[Ppnews] Inside Gitmo with Detainee 061

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 12 11:09:43 EDT 2008


Exclusive: Inside Gitmo with Detainee 061
http://www.motherjones.com/cgi-bin/print_article.pl?url=http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2008/03/murat-kurnaz.html 


Shortly after German-born Murat Kurnaz arrived at 
Camp Delta, intelligence reports show the plan 
was to let him go. What happened?

Mariah Blake

March 10, 2008

IT WAS LATE September 2002, and construction 
crews were just finishing work on the main prison 
camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when three German 
intelligence agents arrived on the island aboard a U.S. military plane.

The reason for their visit was sensitive. The 
Pentagon was still arguing that those held at 
Guantanamo were "the worst of the worst" and "the 
most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on 
the face of the Earth," but behind closed doors 
CIA officials were coming to the conclusion that 
a number of detainees had no links to terrorism, 
and were working on a list of prisoners to be set free.

One of the detainees being considered for release 
was Murat Kurnaz, a German-born Turkish citizen 
who had been pulled off a bus in Pakistan the 
year before and turned over to U.S. forces. Since 
then, American security agencies hadn't turned up 
any evidence that he belonged to a terrorist 
group or posed a threat to the United States. But 
before clearing his release, the CIA wanted the 
Germans to interrogate him and offer their stamp of approval.

After they arrived, the agents were led out to a 
trailer near the dusty sprawl of cell blocks 
known as Camp Delta. Inside, the air conditioner 
was on full blast, and Kurnaz, a stocky young man 
with blunt features and a thick red beard, was 
seated on one side of a long table, his hands and 
feet shackled to a ring in the floor. The men 
took turns questioning him­about the nightclubs 
he frequented in his wilder years, about his 
reasons for embracing Islam, about his journey to 
Pakistan and the heavy boots he bought before 
leaving­while a hidden camera rolled in the background.

All told, they spent 12 hours with him over two 
days, concluding by the end that he simply found 
himself "in the wrong place at the wrong time" 
and "had nothing to do with terrorism and 
al-Qaida," according to German intelligence reports.

They discussed their findings with CIA and 
Pentagon officials, then boarded a plane back to 
Germany. During a stopover in Washington, D.C., 
one of the agents visited the local branch of 
Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, 
and reported back to headquarters via a secure 
phone line, saying: "USA considers Murat Kurnaz's 
innocence to be proven. He should be released in 
approximately six to eight weeks." A few days 
later, a Pentagon release form for the detainee 
was printed and awaiting signature.

"At that point, the picture was clear," says 
Lothar Jachmann, a retired spy who headed the 
intelligence-gathering operation on Kurnaz for 
Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the 
Office for the Protection of the Constitution, 
and was briefed on the Guantanamo visit by one of 
the agents. "We had nothing on him, and we had 
gotten feedback that the Americans had nothing on 
him either. The plan was to let him go."

But Kurnaz was not set free. Instead, he spent 
another four years languishing at Guantanamo, 
where he was repeatedly designated an "enemy 
combatant," despite evidence showing he had no 
known links to terrorist groups.

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees often argue that 
their clients are being held based on thin 
intelligence, but Kurnaz's case is the first 
where the record clearly shows that evidence of 
innocence was ignored to justify his continued 
detention. His story, pieced together from 
intelligence reports, newly declassified Pentagon 
documents, and secret testimony before the German 
Parliament­much of it never before reported in 
the United States­offers a rare window into the 
workings of the secretive system used to hold and try terrorism suspects.

MURAT KURNAZ, the son of Turkish immigrants, was 
born and raised in Bremen, a rainy north German 
port city, where he lived with his family in a 
simple brick row house. His father, Metin, worked 
the assembly line at a Mercedes Benz plant, while 
his mother, Rabiye, stayed home with him and his 
two younger brothers. On Fridays he and his 
father attended the neighborhood Kuba Mosque, a 
storefront sanctuary with a barbershop, 
bookstore, and cavernous teahouse where old men 
in crocheted skullcaps huddle around plastic tables.

