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Convicted Criminal Considers the Cause, the Crime, and the Court

Last week, as prisoners continued to languish in the infamous and illegally-run US concentration camp of Guantanamo, I was fortunate to join 34 fellow criminals in Washington DC at the District of Columbia Superior Court as our case, for an act of peaceful civil resistance, was heard by a judge and prosecuted by one of America‘s officers of the court. Our court experience was far more than our unfortunate brothers in Guantanamo have received after 6 years in their open-ended confinement. Approximately 270 Guantanamo prisoners are held in captivity without charges, Habeas Corpus rights denied, access to civil courts denied, living in conditions of abuse, torture, and with little hope for life or liberty. Some have committed suicide because of their desperate situation.

On January 11, 2008 hundreds of people solemnly processed from The National Mall to The United States Supreme Court marking the 6th year of the prison camp to redress our grievances against the US Government and its use of abusive treatment, torture, and the ending of Habeas Corpus rights for the Guantanamo prisoners. Out of the hundreds who were a part of this assembly, outside and inside the US Supreme Court, I was one of 80 people who ended up being arrested for our nonviolent witness, kneeling and praying, calling for the closing of the Guantanamo detention camp. Those of us who were arrested for our peaceful justice-advocacy for the prisoners were charged with “unlawful free speech” and a second charge, for those inside, of “causing a harangue”. The “harangue” charge was eventually dropped.

After our arrest we were held for over 30 hours in a chain of custody from the US Supreme Court Police to the DC Metropolitan Police, and finally in holding cells below the courtroom by the US Marshals. We chose not to have any identification such as drivers’ licenses and instead told the police that we were there in the name of a specific Guantanamo prisoner. The Guantanamo prisoner I represented is Sahr Fawaz Ahmad. Many of us had been held on January 11 in handcuffs for over 8 hours and some not given any food or water until the next day. The day after our arrest, while still in custody, the US Marshals refused to give us water. Our lawyer had to get the arraignment judge to order the marshals to give us water. On January 12 we were all arraigned late in the day and early evening. We were then free to go until we would be in court to defend ourselves against the charges. Again, this is more than those in Guantanamo have received even after 6 long years of imprisonment without charge or conviction.

On May 27, 2008 we gathered for our trial in the DC Superior Court. As we went to trial our numbers had decreased from 80 initially arrested to 34 prepared for trial. Several of the 80 had made agreements with the government not to get arrested for 6 months and having their records cleared if they maintained this agreement. Others had their charges dropped for no apparent reason just before our trial. Our judge was Wendell P. Gardner Jr. and our US Government prosecutor was Magdelena Acevado. We would defend ourselves Pro Se meaning we would represent ourselves with the assistance of attorney-advisers Mark Goldstone and Anne Wilcox. By going Pro Se we have the chance to introduce our message about the Guantanamo prisoners and what motivated us to take such a dramatic action at The US Supreme Court.

The trial lasted three days ending late on Thursday May 29. During our trial almost half of my fellow co-defendants wore orange jumpsuits and remained silent and would not take an active role in their defense. They did this to be in solidarity with the prisoners of Guantanamo and to illustrate the lack of justice the prisoners have experienced while being held in the US occupied portion of Cuba. The rest of us took on the various roles such as giving opening statements, cross examination of government witnesses, examination of defense witnesses, motion for judgment of acquittal, and closing statements in our defense. We all identified ourselves in court with our own names in addition to naming the Guantanamo prisoner we represented. In naming a Guantanamo prisoner we were in some small symbolic way getting these illegally held captives into the court record, again this is much more than what they have received so far.

During the trial several of my codefendants made deeply moving and passionate statements concerning the rights of the prisoners, about the abuse and torture we know is inflicted upon them, the importance of Habeas Corpus, human rights, and international law. They spoke eloquently about why we were called by conscience and the need to follow a higher law that is above statutes that govern behavior in and around a federal building. We all acted peacefully at the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2008 and firmly believe that we were there to uphold the law.

