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