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Murat Kurnaz: Five Years of My Life

Kurnaz Bookcover

Five Years of My Life
is a book in which former Guantánamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz chronicles his experiences in the detention facility. It was first published in English by Palgrave MacMillan in 2008. The book is a translation from the original German Fünf Jahre Meines Lebens, published in 2007 by Rowohlt Berlin Verlag GmbH.
CSHRA has extracted the passages in this book that give testimony of abuse and posted them below.


(MK1) They didn’t put a sack over my head this time. Instead they wrapped it up like a package with soundproof headphones, a gas mask, blinders, and watertight, thick black diving goggles. The soldier tightened the handcuffs so that they immediately began to hurt. It was hardly bearable [...] He put something thick and stiff over my hands--gloves or maybe mittens. Then he hit me in the face and kicked me in the genitals. I fell. They carried me out of the tent and threw me on the ground. I was told to lie on my side […] Sleep would have been the only consolation in such a situation. But the soldiers kept kicking us to keep us awake […] The flight must have lasted twenty-seven hours. Somewhere we made a stopover. We weren’t able to move throughout the entire flight. They never loosened the restraints, not for a moment (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 91f).

(MK2) They herded us into a bus. It was white. It was dark inside the vehicle. There were no seats in the bus, just hooks attached to the floor. They chained us to the hooks so that we could neither sit nor stand properly. They kept hitting us, and the dogs, which had been taken onto bus, bit us. “Don’t sit like that!” A blow followed. “Sit differently!” Another blow. “Sit up straight!” (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 92).

(MK3) We had to kneel and lower our heads to our chests. There was a crunching sound. From under my mask, I could see gravel. I don’t know how long exactly we knelt there. Several hours. The heat was unbearable (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 94)

(MK4) “Do you know why you are here?” I heard the man with the nametag ask. “Do you know what the Germans did to the Jews?” he said. “That is exactly what we are going to do with you.” (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 95)

(MK5) These were cages. Prisoners in orange overalls were already sitting there, each in their own little cages. One beside the other, all in a row, like tigers or lions in a zoo (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 95).

(MK6) I waited. Someone would soon come and get us. Still seated, I measured my cage with my hand. I knew from my shipbuilder’s apprenticeship how long the span between my thumb and little finger was when my fingers were stretched out. So I did not need a measuring tape to figure out that the cage was six feet by seven. It was around six feet high (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 96f).

(MK7) As the guards approached my cage, all I saw on the plate were three spoonfuls of rice, a slice of dry bread, and a plastic spoon. That was it […] Perhaps something had fallen off the plate. Then I saw the rations given to the Uzbek. It was the same miserably tiny pile of rice, or maybe even less. I would have rather have an Emarie [or MRE--Meals Ready to Eat]. At least they contain crackers. I ate the rice and looked at my armband. The rice was cold and not fully cooked; the kernels were as hard as sand (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 97f).

(MK8) From loudspeakers that must have been hanging somewhere, there came some static and then a call to prayer. The time for evening prayers was a while ago, I thought, but then suddenly the voice was drowned out by loud music. It was the American national anthem. I heard the other prisoners start to complain, but that didn’t help. At some point, I knelt, carried out the prayer ritual and said as well as I could in Arabic: “Praise be to Allah. Allah hears all who praise him.” I bowed thirty three times. Rock music was now blaring from the speakers, almost too loud to bear. The volume was louder than in my Bremen disco I‘d ever experienced (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 98).

(MK9) The cages were so small that it drove you to desperation. At the same time, nature--and freedom--were so tantalizingly close it could make you go crazy. An animal has more space in its cage in a zoo and is given more to eat. I can hardly put into words what it actually means (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 99).

