Terror on Trial 2: Counter Forensics

by Katrin Trüstedt

9-495x400While the murder series of the right-wing terror trio National Socialist Underground (NSU) has generally escaped major international attention (especially in comparison with Islamist terror attacks), one of the assassinations continues to come up. The murder of Halit Yozgat, the 9th assassination of the NSU, resists the fate of the others, because of one rather delicate detail: a secret service agent was present at the crime scene at the time of the murder. When Halit Yozgat was shot in the head by two members of the NSU on April 6, 2006, from a close distance with a silenced Česká CZ 83 pistol (the signature style of the NSU assassinations), Andreas Temme, an agent of the Hessian domestic intelligence service, was in the internet café in Kassel. When Halit Yozgat's father, İsmail Yozgat, found his son when he returned to the café a few minutes after the murder, Temme was gone.

The agent claimed first to have been at the café the day before, and then that he had left the place right before the murder. He later changed his statement when confronted with overwhelming evidence placing him at the scene when the murder happened. He then claimed he didn't see or hear Yozgat getting shot while he was chatting with his online affair; that he put coins on the reception desk and left, not noticing that Yozgat was dying on the ground behind the desk; and that he didn't report back to the police like all the other witnesses in the café because he didn't want his pregnant wife to find out what he was doing there. The police, the court and his employers at the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution accepted his testimony. But his presence continues to raise suspicions that government agencies might in some way be involved in the murders, fueling conspiracy theories in various directions. Much justified criticism of the authorities' handling of the case came from the left, pointing out the general trivialization of right-wing violence by state agencies combined with racist prejudices when it comes to the victims, when the various agencies investigating the murders had disregarded the possibility of right-wing terror and rather investigated the victim's families for possible criminal ties, thereby doubling the crimes they were supposed to prevent. Against this background, the fact that an agent of the domestic intelligence service was present at the scene raised the suspicion that government agencies might have actively protected or enabled the NSU. Meanwhile there are, on the other hand, many rumors in the right-wing scene itself claiming the NSU murders were orchestrated by the state authorities in order to hurt the scene.

Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths around the architect Eyal Weizman, have launched an independent investigation into the case and recently presented preliminary results.

Their operations are based on evidential material gained by the state authorities, but they elaborate and investigate the material with a wider focus, surpassing the narrow scope the authorities have operated with in this case. Based on the reenactment of the crime scene with Temme himself at the request of the Hessian State Police, Forensic Architecture constructed a life-size model of the Internet café and recreated Temme's moving field of vision both digitally within a computer model and with cameras attached to the head of an actor in a reenactment within the life-size model. By investigating the prosecution's model in this elaborate way, Forensic Architecture has, in a sense, adopted and taken over the procedures and operations the prosecution employed, refining and re-investigating these techniques, while also redefining the purpose and significantly shifting the positions, turning it on the state authorities themselves. With this model, they investigated what Temme, the agent of a state authority, must have or cannot not have seen. The architecture here becomes the primary witness, and needs to be interrogated in complex ways, as a witness to who was the witness – a witness testifying to the question as to what Temme could have or must have seen, heard, and smelled.

Forensic Architecture concluded from the reconstruction of Temme's moving field of vision that Halit Yozgat, lying face down behind the reception desk, would have indeed been visible to him at the time he placed his coins on the desk. They determined that the gunshot was audible from the position of the agent. The results on the smell are still pending. The main prosecution, represented by the state attorney, has throughout the trial tried to keep the focus solely on the accused members or helpers of the NSU and to reject any further investigation of the possible enabling role of the police and the domestic intelligence service, as not pertaining to the actual charges. The accessory prosecution, representing the victim's families, is ascribed only a supplementary role, namely to just support the state attorneys in prosecuting the defendants. From their supplementary position, however, they prove to be a driving force, opposing the limited scope of the main prosecution, pressing the questions about the role of the respective state institutions and their informants in the Neo-Nazi scene. Through the accessory prosecution, Forensic Architecture's findings have now also been submitted in evidence to the NSU trial in Munich on behalf of İsmail Yozgat. Thus, they have now become part of the prosecution, while, at the same time, operating as a counter force against it.

"Counter forensics," as Weizman and his team call their work, is supposed to offer a counter force to state forensics and state policing, trying to hold authorities accountable. In this case, it gives the accessory prosecution, the survivors and victim's families, international impact and visibility. Commissioned by "the People's Tribunal Unravelling the NSU Complex", the counter forensics of Forensic Architecture, claiming "to examine not only the killing but also its possible cover-up and the protection of Temme from within the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a crime in its own right" is part of that supplementary force. And yet as such it also raises the question what exactly the role of such a force competing with the main prosecution actually could be. Who are "the people", on whose behalf this is undertaken, if it's not the people represented by the state's prosecution? The victims as not being part of the state represented by the state attorney? The "real people?" By taking over the task of the prosecution and actually prosecuting the agents of the state authorities, the counter forensics reflect on the general question of "our" role in a trial like this.

"Kassel_6.April.2006" is a project among a series of other projects of the Forensic Architecture, devoted to investigating combat operations and drone attacks inside buildings in urban warfare places. Seeing it in the context of this series marks the NSU assassination as a case of violence that happened in buildings in cities, right among us, and that involves the state as a violent actor. It also exposes the differences that distinguish this case from the war crimes Forensic Architecture investigates. On the basis of the material available so far, what seems most likely is not the active involvement of the state authorities in the NSU murders. While there are, of course, very real conspiracies, in this case the conspiracies probably have mostly to do with the attempts to cover up the stupidity, institutional racism and fuck-ups that have made it possible for the authorities and the public to let the NSU get away for so long with ten murders, at least 14 bank robberies, and two nail bomb attacks. What is being unveiled in this sophisticated counter investigation seems to be the blatant lack of sophistication and awareness with which the "State Office for the Protection of the Constitution" (Verfassungsschutz), handled the acts of terrorism they are supposed to prevent.

Like the populism that is drawn to them, conspiracy theories tend to presume an (evil) mastermind behind the surface, orchestrating every move. The story of agent Temme is probably way more banal. In all likelihood, he was at a place he shouldn't have been, and, when the assassination happened, he got away and tried to cover it up. But his story in all its pathetic insignificance nonetheless seems symptomatic for this case. Halit Yozgat's was the 9th in the series of assassinations with the same weapon, in the same close range style, and the 8th victim with a Turkish background. Halit Yozgat's murder stands out not only because of a secret service agent present, but also because this murder so obviously could have been prevented. Except for the victim's families and communities, who weren't listened to, nobody was looking in the right direction, with the necessary urgency. Temme probably was not a perpetrator but rather a bystander, didn't do or say anything, and claimed he didn't see or hear what was going on right in front of him. In this sense, former agent Andreas Temme is not the evil other. He is all of us.