During the trial the government failed to provide any evidence of our individual guilt. We were identified in court with post-arrest photos by police witnesses. A video depicting some of what happened outside The US Supreme Court was presented without a single police officer identifying any one of us as an individual who committed a crime. Not one person who was inside on that day was ever identified by a police witness as committing any crime. One officer testified that the first time he saw me was on an elevator handcuffed being escorted by another officer after my arrest. Nevertheless we were all found guilty by the judge. We were found guilty by the use of post-arrest photos and guilt by association and not as individuals who each committed a crime. This is significant but not the most important thing for us.

We did what we did and went to trial because of the prisoners of Guantanamo. We were there for them. We were there to speak out for those who cannot. We were there to uphold international law, our constitution, our Bill of Rights, The Geneva Conventions, for justice and humanity. Our government refuses to allow the Guantanamo prisoners into our civil courts to be fairly tried. Instead our government has set up military tribunals where hearsay evidence is permitted, information obtained from those tortured is admitted as evidence, and the military judge picks the defense, prosecution, and jury. This is not justice. We took the names of the prisoners into court with us written on our hearts and minds and we spoke their names. We were subsequently sentenced by Judge Gardiner on May 30.

We now all face one year of probation and a one year order to stay away from the US Supreme Court building, grounds, and the surrounding sidewalk. Some of us have fines of $50 and a few have, including myself, a $100 fine. Some refused to accept probation knowing they may be called by conscience, to witness for justice and peace, to risk arrest again. These people, five of them, received immediate jail time of 10 days and an additional one to 15 days. Another defendant, a retired school teacher in her 70’s, received 5 days, and I was one of three who received 1 day in jail in addition 29 days in jail if we get arrested within the year. Again, this is nothing compared to what our brothers in Guantanamo face every day.

Our judge gave us these punishments because he said he wants us to learn a lesson. But, in reality the government is clamping down on peaceful dissent by jailing us and threatening us with more jail if we continue our nonviolent resistance to injustice. This is the lesson the government wants nonviolent dissenters to learn. The lesson the government needs to learn, however, is that this won’t work with us. We will be back for our brothers in Guantanamo and the estimated 27,000 other prisoners in secret black sites around the world where torture is practiced.

As long as the Guantanamo concentration camp is open and in operation none of us is truly free. As long as the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez, and Yoo remain at large ordering, advocating, and approving of torture none of us is safe. As long as the bipartisan US Congress fails to restore Habeas Corpus and close Guantanamo we have lost our republic and tyranny will rule us. We all must work to close this place and bring justice to those held captive. If this means risking arrest for nonviolent symbolic actions of peaceful civil resistance and then enduring a time of incarceration then this must be done for the sake of the higher laws of justice and the leadings of our individual consciences. I urge all people of goodwill to join us in this struggle for justice.

For more information on the campaign to close Guantanamo, our trial, and the work to end torture go to: www.witnesstorture.org

— Malachy Kilbride malachykilbride@yahoo.com

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June 18, 2008 Posted by | Non-Fiction, Torture News | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Floating in Limbo, literally

Makes you proud to be an American, huh? One Guantanamo detainee victim describes the “kinder, gentler” torture imposed by the Americans he thought he would be safe with:

While staying at his in-law’s village in Afghanistan in December 2001, Abdul Hamid Al-Ghizzawi, my client at Guantánamo, knew little of Bush and Cheney.

Later, when vigilante thugs turned him over to the Northern Alliance for an American bounty, Al-Ghizzawi knew nothing of Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, John Yoo or Matthew Waxman — the man who would become Al-Ghizzawi’s personal war criminal and who is now a professor at Columbia Law School.

So, it was understandable that when Al-Ghizzawi heard American troops were coming, he tried to get himself turned over to them. As Al-Ghizzawi later told me, he thought he would be safe with the Americans “and have rights” and be treated “with respect.” Al-Ghizzawi convinced the Americans to take him when they learned he spoke English. That was all the troops knew about him. Ignorance of who he was or why he was there, however, proved no impediment to torture.