(MK10) Every time I unknowingly broke a rule or, because they have just invented a new one, did something I shouldn’t have, the IRF team would come and beat me. IRF stood for “Immediate Reaction Force” and consisted of five to eight soldiers with plastic shields, breastplates, hard-plastic knee-elbow, and shoulder-protectors, helmets with plastic visors, gloves with hard plastic knuckles, heavy boots, and billy clubs. I would say they were thugs. Thugs whose entire bodies were protected by bullet- and knife- proof gear. They didn’t have weapons with them other than the billy clubs--probably because they were afraid of us getting our hands on them […] I often saw fear in their eyes as they stood in front of our cages and waited to be deployed, even though we didn’t have shoes on and were already cowering on the ground. They came with pepper spray in a kind of pressurized aerosol gun that they could aim precisely at a prisoner from ten feet away. It contained oleoresin capsicum, which is made from chili peppers. They sprayed the entire cage and waited until the prisoner was completely unable to resist. Then they stormed in […] I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t breathe, and didn’t know what was happening to me. I heard them beating the fence with their billy clubs. When the cage door was opened, I heard them yelling. I felt a baton blow to my head. I huddled, and they beat me. They picked me up and threw me to the ground. They kicked and punched me. I curled into a ball. Then I got angry and tried to defend myself. I jumped to my feet, blind, and started swinging my arms. I got hold of someone’s helmet, but they forced me back down, and grabbed me by the genitals. They held my arms and legs to the ground, until I was lying there like an animal about to be drawn and quartered. One of them pressed his shield on my chest while another punched me in the face. At some point, I couldn’t hear the music anymore. I head nothing (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 100f).

(MK11) The IRF team hit me a couple of times. Then they picked me up and brought me into one of the wooden buildings. There were two rooms, fifteen to twenty square feet, obviously for interrogations. The building had looked much bigger from the outside. There was a chair in the middle of the room. I was told to sit. There was a massive ring in the floor, and they attached the chains between my feet to it with a padlock. The chains around my feet were attached to another chain that ran around my stomach and was attached to my handcuffs. I couldn’t stand up raise my hands, or even move (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 104).

(MK12) I took the soap and lathered myself up, a quick countdown began. Three-two-one-over. There was no more water. My body was still covered in soap suds, but the soldier operating the tap said: “Your time is up.” (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 107).

(MK13) There was a new prisoner in Charlie-Charlie 1, which had previously been unoccupied. He was young, around my age, maybe nineteen or twenty. He lay on the ground, making soft noises. He wasn’t crying. Instead I thought I could make out something of a melody, a sad song in Arabic. He didn’t have any legs. His wounds were still fresh. I sat in my cage, hardly daring to look, but every once in a while I had to glance in his direction. The stumps of his legs were full of pus. The bandages wrapped around them had turned red and yellow. Everything was bloody and moist. He had frostbite marks on his hands. He seemed hardly able to move his fingers. I watched as he tried to get up. He crawled over to the bucket in his cage and tried to sit on it. He had to go to the toilet. He tried to raise himself up with his hands on the chain-link fence, but he didn’t make it. He couldn’t hold on with his swollen fingers. Still he tried, until the guard came and hit his hands on the chain-link fence with his billy-club. The young man fell to the ground. Every time he tried to hoist himself onto the bucket, the guards came and hit him on the hands. No one was allowed to touch the fence--that was an iron law. But a young man with no legs? They told him he wasn’t allowed to stand up. But how could he have done that without any legs? He wasn’t even allowed to lean on the fence or crawl onto the bucket (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 108).

(MK14) Over the next two days, I talked to him a bit. I could hardly understand him. His name was Abdul Rahman, and he came from Saudi Arabia. I think he said he had been at Bagram, where he had been exposed to extreme cold, just as we had at Kandahar. That’s why he had frostbite in his fingers and legs. American doctors had amputated his legs at a military field hospital. I felt incredibly sorry for Abdul. He must have been in an unbelievable pain, and he looked half-starved to death. Nonetheless, they just threw him in a cage and left him lying there instead of treating his injuries. How was he supposed to survive? What kind of doctors were they? And the guards that hit his hands…what kind of people were they? (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 108).

(MK15) The bandages wrapped around Abdul’s stumps were never changed. When he took them off himself, they were full of blood and pus. He showed the bandage to the guards and pointed to his open wounds. The guards ignored him. Later I saw how he tried to wash the bandage in his bucket of drinking water. But he could hardly move his hands, so he wasn’t able to. And even if he had, where would he have hung them up to dry? He wasn’t allowed to touch the fence. He wrapped his stumps back up in the dirty bandages. When the guards came to take him to be interrogated, they ordered him to sit on his back to the door and put his hands on is head. When they opened the door, they stormed in as they did with every other prisoner. They hit him on the back and pushed him on the ground. Then they handcuffed and bound him so he could no longer move. Abdul howled in pain (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 109).

