Innocent in Guantanamo

Murat Kurnaz’s memoir, Five Years of My Life: an Innocent Man in Guantánamo, will soon be published in the United States.

Amnesty International reports:

About two months after the September 11 attacks, Kurnaz was abducted by Pakistani authorities while traveling through Pakistan with a group of tablighis, a sect of missionaries. Sold as a terror suspect to the U.S. military for a $3000 bounty, Kurnaz spent two hellish months in a secret U.S. prison in Afghanistan before he was bundled onto a plane and sent to the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There, he endured five years of torture, interrogations and abuse until his 2006 release”prompted by a personal plea by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to President George W. Bush”even though official documents show that U.S. and German authorities had determined in 2002 that he was innocent. His memoir, soon to be published in the United States, has caused a furor in Germany over the role German government and intelligence agencies played in his ordeal.

Below are excerpts of his interview with the German magazine, Stern:

How did you end up being arrested on Dec. 1, 2001?
We were in Peshawar. I had already bought souvenirs to take home. On the way to the airport we went through a checkpoint and I was taken off the bus. I did not think that I was going to be arrested; I thought that the situation would resolve itself. I was taken to the police station, then to a villa and then to a prison. They kept asking me stupid questions: whether I was a cameraman, whether I was from the police. And then they would always say, “No problem, we will take you to the airport tomorrow.”

And instead of that?
The next morning, a sack was put over my head, and I was handcuffed. We traveled for a few hours to a very quiet place. You could not hear any cars, any voices. Many metal doors opened one after another. When I could see again I was in a room without a window, without a toilet, just a hole right above me through which the light came in from a lamp that you could not see.

You were obviously sold–the Americans paid a bounty for terror suspects. Did you know about that?
Only much later. A guard at Guantánamo once complained that I had not given them any new information and had just continued to say the same thing. “You would have surely expected more for your five thousand dollars,” I said to him. “Three thousand,”he replied. “We only paid three thousand for you.”

You were taken to a U.S. camp in Kandahar, in Afghanistan. What did that look like?
A site at the airport. Split into groups of 10 or 20 men, we lay out in the open behind lengths of barbed wire.

That must have been just before Christmas.
It was very cold. On the first night we were naked–they had taken our overalls away from us, and we were not wearing anything underneath. The guards had German and Belgian shepherds, which they would let loose on us every once in a while. In the morning we received new overalls, again with nothing underneath, nothing over the top. We only had blankets for a very short amount of time. And we continued to lie out in the open. My breath froze onto my clothing.

Was there nobody who stood up for you?
After a few days, somebody came from the Red Cross. He was from Germany. He wrote a letter to my family for me. Then, in the night, I was thrown out of my cell. A guard held a shotgun to my head. “You are a terrorist!” he screamed. “What kind of dumb stuff did you write about your treatment here?” My hands and feet were bound, and someone kicked me from behind. I fell. The interrogator pulled me up again by my hair. In Kandahar, I at least found out what I was being accused of: having a fake visa and being a friend of Mohammed Atta, the terrorist pilot. They asked where Osama was, where I had seen him. They claimed that they knew everything already and that I should give evidence to improve my situation.

Did they really have information on you?
They knew a lot–for example, the fact that I had bought my digital camera and my mobile phone before my journey and from whom I had bought them. I was in no doubt that they were working alongside German authorities…

Were you tortured in any other ways?
They called it “showering.” You had to pour cold water over your head. They took me out to do that every day. They prepared me for interrogations by putting electric shocks through my feet. For hours on end they would hang me up by my hands, which were bound behind my back in different positions?and then a break, and then you would be hung up again. A doctor looked in to see if you were still alive. The interrogator came at midday every day, and then you would be taken down for a short while…

Your impressions upon arrival at Guantánamo?
It was warm. I thought it was a U.S. military base in Turkey. They were already beating us a lot on the way to the camp, as a welcoming greeting.

What was Camp X-Ray [the first prison at Guantánamo like?
The cages were so small that I initially thought they were only for getting changed in. You were exposed to everything: sun, rain, snakes, scorpions. I once saw with my own eyes one of the prisoners being stung on the finger by a scorpion. Fat rats walked all over your arms and legs.

April 9, 2008 - Posted by | Non-Fiction | , , ,

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