In the early years, “the Americans treated me very brutally and disrespectfully, worse than the Northern Alliance … and the Northern Alliance was very bad,” Al-Ghizzawi recounted to me. “But now the torture is much different. Now the torture is my life every day in this prison, alone without my family, dying, with no rights and no charges.”

His American jailers spared Al-Ghizzawi the very worst of the worst in the long list of torture techniques now in use. He was not murdered or waterboarded. He did not have a razor blade taken to his penis, nor was he hung from the ceiling by his arms. One might describe Al-Ghizzawi’s torture as a kinder, gentler torture.

In American custody, Al-Ghizzawi was only beaten with chains; bound to chairs in excruciating positions for endless hours; threatened with death and with rape; stripped and subjected to body-cavity searches by non-medical personnel while men — and women — laughed and took pictures.

Among many other brutalities and indignities, Al-Ghizzawi was also posed naked with other prisoners; terrorized with dogs; forced to kneel on stones in the searing heat; left to stand or crouch for extended periods; deprived of sleep; subjected to extreme cold without clothes or covering; denied medical attention; and kept in isolation for years.

Again, as I said: a kinder, gentler torture.

Torture planes, and now, Torture ships. The anti-torture group, Reprieve, reported on June 2nd that:

In June 2005 the UN’s special rapporteur on terrorism spoke of “very, very serious” allegations that the United States was secretly detaining terrorism suspects in various locations around the world, notably aboard prison ships in the Indian Ocean region.


Reprieve, the legal action charity, believes that the US has operated a number of ships as floating prisons (possibly as many as 17), where prisoners have been interrogated under torturous conditions before being rendered to other, often undisclosed locations. Details regarding the operation of prison ships have emerged through a number of sources, including the US military and other administration officials, the Council of Europe, various parliamentary bodies and journalists, as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves…

Following his capture by Northern Alliance forces in November 2001, John Walker Lindh, the so called ‘American Taliban’, was transferred first to the USS Peleliu and then to USS Bataan. On board, he received medical treatment for dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. In addition, the bullet wound he received two weeks previously was removed from his leg…

A former Guantánamo prisoner told Reprieve about conditions aboard the USS Bataan:

There were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on television. The people detained on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantánamo.

The USS Bataan is also known to have been operating in the Indian Ocean region.


Reprieve believes that prisoners held aboard the USS Bataan were routinely photographed and examined by medical personnel in between interrogations, and that such records are held by the US administration…

Reprieve will be issuing a full report on the use of prison ships later this year.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, said: “The US administration chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their human rights.”

He added: “By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001. The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.”

David Swanson writes an excellent commentary on McCain and the torture ships:

When asked about other known crimes of Bush and Cheney, Senator Barack Obama has said that he can’t see any crimes now, but he’ll be glad to look into it after we elect him. So, it’s a safe bet that if he becomes president Obama will create a task force to advise him on whether it’s illegal or abusive in any way to secretly kidnap random innocent people, allow their families to think they’re dead, hide them in the hull of what can technically only be called a pirate ship, beat them, hang them by their wrists, starve them, electroshock them, hold their heads underwater, and keep them chained hands-and-feet like something worse than wild animals. Depending on what conclusions Obama’s subordinates draw, it seems an even bet he’ll launch a more in-depth study to fully investigate the question in a discrete and respectful manner.

McCain is a different story, at least in terms of rhetoric. When asked how he came to switch from being an opponent and supposed victim of torture denouncing it as both evil and useless, to a cheerleader for its blatantly illegal use and its justification by dictatorial “signing statement”, Senator John McCain . . . Actually, we would have to have a public communications system for McCain to ever have been asked such an impolite question, but I feel safe in asserting that HAD he been asked that question, he would have replied by threatening to torture the questioner, with a wink and a nervous grin, followed by a slurred and semi-coherent refusal ever to surrender to “extremists.” If I were a betting man, my money would be on McCain’s presidential campaign quite soon offering to name torture ships in honor of major campaign donors. A pirate-themed ball at the Republican National Convention is not unlikely.