Mosque-goers remember Kurnaz as a shy, quiet boy 
who didn't take much interest in religion. "He 
was a normal Muslim Turk, who prayed once in a 
while, but was not very observant," says Nurtekin 
Tepe, a local bus driver, who has known Kurnaz 
since he was a child. Instead, Kurnaz spent his 
time watching Bruce Lee movies, dreaming about 
motorbikes (he hoped to get one and drive it 110 
miles per hour on the autobahn), and lifting 
weights, often with his neighbor, Selcuk Bilgin, 
who had many of the same interests, though he was six years older.

This began to change in the fall of 2000. Kurnaz, 
then 18, was working as a nightclub bouncer; 
Bilgin had a dead-end job at a supermarket. Some 
of their friends had started getting in trouble 
with the law. Feeling there must be something 
more to life, both men began to take a deeper 
interest in Islam. Before long, they had cut pork 
from their diets, grown their beards long, and 
started attending a new mosque, Abu Bakr, which 
was located in a dingy, fluorescent-lit office 
building near Bremen's main train station and 
preached a strict brand of Sunni Islam.

Around this time, Kurnaz also started searching 
for a Muslim bride, and in the summer of 2001 he 
married Fatima, a young woman who hails from a 
rural Turkish village. The union was arranged by 
relatives, and the couple met only once before 
the ceremony. The idea was to bring her to 
Germany as soon as her paperwork was sorted out. 
Meanwhile, Kurnaz and Bilgin made plans to travel 
to Pakistan. The reason for the trip has been a 
matter of much debate, but Kurnaz claims he was 
worried that he didn't know enough about Islam to 
be a good Muslim husband and wanted to study the 
Koran before Fatima's arrival.

The flight was scheduled to depart Frankfurt on 
October 3, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 
attacks, but even before Kurnaz and Bilgin 
boarded the plane their plans began to unravel. 
Bilgin was stopped at passport control because of 
an outstanding $1300 fine levied after his dog 
ran away and attacked a bicyclist. Unable to pay, 
he called his older brother, Abdullah, in Bremen 
and asked him to wire the money. Instead, 
Abdullah phoned the Frankfurt police and urged 
them not to let Bilgin fly. "My brother is 
following a friend to Afghanistan to fight the 
Americans," he said, according to police reports. 
"He was stirred up in a Bremen mosque."

Questioned by police a few days later, Abdullah, 
who unlike his brother has a poor grasp on 
German, said his words had been taken out of 
context; he'd feared Kurnaz and Bilgin might get 
caught up in the conflict, but didn't know for a 
fact that they had plans of fighting. But by that 
time, the wheels were already in motion. Bilgin 
was arrested and Bremen police launched a 
criminal investigation into him, Kurnaz, and two 
other men who attended Abu Bakr. Germany's 
domestic intelligence agency also got in on the 
act, sending an undercover agent to the mosque to ferret out information.

Meanwhile, Kurnaz, who had gotten on the plane 
without Bilgin, was traveling through Pakistan, 
unaware of the commotion his departure had caused.

ON DECEMBER 1, 2001, Kurnaz boarded a bus to the 
airport in Peshawar, a smoggy city on the 
country's northwest border, where he says he 
planned to catch a plane back to Germany. Along 
the way, the vehicle was stopped at a routine 
checkpoint. One of the officers manning it 
knocked on the window and asked Kurnaz something 
in Urdu, then ordered him to step off the bus.

Kurnaz expected to show his passport and answer a 
few questions before being sent on his way. 
Instead, he was thrown in jail. A few days later, 
Pakistani police turned him over to U.S. forces, 
who transported him to Kandahar Air Base, a 
military installation in the southern reaches of 
Afghanistan. The Taliban had recently been driven 
from the region, and the base, built on the 
rubble of a bombed-out airport, was little more 
than a cluster of bullet-pocked hangars and 
decrepit runways. Despite the subzero 
temperatures, prisoners were kept in large 
outdoor pens, and a number of them later claimed 
they were subjected to harsh interrogation 
tactics. Kurnaz says he was routinely beaten, 
chained up for days in painful positions, and 
given electric shocks on the soles of his feet. 
He also says he was subjected to a crude form of 
waterboarding, which involved having his head 
plunged into a water-filled plastic bucket. (The 
Pentagon, contacted more than a dozen times by 
email and telephone, would not comment on 
Kurnaz's treatment or any other aspect of his case.)

