In an 11-minute interview with Russia Today (see below), former Guantánamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz recalled how he was seized in Pakistan in November 2001, and his experiences in US custody in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo. Born in Germany, but only regarded as a resident because his parents are Turkish, Kurnaz was released in August 2006, when Chancellor Angela Merkel made his case a priority after years of indifference by the German government.
I have met Murat Kurnaz (once, at the launch of his book, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo), and I also appeared once with him on Al-Jazeera (in 2008). I have also discussed his case, in my book The Guantánamo Files, and in my articles, Murat Kurnaz: Five Years in Guantánamo and Former Guantánamo detainees speak: Murat Kurnaz, Mamdouh Habib and Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost (in 2007), and in 2008 I reported his opinions about the deaths of three men at Guantánamo, in mysterious circumstances, on June 9, 2006, which the authorities described as a triple suicide. He is also mentioned in a UN report on secret detention that I worked on (which was published last year), and in a Human Rights Watch report on European complicity in torture, which I discussed last July.
In the interview, Kurnaz explained that the American government has not apologized for his years of wrongful imprisonment, and that he doubts they ever will. The question of liability — and compensation — is hugely important, but it is, of course, absolutely certain that lawyers will always advise US government officials never to admit responsibility for wrongdoing, and it is therefore probable that the struggle for compensation — or even a simple apology — will take many years.
Running through the story of his capture, Kurnaz explained that he was seized on a bus in Pakistan, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, where he had been visiting a school run by Jamaat al-Tablighi, the vast missionary organization that has millions of members worldwide and does not involve itself in politics. Kurnaz added that the organization was actually despised by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for its non-political stance, even though, at Guantánamo, it was regarded as being a front for terrorist activities, and he explained that he had become aware of the organization in Germany, through its assistance to homeless people and young people with drug problems.
Describing how he was seized on a bus, he said that the Pakistani forces who singled him out for particular attention didn’t initially tell him what was going on. “They didn’t tell me that they were looking for terrorists or whatever. They said we’re just going to check your passport,” he said. “I didn’t know at that time they get a bounty of $3,000 for each person. Not under my name, but for anyone turned over to the Americans as a terrorist they get $3,000, and $3,000 in Pakistan is a lot of money.”
After he was transferred to US custody at Kandahar, Kurnaz said, he witnessed all manner of things that can appropriately be described as torture. “I saw many killed under torture,” he said, adding, “I was one of those who survived those kinds of torture. They used electroshocks on me because I would not sign papers. I was forced to agree I was a member of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and I said I’m not. Really I didn’t know at that time what Al-Qaeda was, I didn’t know about Al-Qaeda. So when they asked me about Al-Qaeda and Taliban, I said I’m not a member of them. And they brought me papers, forced me to sign. I refused.”
“That’s why they tried to make me sign by electroshocks,” he added. “And another time they forced me by waterboarding [probably repeated dunking in water as a form of drowning, rather than waterboarding as such].”
“Another time,” he said, “they hanged me on chains. I was hanging on the ceiling. They were pulling me on the ceiling with the chain, and until my feet were over the floor. After a few days I started to pass out, because in that situation I couldn’t eat or drink and it was freezing cold. It was during wintertime and I had no clothes on.”
Kurnaz also explained that he was he was fascinated by animals, and that, in Guantánamo, there were animals he had never seen before, but he added that when he fed an iguana (famously a protected species in Guantanamo, with soldiers liable for a fine of $10,000 if they accidentally run one over and kill it), he was punished for feeding one. “I was hiding a piece of my bread,” he said, “and I was feeding them. When they [the guards] saw it, I got punished by 30 days of isolation in the darkness because I was feeding animals.”
Andy Worthington is the author of 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Karen Todd wrote:
just wrong- am so glad he is out of that hell hole! and telling the sad tale of his experiences at the hands of the american war machine….amazing- and he mentioned the two children there as well- 9 and 12 years old- ?!!! i think he said- shameful-
Saleyha Ahsan wrote:
Thanks, Karen and Saleyha, and everyone who has shared this.