Additional coverage on the torture ships:

The Personal is Political

The Guardian

Reuters

AFP

I was lucky enough to interview A.C. Thompson in 2006, co-author of Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights:

Can you tell me a little bit about how this book came about?

Back in December 2005, my co-author Trevor Paglen gave me a call and said, “Hey, I’ve been checking out these planes. Can I come over to your office and talk about it?” And he came over and basically said, “I believe these planes are involved with the CIA in some way. Can you help me figure out who owns them and where they’re based, and find any clues about the corporations who allegedly own these planes?”

So right on the spot we started doing document searches at my desk, and looking up the ownership records for some of these planes. Very quickly it became clear that the planes that he was interested in were not normal.

Torturetaxicover_1 Normally, if you look at any company, you’ll find that it has an office somewhere, it has a CEO or president who can be easily located, it has a Web site — it has all the basic sort of stuff that you’d expect. And the companies that putatively owned these planes had none of that. You couldn’t find an office, you couldn’t find any real estate that they owned, you couldn’t find a phone number for the executives, you couldn’t find an address, and you couldn’t find any homes that executives of these companies owned. Now, you’d expect that the president of even a small aviation company probably owns a home somewhere – you know, you wouldn’t see any of this stuff. And so, very quickly, we realized that there was something weird about this.

Once you saw that something wasn’t really right, what was the next step?

Our whole thing was that we were researching this as people who didn’t have intelligence sources, as people who didn’t have sources deep in the aviation business. We were trying to reverse engineer the program. That was our goal.

So we gathered up all the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records and corporate paperwork that we could. Then we also networked with the plane spotters – the sort of nerdy hobbyists who spend their time obsessing over the minutia and esoterica of aviation — Where does one plane go? Where does it land? What kind of plane is it? Who owns it? Who flies it?

In a lot of ways, they were the ones who actually cracked the CIA’s code, because these geeky types have Web sites and listservs where they’re sharing information with one another. And a lot of them are very interested in suspicious aircraft, and they had obtained flight logs and documented these planes — with photos — in very interesting places.

We could build on that information and start understanding better where these planes were going, and that, in fact, they were very likely CIA planes. That same tactic was employed by Stephen Grey, the author of Ghost Plane, and John Sifton at Human Rights Watch. And really, that sort of became the cutting edge of human rights research and reporting at the moment — to understand how aviation flight patterns work. It was kind of a weird thing.


June 3, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Torture Activism and Arrests; Ted Rall; Making it Matter

Anti-torture activists convicted on May 29, 2008… They were charged with “unlawful free speech” or “causing a harangue,” or in some cases, both. The counts each carry a maximum of 60 days in jail:

Thirty-four Americans arrested at the Supreme Court on January 11, 2008 were found guilty after a three-day trial which began on Tuesday, May 27th in D.C. Superior Court. The defendants represented themselves, mounting a spirited defense of their First Amendment rights to protest the gross injustice of abuse and indefinite detention of men at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

Charged with “unlawful free speech,” the defendants were part of a larger group that appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11—the day marking six years of indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo. “I knelt and prayed on the steps of the Supreme Court wearing an orange jumpsuit and black hood to be present for Fnu Fazaldad,” said Tim Nolan, a nurse practitioner from Asheville, NC who provides health care for people with HIV.

***

In a new twist on traditional protest, the 35 activists [entered] their names as those of actual Guantánamo inmates. On January 11th, they were arrested without their own identification and were taken into custody under the name of a Guantánamo prisoner. This act symbolically grants the Guantánamo prisoners their day in court– which the Pentagon has denied them for years.