(MK16) Abdul wasn’t the only prisoner who had parts of his body amputated. I saw other such cases in Guantanamo. I know of a prisoner who complained of toothache. He was brought to a dentist, who pulled out his healthy teeth as well a s the rotten one. I knew a man from Morocco who used to be a ship captain. He couldn’t move one of his little fingers because of frostbite. The rest of his fingers were all right. They told him they would amputate the little finger. They brought him to the doctor, and when he came back, he had no fingers left. They had amputated everything but his thumbs (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 110).

(MK17) A lot of Afghans had been injured or maimed in the fighting. Some of them were missing an arm or a leg. I saw open wounds that weren’t treated. A lot of people had been beaten so often they had broken legs, arms, and feet. The fractures, too, remained untreated (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 110).

(MK18) In Camp X-Ray I saw a man taken away to interrogation. When he returned, his arm was dangling as though it was only attached to the rest of his body by skin and tissue. The bone in his arm must have been completely severed, but he was simply thrown back into his cage. How was it supposed to heal? (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 110).

(MK19) I never saw anyone in a cast. That will heal by itself, the guards always said. (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 110).

(MK20) Shortly before my release, I met another prisoner who had two of his fingers broken by the IRF team. The swelling got worse over the days and weeks […] There were always prisoners whose arms, legs, and fingers had healed crookedly. Some of them had only one arm (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 110f).

(MK21) I saw an elderly man who was blind. He was interrogated, beaten, and tortured the same way the rest of us were. The Americans didn’t distinguish among us. The man, I was told, was over ninety. He was an Afghan. His hair and his beard were as white as snow (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 111).

(MK22) A prisoner in a cage next to mine at Camp X-Ray told me his father was also being held at Guantanamo. He had asked the guards a number of times to be allowed to see him. They refused. It was not a unique case. There were lots of fathers and sons in Guantanamo. I knew an eighteen-year-old whose fifty-year-old father was also being kept prisoner. There were also lots of brothers. The fathers had to watch as their sons were beaten, and vice versa. Who can stand to watch his own father being beaten up? In Camp Delta, I saw the IRF team mistreat a prisoner in the cage facing mine. His son was imprisoned next to me. He was forced to watch everything (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 111).

(MK23) Once in Camp X-Ray, I spit at a guard who had hit the old man. They came and said, you are going to be punished! I answered, what are you going to do, lock me up? I’m already in this cage. They beat me up [...] The old man was blind. I had never experienced anything like it. How can people be so awful, so repulsive? (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 110).

(MK24) Isa raised his arms and bent his upper body over sideways toward the cage door. He grabbed a vertical iron bar. I could hardly believe my eyes. Bracing himself on one elbow, his legs walked through the air in slow motion, as if suspended by an invisible rope. Then he straightened both of his arms so that his entire body was suspended off the ground horizontally. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. I’d never witnessed such strength and body control. Isa held this position for a couple of seconds, and then carried out the same slaw-motion movements in reverse, until he was once again sitting Indian-style on the ground. I was thrilled. “Eh?” said Isa, grinning with joy like a child. He slapped his thighs. I applauded, as though I‘d just witnessed a magic trick. The IRF team came and beat him up terribly. Shortly thereafter they sprayed my cage with pepper spray, the door opened, and it was my turn. I rolled up into a ball as best I could on the ground. At least, I thought, the beating was worth it (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 115).

(MK25) I was not allowed to sit during the interrogation. I was chained by hands and feet to the ring in the floor so that I could only kneel or stand half-bent over. If I knelt, I could straighten my back, but my knees hurt. If I bent over, the blood would start flowing into my legs again, but I had to look up at the American, and that made my neck hurt. But what could I do, tell him, “I want to go home now”? The interrogation lasted several hours. I was starving, thirsty, and sweating from every pore, as though I had run for miles. Every fiber of my body hurt. The American asked the same questions over and over. It had been a long time since he’d told any amusing stories. He spat out orders, yelled, and called me a terrorist (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 142).

(MK26) I estimated that I had lost around forty or fifty pounds. Every few week[s] we got new clothes, and though I used to need an XXL, small, or medium now fit me. One of the other men was little more than skin and bones. He must have weight less than ninety pounds. I spied him from a distance and remembered seeing him once in Kandahar. He was much bigger back then (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 145).

