"There was a golden opportunity at the time," says Andreas Schulz, one of the attorneys. "The German state, through Guttenberg, had ultimately admitted to its mistakes and thus its assumption of liability. The German government was under enormous pressure. For someone seeking damages, it was a penalty kick. All we had to do was shoot the ball into the goal."
Schulz is sitting in the garden of the posh Schlosshotel Grunewald in Berlin. It's a hot summer's day, and Schulz is wearing a light-colored summer hat and shorts. His black Porsche convertible is parked in the sun outside the hotel entrance. "Popal couldn't deal with my style. He felt inferior, like a small Afghan lawyer who was being talked down to. His German wasn't perfect, his law firm was small and funds were tight," says Schulz, smiling.
Schulz and Popal parted ways when Schulz said in a newspaper interview that he "liked" the figure of $500,000 per victim. Popal ended their collaboration via text message. 500,000 dollars -- that was no longer Popal's world, no longer his case.
Perhaps the best way to explain the dispute between the two men is that Popal took an idealistic and romantic view of the case, while Schulz favored the American approach. Popal envisioned compensation in the form of aid projects. Schulz wanted to do a job that that would be financially worthwhile for all parties involved.
After that, Popal searched for a partner who shared his convictions. He found that partner in Bernhard Docke, a Bremen attorney who had made a name for himself by representing Murat Kurnaz, a German resident who was detained in Guantanamo Bay.
"I was naïve. I plunged into this case without a strategy," Popal says today. It's summer, and night has come to Kunduz. The roar of a jet can be heard in the distance, and somewhere out in the darkness the Americans are hunting down the Taliban. Popal flicks away his cigarette and lights another one. It's still his case. And he insists that it's still an important case: Afghan farmers hiring an attorney to challenge the consequences of war. When has that ever happened before?
According to the United Nations, 2,412 civilians died in Afghanistan in 2009, most as a result of Taliban attacks. But that number also includes about 600 people killed during operations by foreign troops and the domestic security forces. The survivors are usually paid a few thousand dollars for their dead relative, with the amount depending on who dropped the bomb or fired the shots. The Americans often pay $2,000. The Germans have been known to pay up to $30,000. These are voluntary payments with no recognition of any legal obligation. This too is probably part of a war that is being waged in a largely lawless context.
In the Kunduz case, the victims have finally been given a face. Their survivors are making demands. They are appealing to a government, in a manner of speaking, by taking legal action. They have attorneys who attend hearings. The Kunduz case is something of an attempt to apply the law to a war.
Popal set the whole thing in motion, but sometimes he asks himself whether it was worth it. The case has become a key part of his life now, and Kunduz is now Popal's mission. The country of his childhood must now be reconciled with his adopted country.