The Washington Spectator has the first major American article on released Guantánamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz since the publication of his book Fünf Jahre meines Lebens: Ein Bericht aus Guantánamo (Five Years of My Life: A Report from Guantánamo), which will be published in the US in January 2008.
Of particular interest are Kurnaz’s claims that he saw a dead prisoner hanging from chains in Kandahar airbase, and that, while there, he was not only hung by his wrists for days, given electric shocks and beaten constantly (claims which are depressingly familiar from other released prisoners’ stories), but was also subjected to the reviled torture method known as waterboarding, which was only supposedly used on a handful of the most “high-value” prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as opposed to being practiced on an apprentice shipbuilder from Germany, who had never set foot in Afghanistan, and was kidnapped by Pakistani police from a bus in Pakistan –- where he had gone to study his religion –- and sold to the Americans for $3,000.
As the article describes it, Kurnaz “theorize[d] that much of the torture was a result of the failure of the American soldiers and agents to capture any real terrorists in the initial sweeps.” “They didn’t have any big fish,” he said. “And they thought that by torture they could get one of us to say something. ‘I know Osama’ or something like that. Then they could say they had a big fish.”
Interestingly, the article also points out –- and I hadn’t noticed this before –- that “enhanced interrogation,” the phrase the US administration uses to sidestep the use of the word “torture,” is “a direct translation of verschärfte Vernehmung, a euphemism for torture the Gestapo coined in 1937.”
For more on Guantánamo, and torture and murder in the US prisons in Afghanistan, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.
Some passages from the article, for information:
In January 2005, Washington, D.C., federal district Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled on Kurnaz’s case, along with the cases of ten other detainees. During his Combat Review Status Hearing in Guantánamo, Kurnaz had appeared before a panel of three military officers. He had no legal representation and was not allowed to see the classified evidence used to declare him a member of Al Qaeda. Before his hearing in Washington, some of the classified evidence used against him was inadvertently declassified and obtained by the Washington Post. It included reports that established that two years earlier, the Command Intelligence Task Force that oversees Guantánamo had concluded there was “no definite link/evidence of detainee having an association with Al Qaeda or making specific threats against the U.S.”
Judge Green reviewed the evidence and found nothing that justified holding Murat Kurnaz in prison. Among the hundreds of pages used to declare him a member of Al Qaeda, the smoking gun was a single document with vague allegations made by an unidentified officer. The judge was disturbed by the fact that Kurnaz, like other detainees, was never permitted to see or rebut the allegations that kept him in a cage in Guantánamo.
During the trial it was also revealed that a friend of Kurnaz’s who was reported to have carried out a suicide bombing in Turkey—another bit of incriminating evidence—was alive and well in Bremen. And that German intelligence officers traveled to Guantánamo to interview Kurnaz and concluded he had not been involved in any terrorist activity in Germany. They even tried, at one point, to recruit him to return to Bremen and work undercover for them in the mosque he attended before going to Pakistan to study Islam. They later concluded he was so unconnected—and unsophisticated—he would be of no use to them as a snitch.
Yet nothing the judge did would result in his release. Judge Green ruled in his favor, devoting a number of pages in her 75-page opinion (some redacted) to the government’s sloppy prosecution and lack of evidence against this man. But the heart of her ruling was that the process was basically illegal. The ruling was stayed, pending a decision at the appellate level. And after the trial, the then-Republican Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which included a controversial provision by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that denied all detainees the right to file habeas corpus petitions. The habeas corpus right that Judge Green had provided as an avenue out of Guantánamo was stripped away by Congress.
Murat Kurnaz was picked up in Pakistan in December 2001, before then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales signed off on the torture memo. Kurnaz and hundreds of others were subjected to “illegal torture” (what a concept) before Bybee and Yoo drafted a memo that would protect the torturers from prosecution. The expanded legal definition of torture in their memo doesn’t provide cover for those agents who tortured Kurnaz immediately after he was detained.
“The beatings began as soon as I was turned over to the Americans,” Kurnaz said. Once in the Americans’ hands, he was transferred to a camp at Kandahar, in Afghanistan, where suspected terrorists were held in tents. His account of his torture at the hands of the Americans—in his book and in interviews—is clear-eyed and consistent. He has repeated it in testimony before a committee of the German parliament, where he was described as a “very credible witness.”
In the prison camp in Kandahar, Kurnaz said, he was hoisted on chains and was forced to hang by his hands while he was being interrogated. He was left hanging for “hours and days” after the interrogators left. An American physician in camouflage would come and check his vital signs to determine if he could withstand more enhanced interrogation.
The doctor’s house call must have failed Kurnaz’s neighbor in the next room. “They were hanging me and pulled me up higher than the other times. I could see the man in the other room. He was hanging, too. Maybe they lifted him higher that time, too, I don’t know. I had heard him moaning and breathing; this is the first time I saw him. He was dead. The color of his body was changed and I could see he was dead.”
Kurnaz said he was also subjected to waterboarding and electric shock. And that beatings were routine and constant. He theorizes that much of the torture was a result of the failure of the American soldiers and agents to capture any real terrorists in the initial sweeps. (He was told that he was sold to the Americans for $3,000 by Pakistani police, who identified him as a terrorist.) “They didn’t have any big fish. And they thought that by torture they could get one of us to say something. ‘I know Osama’ or something like that. Then they could say they had a big fish.”
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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