(MK27) It was strange, but with time, you grow numb even to blows. Blows from the IRF team were the basic form of punishment in Camp X-Ray. At that point there were no solitary-confinement cells--they were still being built (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 146).

(MK28) They would also punish us by beating us and then chaining our hands and feet, connecting those chains with a third one. You couldn’t move your arms; they were pressed to your body. Then they’d leave you sitting there like that and take away your blanket and the thin mattress. It could take days before they’d unshackle you (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 146).

(MK29) The IRF was called in on numerous occasions when the guards had seen me feeding breadcrumbs to iguanas or birds. I could understand that as well. And, of course, the IRF team came when they caught me doing push-ups (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 146).

(MK30) But most of the time I didn’t know why I was being punished. Sometimes they just seemed to invent excuses. I gradually came to realize that punishment itself was rhyme and reason for their behavior--there was no avoiding it. The point of punishment was to constantly humiliate us (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 146).

(MK31) Every time the soldier who operated the water supply thought up something new. Even if I lathered myself up as quickly as possible, the water would still be cut off before I had washed off the soap. Once I was brought out to take a shower and the soldier turned on the water while my guard was still unlocking the cage. As I was about to dash under the hose, he turned it off. “Your time’s up,” he said. I hadn’t gotten a single drop of water. That really made me mad. I wanted to hit someone. But that was exactly what they were trying to achieve, and I suppressed my anger. Sometimes weeks would go by without them letting us take a shower. We didn’t have the right to one (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 147).

(MK32) The IRF team came. They sprayed pepper spray in all the blocks. I shut my eyes and pressed my hands to my face. I heard them running on the gravel. “Hurry, hurry.” I heard cage doors being opened. “Get up! Hurry!” the sounds of chains, blows, screams. I spread my fingers and could see Kemal empting his water bucket on soldiers who were beating up a prisoner in the adjacent cage. The soldiers stormed into Kemal’s cage. When he was on the ground, his neighbor poured the content of his toilet bucket on the soldiers. Then I saw other prisoners empting their toilet buckets on the IRF team. The team in Kamel’s cage left him on the ground and began beating up his neighbor. When they were through with him, they returned to Kemal, grabbed his feet and dragged him off. A lot of prisoners were taken away. Then the soldiers returned and beat up the rest. The IRF team had a busy night. It was morning before they stopped. They looked pretty worn out. I was lucky. This time around they didn’t visit me. Maybe they were just tired (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 150).

(MK33) The general asked why we had stopped eating. The prisoner explained how important the Koran was to us and what it meant. The general said he would punish the soldier who had defiled the Koran (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 151).

(MK34) A few days later, the general reappeared, he wanted to negotiate. He asked for our conditions. The prisoner who spoke English demanded that the guards no longer be allowed to handle and search through our Korans. We didn’t want our private parts searched. And we didn’t want to be frisked by female guards. If he agreed to all of that, we would start eating again. The general agreed (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 152).

(MK35) We wanted to put an end to the defilements of the Koran. We wanted the Americans to respect our faith and stop playing the U.S. national anthem during our prayers. We wanted to restrict the level of torture and get medicine for some of the wounded prisoners […] We wanted them to treat the sick, elderly, and handicapped prisoners more respectfully. We wanted proper food (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 152f).

(MK36) [For our transfer out of Camp X-Ray, s]oldiers inspected our mouths and ears, bound us and put goggles, soundproof headphones, and gas masks on our heads. We were led to the buses and chained to the floor. There were no seats, and they beat us (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 155f).

(MK37) I was put in Camp 1, Block Alpha, Cell Alpha-2. At first glance, the cage looked more modern than the one I had occupied in Camp X-Ray. The mattress was no longer on the ground but rested on a bunk bed welded to the wall. Although the cage was no smaller than the one in Camp X-Ray, the bunk reduced the amount of free space to around three-and-a-half feet by three and-a-half feet. At the far end of the cage, an aluminum toilet and a sink took up even more room. How was I going to stand this? This was no dog pound. It was a maximum-security cage […] There were forty-eight of these cages, in two rows of twenty-four, in every block. They were closely surrounded by the walls of the container so that the first and last cells were the only ones to get any real direct sunlight. In Alpha-2, I hardly saw the sun at all. They had perfected their prison. At some point during my time in X-Ray, I had stopped noticing the chain-link fence. I could see the sky, the hills, and the cacti. Now I saw nothing but metal lattice and the roof. It felt like being sealed alive in a ship container. The only fresh air came through the windows. It was unbearably sticky and hot (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 156).