One morning about two months after his arrival in 
Afghanistan, the detainee was roused before dawn 
and issued an orange jumpsuit. Then guards 
shackled and blindfolded him and covered his ears 
with soundproof earphones before herding him onto a military transport plane.

When the plane touched down more than 20 hours 
later, Kurnaz was led into a tent where soldiers 
plucked hairs from his arms, swabbed the inside 
of his mouth, and gave him a green plastic 
bracelet with number that would come to define 
him: 061. Finally, he was led to a crude cell 
block with concrete floors, a corrugated metal 
roof, and chain-link walls, which looked out on a 
sandy desert landscape. Inside his cell, he found 
a blanket and a thin green mat, a pair of 
flip-flops, and two translucent buckets, one to 
be used as a toilet and the other as a sink. He had no idea where he was.

Kurnaz later learned that he landed at Camp 
X-Ray, a temporary holding pen used to house 
Guantanamo detainees during the four months when 
the main prison camp was being built. Even before 
construction was done, Pentagon officials began 
to suspect that Kurnaz didn't belong there. On 
February 24, 2002, just three weeks after his 
arrival, a senior military interrogator issued a 
memo saying, "This source may actually have no 
al-Qaida or Taliban association."

IN LATE SEPTEMBER 2002, the three German agents 
arrived at Guantanamo to interrogate detainee 
061. During the trip, they were assigned a CIA 
liaison, identified only as Steve H., who briefed 
them on their mission and kept tabs on the interrogations.

Much of the questioning the first day focused on 
why Kurnaz would choose to travel to Pakistan 
when war was brewing in the region. The detainee 
explained that a group of Muslim missionaries had 
visited his mosque and told him about a school in 
Lahore where he could study the Koran. But when 
he arrived there, he found people were suspicious 
of him because of his light skin and the fact 
that he spoke no Arabic. Taking him for a foreign 
journalist, the school turned him away. So he 
wandered around, staying in mosques and 
guesthouses, until he was detained near Peshawar 
(something he also attributed to his light skin 
and the fact that he spoke German but carried a Turkish passport).

The German agents came away with mixed opinions, 
according to testimony they later gave before a 
closed session of German Parliament. (Many other 
details of their trip were also revealed through 
that hearing, transcripts of which were obtained 
by Mother Jones.) The leader of the delegation, 
who worked for the foreign intelligence service, 
the BND, saw Kurnaz as a harmless and somewhat 
naive young man who simply picked a bad time to 
travel. One of his colleagues, a domestic 
intelligence specialist, argued it was possible 
that Kurnaz was on the path to radicalization. 
But everyone agreed it was highly improbable that 
he had links to terrorist networks or was 
involved in any kind of terrorist plot, and none 
of the agents voiced any objections to letting him go.

Given this fact, Steve H. proposed releasing 
Kurnaz and using him as a spy, part of a joint 
operation to infiltrate the Islamist scene in 
Germany. The German agents apparently took this 
suggestion to heart, because on day two of their 
visit, they arrived at the interrogation trailer 
bearing a chocolate bar and a motorcycle 
magazine, and asked the detainee point-blank 
whether he would consider working as an 
informant. He agreed. (Kurnaz later claimed that 
he had no intention of actually spying­that, in 
fact, he would "rather starve to death"­but 
thought feigning interest might hasten his release.)

