A court case over the biggest scandal in the German army's post-war history opened yesterday when 18 training officials went on trial for abusing dozens of recruits.
More than 160 trainees were allegedly given electric shocks, beatings and cigarette burns at barracks in Coesfeld, western Germany. Describing one night operation in 2004, Wolfgang Schweer, the senior prosecutor said, "the drill sergeants of the company ambushed, overwhelmed and chained up the cadets." They had bags put over their heads, were sprayed with water and given electric shocks using a field radio, Mr Schweer said.
The court in MÃ¼nster heard how during a hostage-taking exercise recruits were blindfolded, tied up and "interrogated". Some were sprayed with water down their trousers and mocked as "bedwetters". Others were given cigarette burns, or doused with water and told it was petrol, then threatened with being set alight.
The former company captain, identified only as 34-year old Ingo S, said the recruits could back out by giving a codeword. But Schweer said the word, "Tiffy", was associated in the company with being a weakling so was "very seldom" used.
Ingo S has said the practices were common in the army. The drill sergeants claim to have undergone specialist training and said they wanted to give their recruits a similar experience to toughen them up.
The scandal came to light when a junior soldier described his experience to members of his new unit. One of his superiors was so shocked he passed the information to the public prosecution office.
Those on trial, all aged between 25 and 34, were initially suspended but 14 have been reinstated. All have served either in Afghanistan or the Balkans. If convicted they face up to 10 years' jail.