The case took its last, critical turn in July. The burly man was back to negotiating with the victims' attorneys. The lawyers' supposed demand for a €200,000 fee and the "unclear situation regarding the clients" -- in short, all the things that had prompted the Defense Ministry to suspend negotiations only three months earlier -- were suddenly irrelevant.
Popal and Docke, demoralized and on edge, were no longer directly involved in the negotiations. Instead, they were being represented by two other attorneys with experience in cases against the Bundeswehr, Remo Klinger and Reiner Geulen, as well as Wolfgang Kaleck, a human rights attorney and general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. The men were now part of Popal's legal team.
The negotiations continued throughout July. Once again, there was talk of "constructive conversations" and projects, including the construction of a hospital in Kunduz. The teams met three times. Meanwhile, the Bundeswehr was busy creating a fait accompli in Afghanistan.
Bundeswehr employees prepared a list of 102 people entitled to compensation, and then they met and negotiated with the families of the victims. Each family was offered a monetary payment of about €4,000 or $5,000. Accounts were opened at the Kabul Bank in Kunduz, and many of the victims' families accepted the Bundeswehr's offer. They needed the money. After all the investigations, lists of casualties and unsuccessful negotiations of the last few months, they were ready to accept any compensation at all.
The negotiations continued in Berlin, and a meeting was scheduled for Aug. 10. The attorneys were not unhappy with the way the talks were going. An agreement seemed within reach.
But on Aug. 5, the Defense Ministry informed the attorneys that, for "humanitarian reasons" and "without recognition of a legal obligation," it had come to an agreement with the victims' families. The newspapers, news agencies and television networks reported that the Kunduz case had finally been brought to a close.
It sounded like the last word.
If anyone in this case can be characterized as a winner, it could well be the burly man from the Defense Ministry. At the beginning of the year, he and the attorneys were still negotiating over aid projects worth up to €9 million. Now the Bundeswehr will be paying $5,000 -- not for each life that was lost, but to each family of a victim or multiple victims. In other words, all families will receive the same compensation, no matter how many of their members were killed in the Kunduz bombing. And the cost to the Bundeswehr? Half a million dollars.
Not a bad outcome for a lead negotiator.
In the past, Germany has paid $20,000 to the family of an Afghan woman who was shot at a checkpoint, and $33,000 for a dead Afghan boy. The price has apparently gone down since then. This is partly the result of pressure from Germany's NATO allies. Before, the Germans were seen as driving up prices in Afghanistan. The Kunduz bombing, Germany's war trauma, its big case, is now a $5,000 case. Little more than a wartime fender bender, if you will.
The Kunduz bombing and the compensation claims of the victims' families could end up in a German court soon. If that happens, German judges, thousands of kilometers removed from the war, could find themselves called upon to decide how much a life that was extinguished by a German colonel's order is worth. Karim Popal says that he intends to file a claim for damages.
Everything is prepared, says Popal.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan