Spiegel scandal

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The Spiegel Affair of 1962 (German: Spiegel-Affäre) was one of the major political scandals in Germany in the era following World War II.

The scandal involved a conflict between Franz Josef Strauss, then Federal Minister of Defense, and Rudolf Augstein, owner and editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel magazine, Germany's leading weekly political magazine. The affair would cost Strauss his office and put the young German democracy to its first major test.

The two had clashed already a year earlier, when, in 1961, Spiegel raised accusations of bribery in favor of the FIBAG construction company, which had received a contract for building military facilities. However, a parliamentary enquiry then found no evidence against Strauss.

The quarrel then escalated when Der Spiegel, in its October 8, 1962, issue, published an article called "Bedingt abwehrbereit" ("prepared for defense to limited extent"), about a NATO maneuver called "Fallex 62". The piece uncovered the sorry state of the Bundeswehr (Germany's army) facing the communist threat from the east. At that time, the army had been given the grade "prepared for defense to only a limited extent", the lowest possible NATO-grade.

The magazine was accused of treason. At 9 p.m. on October 26, 1962, the magazine's offices in Hamburg were seized and (together with the houses of several journalists) searched by 36 policemen, and thousands of documents were confiscated. The offices would remain shut down for weeks. Augstein and the then-editors-in-chief Claus Jacobi and Johannes Engel were arrested. The author of the article, Conrad Ahlers, who was vacationing in Spain, was seized in his hotel during the night. Augstein would be jailed for 103 days.

Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor) Konrad Adenauer was informed of Strauss' actions. However, the Minister of Justice, belonging to the smaller coalition party FDP, was deliberately left out of all decisions. The injustice of the arrest caused riots and protest throughout Germany. Strauss initially denied all involvement, even before the Bundestag: Adenauer, in another speech, famously complained about an "abyss of treason" ("Abgrund von Landesverrat").

Strauss was finally forced to admit that he had phoned the German military attaché in Madrid and urged him to arrest Ahlers. This was clearly illegal — as Minister of the Interior Hermann Höcherl famously paraphrased, "etwas außerhalb der Legalität" ("somewhat outside of legality"). Since Strauss had lied to the parliament, on November 19, the five FDP ministers of the cabinet resigned, demanding that Strauss and Volkmar Hopf be fired. This put Adenauer himself at risk. He found himself publicly accused of backing the suppression of a critical press with the resources of the state.

On November 26, the police ended its occupation of the Spiegel offices, while Augstein, Ahlers and three others remained under arrest — Augstein until February 7, 1963. In December 1962, Adenauer formed a new cabinet without Strauss.

On May 13, 1965, the Bundesgerichtshof (highest German court of appeals) refused to open trial against Augstein and Ahlers, ruling that during the affair Strauss had violated the boundaries and committed Freiheitsberaubung (deprivation of personal freedom); however, because of his belief of acting lawfully (Verbotsirrtum), he was exempt from punishment. The case also came before the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, which issued a groundbreaking ruling that laid down the basics of the freedom of the press for decades to come.

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