Analysis: Report from Guantanamo
By Stefan Nicola
April 26, 2007
BERLIN, April 26 (UPI) -- The United States reportedly paid Pakistani police some $3,000 for Murat Kurnaz before they locked him away for nearly five years without charges in Guantanamo. The German-Turkish man has written a book about his plight in the world's most famous prison.
"I understood a long time ago what this prison was about," Kurnaz writes in "Five Years of My Life," his memoir that hit the shelves of Germany's book stores earlier this week. "They could do with us whatever they wanted."
Kurnaz, a 24-year-old Turkish national born and raised in Germany, was arrested in Pakistan shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; the Americans parked him in a secret prison in Kandahar, where Kurnaz -- prisoner No. 53 -- says he saw and experienced horrific things.
One night, screams woke Kurnaz. He said he saw two soldiers beat a man on the ground.
"I could see that he had a blanket wrapped around his head. They beat his head with a butt, and kicked him in the stomach. Other guards and soldiers joined in beating the man. It was seven soldiers," he wrote.
The next morning, the man was dead.
Kurnaz himself was repeatedly electrocuted when interrogated, he said, and he was left for days at a time to hang by his hands, which were tied to his back. In one incident, Kurnaz caught a glimpse of another detainee hanging across the room.
"I don't know him ... His body is swollen and blue. Only in a few spots, it is white," Kurnaz writes. "I think the man is dead. He looks like someone who has frozen to death in the snow."
In another terrible interrogation, Kurnaz's said, his head was pushed under water, a practice dubbed waterboarding. Kurnaz feared for his life.
"I would have told them everything," he remembers. "But what should I tell them?"
Kurnaz has been at the center of a diplomatic affair involving Germany and the United States; at the age of 19, only a few weeks after Sept. 11, Kurnaz had left Bremen, northern Germany, for Pakistan, where he claims he wanted to study Islam and work for an Islamic group helping the homeless. He didn't tell his family about his trip because "my mother wouldn't have let me go."
His friend who wanted to travel with him was held back at the airport because of a fine he hadn't paid. Kurnaz went by himself. On the day he wanted to fly back home, Dec. 1, 2001, Kurnaz was hauled off a bus by Pakistani police, who handed him over to the Americans. After he was parked in Kandahar, Kurnaz was transported to the U.S. military Guantanamo prison in Cuba.
There, he recounts, the suffering continued. Kurnaz remembers how he was put in a tiny cage and repeatedly beaten. Kurnaz said he spent roughly a year in solitary confinement, suffering from sleep deprivation, extreme cold and heat, and oxygen deprivation.
Kurnaz has several harrowing tales to tell about the military prison. One involves Abdul Rahman, a young man from Saudi Arabia who guards continued to beat to the ground after U.S. military doctors had amputated both his legs and left the wounds festering in the sun, he claims.
Kurnaz said Abdul Rahman was a freshly married man who liked soccer. When he was beaten, "he never cried," Kurnaz writes. "But when he heard or saw how other prisoners were beaten in their cages, he loudly cried. Although he was treated so inhumanely, he had empathy for other people."
Abdul Rahman is still in Guantanamo, Kurnaz writes.
The former detainee has made more harsh allegations. Broken bones were never treated, and when one inmate agreed to have one of his fingers amputated because it was frozen dead, U.S. doctors simply amputated all of them -- except for his two thumbs.
The case of Kurnaz has also troubled Berlin: When the Pentagon in September 2002 offered to release the seemingly harmless inmate to Germany, the government in Berlin refused because it deemed Kurnaz a security risk. Moreover, Germans were directly involved with his plight: German elite soldiers, Kurnaz claims, beat his head to the ground in Kandahar (he has identified one German soldier, who denies having abused Kurnaz), and a team of German intelligence officials visited him in Guantanamo. After initial denials, Berlin admitted that the Germans interrogated Kurnaz in Cuba.
A high-profile parliamentary inquiry is currently probing whether the former German government could be held responsible for prolonging the man's stay in Guantanamo.
Kurnaz's graphic and -- according to several sources -- accurate account of his plight as a terror suspect in Guantanamo may elevate the pressure on Berlin and Washington. It wasn't until last summer, when freshly elected Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened with U.S. President George W. Bush, that Kurnaz was released.
Observers say Kurnaz simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet even if the man, who now wears a long beard that grew during his imprisonment, was indeed a security threat (U.S. and German courts have ruled he isn't), it doesn't justify the repeated acts of abuse and torture he and his fellow inmates allegedly had to endure.
Several governments have urged Washington to close Guantanamo; classified as enemy combatants, the detainees are held without charges and without a trial. Although the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo has reportedly improved since the early months, the detainment camp itself remains a subject of fierce debate.
The question that remains is: Will the officials responsible for the abuse allegedly committed at Guantanamo be held accountable?
Shortly before Kurnaz was flown to freedom at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, a U.S. officer gave him a piece of paper, telling him to sign it, to admit "that you were detained in Guantanamo Bay because you are linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Or you are never going home."
Kurnaz didn't sign it. Today, he lives in Bremen. He says he is happy.
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