(MK38) Now I saw nothing but metal lattice and the roof. It felt like being sealed alive in a ship container. The only fresh air came through the windows. It was unbearably sticky and hot […] I measured my cage with my hand and arrivd at six-and-a-half by seven feet (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 156f).

(MK39) Twice a week […] prisoners were allowed out in the yard [the “rec area”] for fifteen minutes, as long as they weren’t serving out a punishment. A couple of days later I saw the yard. It was a caged-in area behind the container block […] I estimated it to be twenty-two by thirty-eight feet. I was allowed to pace back and forth there, alone. […] But what did that mean: fifteen minutes? I didn’t have a watch, and after a couple of minutes, as was always the case in the showers, my time was up. And what did twice a week mean? I was only let out into the yard once or twice a month at most. The rest of the time they said there was a danger of lightning or hurricanes. But usually the sun was shining. (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 158).

(MK40) Though I could now play games and talk about the Koran with Mani [a prisoner, not his real name], interrogations into the wee hours of the night and the beatings continued. (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 159).

(MK41) The permanent exhaustion weighed me down like lead in my shoes. It was an iron rule in Camp Delta that all cages were to be searched at least once a day and once at night. They’d kick the door and yell. Stand up and prepare to be shackled. Although there was nothing to search but the mattress, the ceiling and our flip-flops, they always took their time, shining their flashlights in every corner. They would whistle cheerfully all the while waking up the other prisoners, and kicking the cage walls and the sink to see if everything was still solid. Searches often lasted a half an hour. When the guards visited the cages, the fans on the corridor ceiling would be turned on so they wouldn’t break a sweat. The fans were as loud as airplane generators. The guards brought chairs along so they could sit down and rest (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 159).

(MK42) [The solitary confinement cell] was nothing more than a ship’s container with a door. The walls were reinforced by corrugated metal sheeting like the one in fairground stands […] There was no mattress or wool blanket. A toilet and a sink were sunk into the floor. If I started for too long at any one point of the metal sheeting, I got dizzy. This cage was even smaller than the one in Block 1. The light went off. It was cold. The metal on the floor felt like ice. I stood up. Fortunately, I as still wearing my flip-flops, and I hoped the guards wouldn’t notice them. I heard a rumbling. It was an air-conditioning unit mounted above the door. Icy air streamed in. I thought back to how I had worked at a bakery when I was young. There was a cooler there, too. I thought, this isn’t all that different. They’ve put me in giant refrigerator. After a while, I couldn’t feel my hands or legs. I sat down on the floor in a corner of the cell, pulled my pants above my T-shirt and my arms under it all. That was just about bearable. There was a draft. The motor of the air-conditioner was so strong I could feel cold air being sucked in. But I still had no idea what solitary confinement really meant (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 161f).

(MK43) When the guards came with my food, I saw them spit on it before they opened the food slot and pushed the plate in. They spat on all the plates before delivering the food. What bastards, I thought. I always looked forward to meals, no matter how scant they were. Now I wasn’t able to eat for days. I cleaned every last crumb before I put it in my mouth, and I still felt nauseous. Sometimes I had to move to fight the cold, but tried not to. I needed to save my energy since all I was given to eat was a piece of toast and a bit of apple three times a day […] I got out after a month (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 162f).

(MK44) One day, I was taken to an interrogation room in which three women were waiting. The guards chained me to a ring in the floor and left. One of the women was in uniform, but the other two had next to nothing--just scanty tops and shorts. I looked at the ground. I didn’t want to see them, half-naked as they were. One of the women walked around me, put her hand under my shirt from behind and began to stroke me. I like you, she said. I’d like us to do something together. She said she’d noticed me a while ago and had watched me taking showers. She made some indecent remarks, but I knew she was lying. She couldn’t have seen me naked because I always showered in boxer shorts. She pressed her body against mine, stroked my chest and began to moan. It was unbearable. They knew I was religious, and she only wanted to humiliate me. I said: Stop! Stop that! But she kept on. I jerked my head back and caught her on the nose. The door burst open, and the IRF team pounced on me. I was put in the cooler, where I was forced to lie in chains for a whole day and didn’t get anything to eat for several more (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 163f).

(MK45) “Okay, I know you’re not answering any questions, but tell me why you’ve stopped talking.” “I’ve told you many hundred times what I’ve done and who I am,” I said and pointed to one of the cameras in the room. “If you want to hear my story one more time, you only need to rewind the tapes and play them back.” Of course, they put me in solitary confinement for that. They took away my blanket, my flip-flops, and my T-shirt so that I sat in the cooler in my boxer shorts. But I was always being punished and humiliated, regardless of what I did. The interrogations were especially frequent that autumn. (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 166).

(MK46) [After the German interrogators left] They [the Americans] desperately wanted to know what the Germans had asked me and what I had told them. Why did you tell them about being tortured? they asked, pulling my hair (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 176).

(MK47) In late 2002, General Geoffrey Miller took over command of Guantanamo, and our situation dramatically worsened. The interrogations got more brutal, more frequent, and longer (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 176).

(MK48) The first order General Miller issued was to commence Operation Sandman, which meant we were moved to new cells every one or two hours. The general’s goal was to completely deprive us of sleep, and he achieved it. I was moved from one block to the next. The escort team would storm in, put me in chains, run with me through the corridors, push me to my knees, and leave me there. The whole procedure would be repeated an hour later. I was transferred from Camp 1, Block Alpha, to Camp 2, Block Echo, or from Camp 1, Block Alpha, to Camp 2, Block Bravo. The chains were put on and removed. I had to stand and kneel--twenty-four-hours a day. I had barely arrived in a new cell and lay down on the bunk, before they came again to move me […] When the escort team had finally left the cell, I’d say hello to my neighbors, sit or lie on the bunk, and try to sleep. But as soon as the guards saw me close my eyes, sitting or lying on the bunk, they’d kick the door and yell at me until I got up again. Soon I didn’t bother greeting my neighbors (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 176f).

(MK49) In between transfers, I was interrogated. During this period, my interrogator was always the same man and the questioning went on a lot longer; I estimated the sessions lasted up to fifteen hours. During the sessions, the man would simply disappear for hours. I sat chained to my chair or kneeling on the floor, and as soon as my eyelids drooped, soldiers would wake me with a couple of blows. Once I spent more than two days in the interrogation room before the man returned (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 177).

(MK50) When I could no longer get up, they sent the IRF team, who said they would me for as long as it took for me to get up and go with them to the next cell. But I was too weak. All I could feel was a buzzing in my head like a siren. They picked me up and my knees buckled. During the last days of this treatment, they had to carry me around. They’d take me from one cage to the next, then to Jack [the interrogator, not his real name], and then to another cage. I can only remember bits and pieces of this. In the end they gave up--probably because it wassimply too much work for the guards to carry me around all the time […] I was allowed to sleep, and when I woke up, the other prisoners helped me to calculate how long this treatment had lasted. Three weeks. I went three weeks without sleep. At this point, I weight less than 130 pounds (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 178).

(MK51) All told, I think I spent roughly a year alone in absolute darkness, either in a cooler or an oven, with little food, and once I spent three months straight in solitary confinement (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 179).

(MK52) When an interrogator told the guards after questioning that I would have to stay in solitary confinement for another four weeks, that’s what happened. I would be put back in the hole, and every time I was due to be released, they’d say I refused to hand over my blanket or spit on the ground or insulted a guard, and I’d get four more weeks of solitary confinement. The only law was my captors themselves, regardless of what they wrote in the forms they were constantly filling out (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 180).

