Guantanamo Inmate Database: Murat Kurnaz
by Matthew Schofield
June 15, 2008
BREMEN, Germany — As Murat Kurnaz paused to consider how he'd changed during nearly five years in U.S. custody — during which, he claims, interrogators shocked the soles of his feet with electrical cords, dunked his head in a bucket of cold water, held a loaded gun to his head and demanded answers — a waiter in the empty cafe passed by.
"Excuse me," Kurnaz said. "Do you have ice cream?"
"Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry," the waiter replied.
"I'll have three scoops," Kurnaz said.
"Of which?" the waiter asked.
"Of each," Kurnaz said. "With whipped cream."
He returned to the question: "I don't believe I have changed at all. I am the same man I was before I left for Pakistan, before I ever saw the inside of an American prison."
His face screwed up as he thought a bit more: "Perhaps the simple pleasures of life are more important to me now, such as ice cream."
U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, reviewing Kurnaz's case in 2005, said that he was being held "solely because of his contacts with individuals or organizations tied to terrorism and not because of any terrorist activities that (he) aided, abetted or undertook himself."
Statements by U.S. officials in his file note that investigators had found "no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with al Qaida or making any specific threat toward the U.S."
Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen born in Germany, has always denied having any contact with terrorists or terrorist organizations, and he thinks that the tribunal at Guantanamo in which the U.S. classified him as an enemy combatant was a sham.
He maintains that when he was arrested in Pakistan in December 2001 he was on his way to the airport after a month of studying in madrassas — Islamic religious schools — in an effort to become a better Muslim man for his new, conservative, Muslim wife from Turkey. He maintains that he was arrested in a van heading to the airport, carrying his return ticket, and that his primary fear at first was that he'd miss his flight.
That changed, he said, after Pakistani police handed him over to American forces for a $3,000 bounty and he was sent to the U.S. prison at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.
"The closest I came to death, I believe, was when they hung me by my hands for five days," he said. "It may have been longer. It seemed an eternity."
He said that during this interrogation, his wrists were handcuffed together, a chain was connected to them and he was hoisted up with a pulley. The guards took him down only to check his vital signs, he said.
On another occasion, Kurnaz said, he was questioned while he was being dunked in cold water, a process that at first reminded him of apple bobbing as a child. But when his American questioners kicked him in the stomach while his head was submerged, he began to fear that he'd inhale water and drown.
After several months in the Afghan prison, he was moved to Guantanamo. Although other detainees have said they weren't abused there, he claimed he was beaten frequently, blasted with pepper spray, shackled to the floor for long periods and sexually molested by three female interrogators.
His questioners, he said, accused him of being al Qaida. He told them he wasn't. He dropped from 220 pounds to 140.
These days, his beard now belt length, his shoulders bunched with muscles, he looks older than his mid-20s, the result of the treatment he said he received in prison and his attempt to look like the prophets, from Jesus to Muhammad.
He said that when he was released in August 2006, he was taken hooded and shackled to German authorities at Ramstein, a U.S. air base in southern Germany, but the Germans didn't even pretend to keep him under arrest.
After his first day of freedom — when he learned that his grandfather and his favorite uncle had died and that his wife had divorced him — he thinks that he's adapted well to normal life.
He'd been trained as a shipbuilder, but he now works as a city researcher in Bremen, a job with a desk and a computer that he said he loved. He lives with his parents, in the same bedroom he occupied before his ordeal. He wrote a book about his experience in Guantanamo, "Five Years of My Life." He's bought a red sports car and a fast motorcycle, and he dreams of finding a new wife.
"Of course, I can never forget my life in prison," he said. "But I hold nothing against the people of America. What was done to me was done by their government. I understand most Americans had no idea what was happening to me, or the others, in that horrible place."
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