And for further information about the children at Guantanamo, Karen, please check out (If you missed it) my article, “WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantanamo”:
This is yet again more evidence of serious wrong doing from the US. If you are an avid follower of such reports and so fourth, You’ll learn to pick out the hidden indicators that reinforce the information conveyed. However all of this will only be of interest to a small minority of the public; because it is more than counterbalanced by the mainstream press reports or lack of them. The first thing I noticed upon looking at the video was the fact it was on RT News; not the mainstream BBC. We need more open and honest news and from a greater diversity of outlets. We have a form of ‘mind control’ in our media, but not the simple version conveyed in ‘conspiracy theories’. Yes, in some form this does exist, but for diverse reasons rather than some secret society having total control. We need to take back the media, which has become far too right wing, and favoring a plutocratic society. Poor media helps exasperate bad political policy, and costs lives.
Thanks, Peace Activist. Yes, I agree re: the necessary multiplicity of voices. Very important as we’re generally subjected to the narrowness you mention, which, as you say, is a form of ‘mind control’, but not the simple version conveyed in ‘conspiracy theories’.
Karen Todd wrote:
Right on – i mean for the link Andy- because this is something i have missed reading about- making victims of others-we make victims of ourselves….and how we can act in such a manner- and expect that others just let it slide – is something I just don’t understand- that acts of terrorism might be wrought against us- can surely be no surprise – when we go about our days here on earth treating people like they are nothing more than (expendable) pieces of garbage-…..amazingly sad and twisted!!!
I agree, Karen. Thanks. And the stories of the children — and the Bush administration’s disregard for their age — are particularly powerful. This is another article that I believe has stood the test of time and is a powerful indictment of those in charge: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/10/20/omar-khadr-the-guantanamo-files/
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I am digging and sharing this now, Andy.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I hope a lot of people see the video. The victim describes most of the essentials, certainly enough to arouse the curiosity of many feeling people.
Thanks, George. Yes, familiar territory for me, but all too easy to ignore otherwise, leaving it to Russia Today to do what, it could well be argued, Western media should be doing instead. It’s not, after all, as though Guantanamo has actually closed, as 171 men are still held, and 89 of those were approved for transfer by the Guantanamo Review Task Force.
Shahla Nuh wrote:
What a shame. At the time of his arrest and the arrests of all the other victims, it was all over the mainstream news “terrorist captured” but now that the truth is coming out, it is has no place in the mainstream media. Thank you Andy, thank you RT and thank you to all those who share the truth
You’re welcome, Shahla. I’m just glad that stories like Murnat’s are still emerging every now and then to remind those who care to notice what we are still living with.
Shahla Nuh wrote:
Yes definitely! The reporting that you and other journalists and writers do, as you state, help to keep those who care informed that this is a reality and it is happening as we speak. Hopefully more of the victims, just like Murat, after all the terror, torture that they have endured can find that bit of hope in humanity and speak out about their traumatic experiences.
Thanks, Shahla. Yes, and it’s why President Obama’s decision to “look forward and not back” has been so terrible, as it has allowed those who created the horrors of the “War on Terror” not to have to answer for what they did — and to allow those who wish to present such actions as “robust” and “necessary” as heroes, rather than what they are: arrogant, mistaken criminals.
Also on Facebook, Malcolm Bush wrote:
Thank you for giving us this story; I did a comment on the Andy Worthington Web Site (Peace Activist) regarding this story. I’ve just been reading and chuckling at the comment regards President Obama’s “look forward not back” comments. Politicians do this all the time steering themselves out of trouble and sounding good at the same time. It’s like we are all living in a fantasy world; many people simply believe all of it. Surely anyone can see ‘looking back’ means look back at all the criminality and doing something to sort it out.
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