(MK53) I was put in a solitary confinement cell like any other, fitted out with corrugated metal sheeting. I had never been to [cell-block] India, and I was surprised that it wasn’t cold. I immediately realized that something was wrong. There wasn’t any air! The air conditioning unit over the door wasn’t humming, and that was the only supply of air in here. They had turned off the air conditioning […] Suddenly the peephole opened. Teargas streamed into my cell. I couldn’t speak because I had to cough and couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t say anything for several hours. Whenever I tried, I started coughing and gasping for air. I drank some water, water that stank of chlorine-but it didn’t help. The gas didn’t disperse. The cell must have been completely insulated […] I lay down on my back and pressed my nose up close to the crack between the floor and the wall, thinking that some air must have been coming through there since the crack wasn’t sealed with rubber […] A number of times I could sense myself waking back up, and then the guards kicked the door and opened the peephole. That let some air in. I opened my eyes. “Yes, he’s still alive,” one of the soldiers said. “OK, then close up again,” said the other. I lay back down on the cell floor until they returned--it took hours. This time I had decided not to open my eyes so that some more air could come into the cell through the peephole. It opened […] They sprayed me with water from a high-pressure hose, which felt like a slap in the face, the water getting into my nose and mouth. I jumped up. I no longer cared about air. The hose was stuck through the peephole, and I heard the guards laughing as I fell over. The stream of water forced me back against the wall. Then it was over and the guards moved off, laughing. The floor was covered with water. I lay down on the bunk, but I couldn’t get any air so I lay back down on the wet floor. I could breathe a bit better there. The water slowly drained away […] I had been in [solitary isolation in cell block] India 2 for for thirty-three days. (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 183-6).

(MK54) They had fine-tuned the Guantanamo system. I understood now that prisoners were intended to feel as miserable and desperate as possible every single moment of their lives--this, as the Americans would say, was “maximum discomfort.” They were constantly depriving me of any thing that would have helped me get used to my situation: sleep, a blanket, time, exercise, food, air. I would only just start to get adjusted to my new neighbors when I was taken to another cage or put into solitary confinement. They put us under maximum pressure around the clock, separating us from anything that could have given us strength or confidence. That’s why we were continually moved and questioned. They ridiculed our faith and tried to separate us from Allah to make us give up any hope of ever getting out of that hell. We were to be made as weak and as small as possible so they could get something out of us in interrogation or at least break us (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 186f).

(MK55) Once a guard caught me feeding the iguana. That meant ten days in solitary confinement--the most lenient punishment there was (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 188).

(MK56) When I head wild screams again, I knew it could only be something involving the Koran. One of the guards had taken the Koran, through it onto the floor, and trampled it. We could only hear the wailing from a far-off block, but we knew what had happened. That same evening, a prisoner ripped up his T-shirt and tried to hang himself […] The prisoner was immediately discovered and taken away. Several people had threatened to commit suicide if the Koran was desecrated again, and that’s how the new hunger strike began […] almost everyone would take part. (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 188f).

(MK57) [after not eating anything for twenty days,] I was getting weaker and weaker, and at some point they came, put me on a stretcher, and took me to a medical ward. I clung to the stretcher […] They gagged me and shoved a tube up my nose, stopping several times because the tube filled with blood. Then I was taken to interrogation. An IRF beat me, while I was still lying on the stretcher (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 189).

(MK58) After the hunger strike was over, they presented us with a menu that listed very exotic dishes: Thai chicken, lamb curry, or Turkish pasha rolls. But when we got our first platefuls, we saw the same things as always: vegetables and bread, mashed together, or half-cooked rice with pieces of fruit (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 189f).

(MK59) To ensure that all my news [about having an attorney] would get passed on, I spoke English as fast as I could. Salah translated it into Arabic. It wasn’t long before the guards were spraying me with tear gas. I covered my face with my hands, crawled into the corner of my cell and kept talking. I was taken to Block India, where they turned off the air conditioner. It was the harshest punishment there was. I immediately lay on the floor to minimize the amount of air I needed. I knew that for the next month I would hardly be able to breathe […] Six weeks later I was taken back to Camp 2 (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 206f).

(MK60) Camp 4 was a dump. The cells were empty metal ship containers with only a metal slot in the door for sunlight and air. Space was cramped since each cell housed up to ten prisoners. The air was stale, and the ceiling light stayed on through the night. The generators hummed constantly just like Camps 1 and 2. It was like being in a ten-man oven (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 210).

(MK61) Without some sort of cooling system, we could have died in there so they installed a large rotating ceiling fan. But during the day, when the space was hottest, they turned the thing off. At night when things began to cool down, they switched it back on--to make it more difficult for us to go to sleep. They only turned on the fan during the day when a helicopter arrived with a camera team. Camp 4 was the one journalist and photographers were allowed to visit (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 210).