That evening, the agents were invited to dinner 
with the deputy commander of the prison camp. The 
leader of the delegation later testified that he 
discussed Kurnaz's case with him, and according 
to an investigation by the German newsmagazine 
Der Spiegel, after the meal, the American 
official sent a coded message to the Pentagon. A 
few days later, on September 30, the release form 
for Kurnaz was printed out. The cover memo, 
obtained by Mother Jones, notes that Pentagon 
investigators had found "no definite 
link/evidence of detainee having an association 
with al-Qaida or making any specific threat 
toward the U.S." and that "the Germans confirmed 
that this detainee has no connection to an al-Qaida cell in Germany."

AROUND THE SAME TIME, in October 2002, German 
police suspended their investigation into Kurnaz 
and his fellow suspects. No evidence of criminal 
wrongdoing ever surfaced. "We tapped telephones, 
we searched apartments, we questioned a large 
number of witnesses," Uwe Picard, the Bremen 
attorney general who led the probe, told me when 
we spoke in his office, an attic warren stacked 
waist-deep in files. "We didn't find anything of substance."

But police did turn up some troubling bits of 
hearsay. One of the students at a shipbuilding 
school Kurnaz attended told investigators that 
Kurnaz had "Taliban" written on the screen of his 
cell phone. Then there were the comments of 
Kurnaz's mother, who, when questioned by police 
days after her son's disappearance, fretted that 
he had "bought heavy boots and two pairs of 
binoculars" shortly after the attacks on the 
World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Seizing on these details, the German media dubbed 
Kurnaz the "Bremen Taliban." This was clearly 
unsettling to German officials, who just one year 
after the 9/11 attacks were still reeling from 
the revelation that three hijackers lived and 
studied in Germany without ever catching the 
attention of police or intelligence agencies. 
Many politicians had serious qualms about letting 
the German Turk back into the country.

The first sign of these doubts came in the form 
of a classified report on the Guantanamo visit, 
which was issued on October 8, 2002, and 
circulated through the top ranks of the German 
government. It argues that releasing Kurnaz and 
using him as a spy would be "problematic," in 
that he had "no access to the Mujahideen milieu." 
It also notes, "In light of Kurnaz's possibly 
imminent release, we should determine whether 
Germany wants the Turkish citizen back and, given 
the expected media attention, whether Germany 
wants to document that everything possible was done to prevent his return."

Three weeks later, Kurnaz's case was discussed at 
the presidential round, a standing Tuesday 
meeting held at the Germany Chancellery and 
attended by top officials from the foreign and 
interior ministries as well as the German 
security services. The group decided to block his 
return, and on October 30 the interior ministry 
issued a secret memo with a plan for keeping him 
out of the country, which involved revoking his 
residency permit on the grounds that he had been 
abroad for more than six months. Germany's 
domestic intelligence agency later notified the 
CIA in writing of the government's "express wish" 
that Kurnaz "not return to Germany."

FOR KURNAZ, the next two years were a blur of 
interrogations and hours spent locked in his 
cell. At one point, he claims guards roused him 
every few hours, part of a coordinated 
sleep-deprivation campaign dubbed Operation 
Sandman. He also says he was subjected to 
pepper-spray attacks, extreme heat and cold, and 
sexual humiliation at the hands of a scantily 
clad female guard, who he says rubbed herself against him.

On occasion, he says, punishments were doled out 
arbitrarily. Each morning a guard would appear at 
Kurnaz's cell door and ask him to shove his 
blanket through the slot. Even when he did so, he 
claims, he was sometimes accused of not 
cooperating and given a stint in solitary confinement.

Still, the detainee continued to plead his 
innocence, telling interrogators at one point 
that the idea of someone thinking he wanted to 
fight the Americans "made him feel sick," 
according to Pentagon intelligence reports. He 
also offered repeatedly to take a lie detector 
test. When asked what he would do if released, he 
said he would bring his wife to Germany and buy a motorcycle.

Then in June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that 
U.S. courts had the authority under federal law 
to decide whether those held at Guantanamo were 
rightfully imprisoned. In a bid to keep detainees 
out of the U.S. justice system, the Bush 
administration created the Combatant Status 
Review Tribunals to determine whether detainees 
had been properly labeled enemy combatants.

Three months later, on September 30, 2004, Kurnaz 
was led out to one of the interrogation trailers 
on the fringes of Camp Delta, the main prison 
complex at Guantanamo. Inside, under the glare of 
florescent lights, sat three high-ranking 
military officers at a long table. The "tribunal 
president," or judge, was in a high-backed chair 
in the middle. At his side was Kurnaz's "personal 
representative," who was assigned with helping 
the detainee argue his case, though he hardly 
said a word during the proceedings. As for the 
charges, the only information Kurnaz was given 
was a summary of the unclassified evidence, which 
the prosecutor­or "recorder" in Guantanamo 
parlance­reeled off at the beginning of the 
hearing. Most of it was circumstantial, like the 
fact that Kurnaz had flown from Frankfurt to 
Karachi just three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, 
and that he allegedly received food and lodging 
from the Muslim missionary group Tablighi Jamaat. 
(An apolitical movement with more than 70 million 
members, it has no known terrorist links, but 
intelligence agencies worry that its strict brand 
of Sunni Islam may make it an ideal recruiting ground for jihadists.)

But Kurnaz was hit with one more serious 
allegation, namely that he was "a close associate 
with, and planned to travel to Pakistan with" 
Selcuk Bilgin, who the recorder said "later 
engaged in a suicide bombing." Clearly shaken by 
this charge, Kurnaz interrupted the session, 
blurting out, "Where are the explosives? What 
bombs?" according to transcripts of the hearing, 
which are not verbatim. The tribunal president 
responded that the details of Bilgin's fate were 
classified. Then he asked if the detainee wanted 
to make a statement. Kurnaz replied, "I am here 
because Selcuk Bilgin had bombed somebody? I 
wasn't aware that he had done that." Then he gave 
a meandering speech, mostly a reprise of things 
he had said during interrogations.

When he was done, the tribunal president asked 
him if he had anything else to submit, though 
it's unclear what more he could have offered; 
detainees are allowed only limited documentary 
evidence, and calls for witnesses are generally 
denied. (Even if prisoners could present more 
information, it would likely be trumped by the 
government's evidence, which, under the tribunal 
rules laid out by the Bush administration, is 
presumed to be "genuine and accurate.") Kurnaz 
said simply: "I want to know if I have to stay 
here, or if I can go home
If I go back home, I will prove that I am innocent."

Later that day, the tribunal determined by a 
"preponderance of evidence" that Kurnaz had not 
only been properly designated an enemy combatant, 
but that he was a member of Al Qaeda. According 
to the classified summary obtained by Mother 
Jones, the decision was based almost exclusively 
on a single memo, written by Brig. General David 
B. Lacquement shortly before the tribunal convened.

A version of that memo was recently declassified, 
albeit with large swaths redacted. Among the 
"suspicious activities" it said Kurnaz engaged in 
while at Guantanamo: He "covered his ears and 
prayed loudly during the U.S. national Anthem" 
and asked how tall a basketball rim was "possibly 
in an attempt to estimate the heights of the 
fences." U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, 
who reviewed the unredacted version, later wrote 
that it was "rife with hearsay and lacking in 
detailed support for its conclusions."

In contrast to Lacquement's memo, at least three 
assessments in Kurnaz's Pentagon file point to 
his innocence. Among them is a recently 
declassified memo, dated May 19, 2003, from 
Brittain P. Mallow, then commanding general of 
the Criminal Investigation Task Force, a Pentagon 
intelligence unit that interrogates and collects 
information on detainees. It states the "CITF is 
not aware of evidence that Kurnaz was or is a 
member of al-Qaida" or that he harbored anyone 
who "has engaged in, aided or abetted, or 
conspired to commit acts of terrorism against the 
U.S." But the tribunal found these exhibits were 
"not persuasive in that they seemingly 
corroborated the detainee's testimony." In other 
words, the Pentagon's own evidence was ignored 
because it suggested the detainee was innocent.

