International law as an extralegal defense strategy in West Germany's stammheim terror trial

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The trial of the core members of the terrorist group the Red Army Faction (RAF) provided the backdrop to what was the final crescendo of the most tumultuous period in West German history. The trial began in May 1975, with the verdict in Spring 1977 giving way to the "German Autumn," a violent few months that climaxed with a kidnapping, a hijacking and the prison deaths of the RAF leaders. The defense strategy for the trial was to frustrate the process and ignore the charges in favor of using the proceedings to present the RAF cause and RAF identity. This article outlines how the extralegal use of the high-profile case as a platform to communicate with an audience beyond the courtroom was grounded in an instrumentalization of international legal conventions on "political prisoners" and "prisoners of war" as hooks for the RAF's rhetoric of anti-fascism and anti-imperialism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-394
Number of pages20
JournalLaw, Culture and the Humanities
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Cause lawyering
  • European commission of human rights
  • Geneva conventions
  • Political prisoners
  • Political trial
  • Prisoners of war
  • Red army faction
  • Stammheim

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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