Father Bill Pickard, a Catholic priest from Scranton, PA, is one of the defendants. But he will be tried “as” Faruq Ali Ahmed, a Guantánamo detainee. “I went to the Supreme Court to make a simple plea that the inhumane treatment and actual torture of inmates at Guantánamo Bay stop,” says Fr. Pickard. “I went to bring the name and the humanity of Faruq Ali Ahmed — who claims he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 simply to teach the Koran to children and that he has no affiliation with the Taliban or Al Qaeda — before the law. He cannot do it himself, so I am called by my faith, my respect for the rule of law and my conscience to do it for him.” Among the defendants is a hog farmer from Grinnell, Iowa, a social worker from Saratoga Springs, New York, and a legal secretary from Baltimore.

Representing themselves, the defendants plan on justifying their acts as upholding U.S. law and international human rights and will call witnesses to document the abuses at Guantánamo.

(Source: Guantanamo Detainees to Get Their Day in Court, Witness Against Torture Press Release)

***

[Historian Michael S. Foley, a professor at the City University of New York, teaches the U.S. Constitution to undergraduates testified for the defense on the third day of trial.]

Mike Foley had entered the Supreme Court, as had Ms. Schaeffer-Duffy, earlier in the day, and had had time to tour the building and see a film. As a historian and a history professor he appreciated there being an exhibit on the 1944 Korematsu decision upholding the constitutionality of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, but noted the absence of other exhibits related to curtailment of rights during time of war.

Foley described approaching the Great Hall close to 1:00. As he got close to the front door at the top of the steps, near the security checkpoint, he saw a few people begin to unfurl a banner. “In moments police snatched the banner. Behind them, other people had begun to take their jackets off, showing orange T-shirts, and one woman was starting to put on an orange jump suit. In a matter of moments, though, there was bedlam. Police were running, and I heard others being called on a police radio. A number of people were lined on either side of the hall, but there was mayhem. People began to kneel. It looked like some were praying and some were trying to get out of the way to keep from getting knocked over. I saw two people start to read, but immediately police swiped their papers out of their hands. At that point people started singing.” He went on to say, “I saw my friend Nancy Gowan being slammed to the ground. She took a hard fall. Then she was dragged away.”

Foley said the police gave no warnings before beginning to arrest people. “It would have been easy for them. It was perfectly quiet. The hall had the hushed, reverential tone appropriate for that space. But the police yelled, ‘Get the banner!’” He said police did not tell the first people apprehended that they were about to be arrested or that they were being arrested. Later, when many people had already been taken into custody, he said the police began saying, “You realize you’re about to be arrested.”

Foley was able to observe the arrests because he was one of the last ones to be arrested, and he said the people were not disorderly or threatening. “It was the police who reacted, who were disorderly. It was like they were prepared and waiting, but didn’t have a plan. The orderly, dignified program plan of the people who came to the Great Hall never happened. They tried to improvise a program after the arrests.”

When asked if he thought he was at risk of being arrested when he went to the Great Hall, he said, “No more than I thought I might be arrested anywhere for reading a statement. We went to file petitions to the U.S. Justices. When I saw the charge of unlawful free speech, I was shocked. I teach the Bill of Rights to my students. If anyone had told me I would be arrested for unlawful free speech I would have said they were crazy, but of all places, I would never have thought it could happen in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court!”

(Source: Witness Against Torture press release)

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees were barred from testifying on behalf of the protestors:

Judge Wendell Gardner refused to hear testimony from Guantanamo attorney, Thomas Wilner, in the trial of 34 Americans arrested while acting on behalf of Guantanamo detainees at the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2008. Judge Gardner ruled that Wilner’s testimony was unnecessary” and “not relevant” to make a determination.

The defense argued that Wilner, who represents 12 Kuwaiti detainees and who speaks frequently in public about his trips to Guantanamo, helped shape the intent of the defendants in making their protest to shut down the American prison camp in Cuba.

The 34 defendants, acting as their own attorneys, took the names of Guantanamo detainees at the time of arrest and have carried those names through the trial. Some, acting in solidarity with the detainees, have refused to speak during the trial as a way of highlighting the rights withheld from the detainees thus far.