What of the allegation that Kurnaz's would-be 
traveling companion, Selcuk Bilgin, carried out a 
suicide attack? As it turns out, Bilgin is alive 
and residing in Bremen with his wife and two 
small children. I tracked him down in early 
January with three phone calls and a visit to his 
parents' home, and we met a couple weeks later at 
his lawyer's office near the city center. A 
stocky man with large, dark eyes and a wiry 
beard, he arrived in a white Audi station wagon 
with car seats in the rear and was wearing olive 
cargo pants with a thick black jacket that 
cinched at the waist. Following his arrest in 
Frankfurt, he explained, he was held for a few 
days and then released. "After that, two people 
from the intelligence services came to talk to 
me," he told me. "Some journalists called. Then I just went on with my life."

Indeed, Bilgin was never charged with any crime, 
although he was initially suspected of 
influencing Kurnaz to go to Afghanistan and 
fight. (Kurnaz's parents also blamed him for 
their son's ordeal, and the two men no longer speak.)

As for the attack Bilgin was accused of carrying 
out, identified by the Pentagon as the 
"Elananutus" bombing, it never registered with 
the media in Germany or the United States (though 
there is a record of a November 2003 attack on an 
Istanbul synagogue, allegedly by a man with a 
similar sounding name­Gokhan Elaltuntas). The 
Pentagon never bothered to run that allegation by 
German police; German intelligence agencies were 
apparently kept out of the loop, too.

"A suicide bomber?" Jachmann, who led the 
intelligence gathering on Bilgin and Kurnaz, 
asked incredulously when I explained the 
allegations. "As far as we knew, he was living 
right here in Bremen the whole time."

A WEEK AFTER HIS tribunal, Kurnaz received a 
visit from a balding thirtysomething man with 
wire-rimmed glasses who handed him a piece of 
paper with a handwritten note on it. It read, "My 
dear son, it's me, your mother. I hope you're 
doing well. This man is Baher Azmy. You can trust him. He's your lawyer."

In the three years he had been at Guantanamo, 
this was the first word Kurnaz had heard from his 
family. Afraid that the letter would be taken 
from him, he crumpled it up and stuffed it under his shirt.

Azmy also delivered a second piece of news: He 
had filed suit against the Bush administration on Kurnaz's behalf.

Three months later, in January 2005, U.S. 
District Judge Joyce Hens Green delivered a 
ruling on Kurnaz's claim, and those of 62 other 
prisoners, challenging the legality of the 
Combatant Status Review Tribunals. Finding that 
the tribunals were illegal, she used Kurnaz's 
case to illustrate the "fundamental unfairness" 
of the system, particularly its reliance on 
"classified information not disclosed to the 
detainees." (Most of the passages of the ruling 
dealing with his case were themselves classified 
until recently, though they were briefly released 
through a Pentagon slipup and reported by the 
Washington Post in March 2005.) Green also argued 
that the tribunal's choice to ignore evidence of 
Kurnaz's innocence was among the strongest signs 
that the tribunals were stacked against detainees.

But in the end the ruling was just one salvo in 
an ongoing legal struggle over whether detainees 
can plead their cases in U.S. courts and had 
little impact on Kurnaz's situation. In early 
November 2005, when the Administrative Review 
Board (ARB), which conducts annual reviews of 
detainees' status, took up his case again, it 
voted unanimously to uphold his designation as an 
enemy combatant. According to internal Pentagon 
emails obtained by Mother Jones, the board failed 
to weigh evidence submitted by Kurnaz's lawyers, 
including a notarized affidavit from Bilgin, 
which showed that a central charge against the 
detainee­his alleged association with a suicide bomber­was verifiably false.

Around this time, the tides began to turn on the 
other side of the Atlantic. German media had 
gotten wind of their government's role in 
Kurnaz's continued detention, and scandal was 
brewing. Politicians who had pushed to keep him 
out of the country were suddenly scrambling to 
distance themselves from the decision.

Then, in late November, Angela Merkel took over 
as German chancellor. Though a friend of the Bush 
administration, she has made no bones about her 
opposition to the indefinite detentions at 
Guantanamo. During her first visits to the Oval 
Office, in January 2006, she pressed President 
George W. Bush on Kurnaz's case, the first in a 
string of negotiations over his fate. In June of 
that year, the Administrative Review Board 
reconvened and decided that, after nearly five 
years of imprisonment, detainee 061 was no longer an enemy combatant.