(MK62) We were also inspected twice a week by groups of journalists. They never visited our containers, of course. Instead, we were led to a kind of playground with soccer goals, basketball hoops, and volleyball net. Sometimes there were brand-new soccer balls, volleyballs, and basket-balls lying around. Normally we weren’t allowed on the grounds, only when journalists were visiting. As soon as the reporters left, the guards collected the balls. “Hurricane warning,” they’d say, and take us back to the containers. One time, I got up close enough to a group of journalists to make out what their guide was telling them. “Every block and every prisoner,” he said, “is allowed two hours of soccer, volleyball, or basketball per day.” (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 211).

(MK63) We did get more to eat in Camp 4 than in either Camp 1 or 2. We even got a glass of milk every morning. It was the same kind of food as before--a couple of bitter-tasting potatoes, cold vegetables, undercooked rice--but there was more of it (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 211).

(MK64) In the washroom I was practice karate moves or do sit-ups with Musa sitting on my shoulders. In the beginning two cameras scanned the room, but we’d broken one of them and we could work out in a corner of the room out of view of the other. Once I lost my balance while doing a karate kick and slid into view [of the scanning camera]. I was sent to [cell block] Romeo for a month. It was very hot because by then all the cell walls had been replaced with Plexiglas. When I was caught working out a second time, I was sent to Romeo again and then transferred, as further punishment, back to Camp 1 (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 212).

(MK65) [T]here had been another incident involving the Koran in Camp 4. Some of the prisoners said a Koran had been torn up and thrown to the ground during a weekly search. There’d been a fight between the prisoners and the IRF teams in the container, and the prisoners in the other container had heard what was going on. Several hundred soldiers stormed the camp, firing rubber bullets from M-16s at the prisoners. Anyone outside the container got seriously injured. Once everyone outside had been shackled up, the soldiers opened a container containing a group of Afghan prisoners. The IRF teams sprayed tear gas and the soldiers fired rubber bullets, waiting for a moment before storming in. (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 212).

(MK66) In my container I met the old Afghan man and his son from Camp X-Ray again. The father’s name was Haji Zad. He was ninety-six years old, and he had just been reunited with his son for the first time in four years. Our cells were searched daily, and our food rations were reduced. It was hard for me to look at the old man because I felt so sorry for him (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 216).

(MK67) Soon after the [Administrative Review Board] verdict, I was brought to an interrogation room and chained to the floor, but no one came to ask me any questions. Hours later, two soldiers appeared and placed a telephone on the table. “You’ll be getting a call,” they told me. That made me curious. I didn’t know who the caller would be. An interrogator? My lawyer? Maybe the judge? More hours passed. What was going on here? Suddenly the phone rang. But no one came to help me. I couldn’t pick up the receiver with my hands and feet shackled, but the telephone kept ringing. I flew myself to the floor and tried to drag the table toward me with my feet. Kicking one of the table legs, I managed to dislodge the receiver and knock it down to the floor. I squirmed to get my head as close as possible to the handset. I could just hear a voice on the other end of the line. “Hello? Hello?” “Yes…” “It’s me, Baher. You’re going to be released!” (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 217).

(MK68) I’d witnessed this trick once before. Prisoners would be brought to a plane, and they’d get in, having been told they were being flown home. Then they would be taken back to their cages. It was a way of breaking them psychologically (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 218).

(MK69) [As I was transferred out of Guantanamo t]hey shackled me, put on the goggles, the soundproof headphones, and the gas mask, and led me into a hermetically sealed bus. We drove on board a ship and then back onto land. The door opened, and they briefly removed the goggles and the mask to inspect my hair and my beard. It was dark. Airplane motors were already running. The soldiers formed a semicircle around me before leading me up the loading ramp into the belly of the plane and shackling me to a seat in the middle of the cargo hold. I counted fifteen guards on board. Then they put my goggles and mask back on. I was the only prisoner on the plane (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 219).

(MK70) What I didn’t know was that the Americans had allegedly decided as early as 2002 that I was innocent and were willing to let me go. That shocked me. Why didn’t they just release me, then? I discovered that the German government apparently didn’t want to let me reenter the country, and claimed that my residency permit had expired because I hadn’t applied for an extension on time (Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, 234).


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