02:40 GMT04 June 2020
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    Disparaging Facebook comments about German Chancellor Angela Merkel made by a US officer are currently under investigation by the US Army Europe.

    In a December post on the platform, Col. Ciro Stefano, operations chief for the Bundeswehr’s 10th Panzer Division, wrote, "Thanks Mrs. Merkel for ruining Germany."

    Stefano was criticizing the chancellor’s policies. His post was then picked up by Germany’s Main Post newspaper, prompting Stefano to delete the post and make his Facebook profile private. 

    Stefano was also active and commenting on anti-refugee pages throughout December and January, according to the paper.

    In a statement, the US Army Europe said it was investigating whether this is a punishable offense and, if it proves to be, they’re deciding what actions to take against Stefano.

    The statement read, "We were made aware of the news article and our leadership began gathering facts surrounding the article’s assertions to determine a course of action … The German-American partnership remains strong and steadfast," according to Stars and Stripes

    This combination of file photos created on January 16, 2017 shows US President-elect Donald Trump (December 16, 2016 in Orlando, Florida) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R, March 9, 2014 in Hanover).
    © AFP 2020 / John Macdougall, Jim Watson

    Currently Stefano is still in his position in the division, which falls under the Army’s Personnel Exchange Program, with his high rank and station as an American officer within a German unit complicating matters.

    Service members are allowed to "express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces," according to a 2008 order from the Pentagon. Since the comments were posted to Stefano’s personal page it is unlikely that Stefano will face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    Stars and Stripes quoted German Army Capt. Florian Kling, member of the Darmstaedter Signal activist group, as saying,"If you are a colonel or even have a higher rank, you need to make clear that if you say something political it is understood that you say this as a private man."

    King noted that higher ranking officers must take special care to tread lightly when making political commentary online, as it could be associated with the service they represent.

    Merkel has faced much criticism for opening Germany’s borders to refugees, as about a million people have made their way to the country over the last year. On Friday, she defended her decision to reject Afghan asylum seekers, as she prepares for a serious election battle against the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, which is virulently anti-immigrant.

    A recent study conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that 54 percent of Germans feel that the country can take in no more refugees, whereas in 2015 the number stood at 40 percent.

    The report found that, "The readiness to take in more refugees has significantly fallen," according to the Telegraph.


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