ON AUGUST 24, 2006, a C-17 cargo plane touched 
down at Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. military 
installation 44 miles southwest of Frankfurt. 
Shackled to the floor in its cargo hold was 
detainee 061, his face wrapped in a mask and his 
eyes covered by goggles with blacked-out lenses. 
Standing watch over him were 15 American soldiers.

On the tarmac, he was handed over to German 
police, who asked that his handcuffs be removed. 
Then they escorted him to a nearby Red Cross 
installation, where his family was waiting.

The reunion was bittersweet: His mother couldn't 
stop crying, and his father was so withered and 
gray that at first Kurnaz mistook him for an 
older uncle. During the car ride home, a journey 
of more than 250 miles, Kurnaz learned that his 
wife, Fatima­the reason he says he traveled to 
Pakistan­had filed for divorce. All those years 
with no word from him were more than she could 
handle. Later in the trip, his father pulled over 
at a rest stop and his mother poured him some 
coffee from a thermos in the trunk. Kurnaz was so 
busy marveling at the stars, which had been 
drowned out by the floodlights at Guantanamo, that he forgot to drink it.

Kurnaz's homecoming created a clamor in Germany. 
By early 2007, the widening scandal was 
threatening to topple Foreign Minister 
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who as head of the 
Chancellery under the previous administration was 
the highest official to formally approve the plan 
blocking Kurnaz's return. Around the same time, a 
special investigative committee of German 
Parliament began probing Berlin's role in 
Kurnaz's continued detention. The ongoing inquiry 
has hit some stumbling blocks: CIA transcripts 
related to the case vanished, and an electronic 
data system with vital intelligence information was mysteriously erased.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the 
legality of the Combatant Status Review 
Tribunals, Kurnaz's ordeal is emerging as a key 
exhibit. Attorney Seth Waxman, who delivered oral 
arguments on detainees' behalf last December, 
wrapped up his comments by recounting the salient 
details of Kurnaz's case­a move intended to drive 
home his claim that the tribunals are an 
"inadequate substitute" for due process. A 
decision in the case is expected early this summer.

A reluctant political figure, Kurnaz has done his 
best to stay out of the fray, turning instead to 
his old interests. Germany's domestic 
intelligence agency, which kept tabs on him after 
his return, found only one item of note­that he 
had bought a motorcycle. (He has since shaved off 
his beard in favor of a biker mustache, started 
lifting weights again, and bought a 
cherry-colored Mazda RX-8 with double spoilers, 
custom alloy wheels, and black-and-red racing 
seats.) He has also written a memoir, Five Years 
of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo, which 
came out in Germany last year. An English 
version, with a foreword by rocker Patti Smith, 
is scheduled to be released in the United States 
in April, and a movie deal is already in the 
works. The television newsmagazine 60 Minutes has 
negotiated an interview exclusive timed to 
correspond with the book's release. (Kurnaz 
declined to be interviewed for this story because of that arrangement.)

A plainspoken account, Five Years of My Life 
focuses on the daily humiliations and surreal 
texture of life at Guantanamo, a place where 
iguanas roam the cell blocks and trials take 
place in the same rooms as interrogations. In the 
closing pages, Kurnaz explains why he chose to 
speak out. "It's important that our stories are 
told," he writes. "We need to counter the endless 
[official] reports written in Guantanamo itself. 
We have to speak up and say: I tried to hand back 
my blanket and got four weeks in solitary 
confinement." But Kurnaz doesn't dwell on his own 
suffering. Instead he turns the spotlight on the 
plight of other detainees, including the ones who 
are still being held. "While I sit here eating 
chocolate bars and peeling mandarin oranges, they 
are being beaten and starved," he writes. "I can 
eat, drink and sleep much the same as I did five 
years ago, but I never forget that people are being abused in Cuba."

Click here for a timeline of Kurnaz's case.






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