Others have mounted a defense arguing that on January 11, the sixth anniversary of the interrogation camps’ opening, they appealed to the justices of the Supreme Court to rule against the Bush administration in the cases of Boumediene v. U.S. and Al Odah v. Bush. They contend that they acted on January 11th after all other remedies had been exhausted and only after hearing lawyers like Thomas Wilner describe the predicaments of their clients, expressing horror and astonishment that more Americans were not protesting the detainees’ indefinite detention and torture.

Let’s see how much the national, mainstream media covered the protest and subsequent trial:

The Washington Post ran a 452 word story in the Metro section on January 13, 2008 and a 553 story on May 28, 2008.

The AP ran a 645 word story on June 2, 2008.

The CNN wire ran a 127 word story on May 27, 2008.

Local press faired better. Check out their extensive coverage here.

Speaking of the media, Ted Rall writes on American torture camps and journalists “who love the government too much”:

In last week’s column I cited New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau as a prime example of what ails us: reporters who don’t report, a.k.a. journalists who love the government too much.

When Lichtblau found out that the Bush Administration was listening to Americans’ phone calls and reading their e-mail, he decided to hold the story. Instead of fulfilling his duty to the Times’ readers and running with it, he asked the White House for permission. By the time the NSA domestic surveillance story finally ran, 14 months had passed–and Bush had won the 2004 election.

Again, in a May 17th piece bearing the headline “FBI Gets Mixed Review in Interrogation Report,” Lichtblau is running interference for the government. “A new Justice Department report praises the refusal of FBI agents to take part in the military’s abusive questioning of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan,” begins the article, “but it also finds fault with the bureau’s slow response to complaints about the tactics from its own agents.”

“Abusive questioning.” “Harsh interrogation tactics.”

According to the Justice Department report, “routine” treatment of Guantánamo prisoners–witnessed by the FBI–includes “bending the detainee’s thumbs back and grabbing his genitals.” Military and CIA torturers chained detainees’ hands and feet together for as long as a full day, “left to defecate on themselves.” They terrorized them with dogs, stripped them and made them wear women’s underwear and subjected them to blaring music, freezing cold and searing heat.

Torture. Such a simple word. Why not use it?

Lichtblau’s “mixed review” appellation notwithstanding, the report by the Justice Department paints a shocking, uniformly negative portrait of a federal law enforcement agency whose officers react to appalling conduct with the Nuremberg defense–“I was just following orders.”

“Indeed,” reported U.S. News & World Report, “time after time, the report concludes that FBI agents saw or heard about numerous interrogation methods–from sleep deprivation to duct-taping detainees’ mouths to scaring them with dogs–that plainly violated their own agency’s code of conduct.” (Not to mention the Geneva Conventions.) Rather than report their scruples to someone who might raise hell and put a stop to the systemic torture at Gitmo and other U.S. concentration camps–i.e., the public–FBI agents turned to the criminals. Just like Lichtblau did with domestic spying.

Making it Matter:

June is Torture Awareness Month. Read about one CA church’s actions here.

A letter to the editor shows the power of language in torture:

Every day we read and hear how waterboarding “simulates” drowning. Victims “perceive” and “believe” that they are being drowned, we’re told, as if they were falling for some clever parlor trick. You can’t find a story which does not use one of those qualifiers every time “waterboarding is mentioned.”

I think this must be some kind of record in the application of mass propaganda; since a five-minute Web search reveals that waterboarding, in fact, is drowning. The victim perceives and believes that water is going into his lungs because water is going into his lungs, any time he breathes.

There is only one real qualifier that applies, and it’s the same one that applied to the process of dunking witches in colonial Salem. That is, it is controlled, intentional drowning, which can be interrupted, or not, by those perpetrating it. Malcolm Nance, who is now a terrorism advisor to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, states in The Independent Dec. 22 that he personally witnessed and supervised hundreds of waterboardings, at the U.S. Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in San Diego, as part of training Navy SEALs…

And read another letter to the editor here.


June 1, 2008 Posted by | Media Criticism, Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , | Leave a comment