the steps at the entrance of the Hotel Kunduz, lighting a cigarette. He was staying in a basic room at the hotel, furnished with little more than a bed, a toilet and a non-functioning television set. The next day, Popal planned to meet his remaining clients and convince them to support the lawsuit.
Does he even stand a chance of winning a case like this?
"The chances are good," Popal said. "I would say 60 percent."
At the Defense Ministry in Berlin, the burly man smiles. "We're not terribly worried about a lawsuit or a trial," he says.
The man says that he has had a legal opinion prepared. The conclusion, he says, in a nutshell, is that a lawsuit will not succeed. The surviving family members of the victims don't have a case against the Bundeswehr. The burly man shrugs his shoulders, as if to say: Sorry, but that's the situation.
There are certainly differing opinions on this issue among legal experts. The fact is there has never been a decisive court ruling in Germany on whether, under current German law, individuals can file claims for damages against countries at war.
Kunduz is Popal's biggest case. For the German Defense Ministry, it's an enormous nightmare, both politically and in terms of the image problems it created. If there is one thing that the tragic incident has made clear, it is that there is no longer such a thing as a clean German war in Afghanistan.
At the behest of German Colonel Georg Klein, American F-15 fighter jets dropped two 500-pound bombs in the night between Sept. 3 and 4, 2009. The bombs destroyed two tanker trucks that had been hijacked by Taliban fighters. Many people died that night, including civilians who had come to the scene to siphon off gasoline from the trucks. The exact number of casualties is still unclear today. According to the Afghan government, 30 civilians were killed. The International Red Cross puts the number at 74, Amnesty International at 83 and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at about 95. Popal says that 113 civilians were killed.
All discrepancies aside, it is beyond dispute that the bombing that night in Kunduz was the bloodiest attack German soldiers had ordered since World War II. But now, months later, it seems that the incident is being downplayed and portrayed as something of a minor offence. A $5,000 case, if you will.
On Sept. 4, it will have been one year since those bombs were dropped in Kunduz. It was a year in which the dead were buried in the villages, a year of survivors waiting for something to happen in Germany. It was a year in which German authorities failed to find a way to react, quickly and appropriately, to the fatal mistake of a German colonel. And it was a year in which Kunduz became a precedent for how Germany deals with the civilian casualties of a war.