[Ppnews] Gitmo's Indelible Stain

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 28 13:03:32 EDT 2010


October 28, 2010

The Ordeal of Murat Kurnaz

Gitmo's Indelible Stain


Although U.S. officials have attributed the 
torture of Muslim prisoners in their custody to a 
handful of maverick guards, in fact such criminal 
acts were widely perpetrated and systemic, likely 
involving large numbers of military personnel, a 
book by a survivor suggests. Additionally, guards 
were responsible for countless acts of murder, 
including death by crucifixion, lynching, 
poisoning, snakebite, withholding of medicines, 
starvation, and bludgeoning of innocent victims. 
And the murders committed by U.S. troops numbered 
at least in the hundreds, according to reliable sources.

As well, Pentagon architects designed prisons 
that were sadistic torture chambers in 
themselves, barely six feet high and seven feet 
wide, in which human beings were kept for months 
or years at a time---spaces which, one prisoner 
noted, are smaller than the legal requirements in 
Germany for doghouses. Architects who knowingly 
designed these hellholes may have also committed crimes against humanity.

After the photographs of sadism at Iraq’s Abu 
Ghraib in May, 2004, shocked the world, President 
Bush called the revelations “a stain on our 
country’s honor and our country’s reputation.” He 
told visiting King Abdullah of Jordan in the Oval 
Office that “I was sorry for the humiliation 
suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the 
humiliation suffered by their families.” Bush 
told The Washington Post, “I told him (Abdullah) 
I was equally sorry that people who have been 
seeing those pictures didn’t understand the true 
nature and heart of America.” A year later, 
Lynddie England and 10 others from the 372nd 
Military Police Company were convicted of torture 
at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, yet the 
events of that prison were likely duplicated 
everywhere across the spectrum of Pentagon and 
CIA detention camps acting on orders from the Bush White House.

Although President Bush made the Abu Ghraib 
revelations sound like nothing worse than 
“humiliation” in fact, the Abu Ghraib photos gave 
the world a glimpse into far greater crimes of 
every sordid type---and reports compiled from 
other sources indicated that to be captured by 
the Americans was a veritable descent into hell.

While the President’s words sounded as if they 
came from an innocent bystander, this was the 
same man who claimed two years earlier the Geneva 
Conventions did not apply in the countries the 
U.S. had invaded; they were uttered by the man 
who, with his Vice PresIdent Dick Cheney, is 
primarily responsible for the entire venomous 
persecution of thousands of innocent men, women, 
and even children. While a handful of guards such 
as Ms. England---notorious for her “thumbs up” 
photo observing a human pyramid of naked 
prisoners, were convicted and jailed---the many 
other hundreds or thousands of military guards, 
interrogators, and doctors and dentists also 
involved in the widespread tortures have never 
been prosecuted for their crimes.

It should be kept in mind that no impartial legal 
system was in place to defend the rights of the 
accused, so that their torturers could break laws 
without fear of reprisal. As Jane Mayer wrote in 
“The Dark Side”(Anchor), “Seven years after the 
attacks of September 11, not a single terror 
suspect held outside of the U.S. criminal court 
system has been tried. Of the 759 detainees 
acknowledged to have been held in Guantanamo, 
approximately 340 remained there, only a handful 
of whom had been charged. Among these, not a 
single ‘enemy combatant’ had yet had the 
opportunity to cross-examine the government or 
see the evidence on which he was being held. 
Thus, since none had been brought to trial, all 
the tortures inflicted were on captives who must 
be presumed innocent. One book, by a man who 
survived the nightmare of captivity where so many 
others perished, gives the lie to the notion that 
abuses were carried out by a few vicious guards. 
Everywhere he went he was beaten and he saw other 
prisoners also beaten by many different teams of 
sadistic guards. The conviction of Ms. England 
and her companions, therefore, does not begin to serve the cause of justice.

According to Murat Kurnaz, a 19-year-old Turkish 
citizen raised in Germany and falsely defamed as 
“the German Taliban,” torture at the several 
prisons in which he was held was frequent, 
commonplace, and committed by many guards. In his 
Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in 
Guantanamo”(Palgrave Macmillan), beatings began 
in 2001 on the flight from Pakistan (where he was 
pulled off a public bus and sold by Pakistani 
police for $3,000) to his first imprisonment in Afghanistan.

“I couldn’t see how many soldiers there were, but 
to judge from the confusion of voices it must 
have been a lot. They went from one prisoner to 
the next, hitting us with their fists, their 
billy clubs, and the butts of their rifles.” This 
was done to men that were manacled to the floor 
of the plane. “It was as cold as a refrigerator; 
I was sitting on bare metal and icy air was 
coming from a vent or a fan. I tried to go to 
sleep, but they kept hitting me and waking 
they never tired of beating us, laughing all the while.”

On another occasion, Kurnaz counted seven guards 
who were beating a prisoner with the butts of 
their rifles and kicking him with their boots 
until he died. At one point, Kurnaz was hung by 
chains with his arms behind his back for five 
days. “Today I know that a lot of inmates died 
from treatment like this.” When he was finally 
taken down and needed water “they’d just pour the 
water over my head and laugh.” The guards even 
tortured a blind man who was older than 90 “the 
same way the rest of us were,” Kurnaz wrote.

At Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo, Cuba, Kurnaz said, 
“During the day, we had to remain seated and at 
night we had to lie down. If you lay down during 
the day you were punished
We weren’t allowed to 
talk. We weren’t to speak to or look at the 
guards. We weren’t allowed to draw in the sand or 
whistle or sing or smile. Every time I 
unknowingly broke a rule, or because they had 
just invented a new one
an IRF (Immediate 
Reaction Force) team would come and beat me.” 
Once when he was weak from a hunger strike, 
Kurnaz wrote, “I was beaten on a stretcher.” 
During his earlier imprisonment at Kandahar, 
Pakistan, Kurnaz writes, “There were weaker, 
older men in the pen. Men with broken feet, men 
whose legs and arms were fractured or had turned 
blue, red, or yellow from pus. There were 
prisoners with broken jaws, fingers and noses, 
and with terribly swollen faces like mine.” Not 
only were the wounds of such men ignored by 
guards but complicit doctors would examine him 
and other prisoners during tortures and advise 
guards as to how much more they could stand 
before they died. On one occasion, he saw guards 
beating a prisoner with no legs.

Still worse, Kurnaz said doctors participated in 
the tortures. A dentist asked to pull out a 
prisoner’s rotten tooth pulled out all his 
healthy ones as well. Another prisoner who went 
to the doctor to treat one finger with severe 
frostbite had all his other fingers amputated. “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,” Kurnaz wrote. “I never saw anyone in 
a cast.” Prisoners were deliberately weakened by 
starvation diets. Meals at Guantanamo consisted 
of “three spoonfuls of rice, a slice of dry 
bread, and a plastic spoon. That was it.” 
Sometimes a loaf of bread was tossed over a fence into their compound.

Prisoners who should have been in hospital beds 
instead were confined to cells purposefully 
designed to torture them. Kurnaz described his 
experience this way: “Those cells were like 
ovens. The sun beat down on the metal roof at 
noon and directly on the sides of the cage in the 
mornings and afternoons. 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.” Prisoners could be put in 
solitary confinement for the tiniest infractions 
of the most ridiculous rules, such as not folding 
a blanket properly. “I was always being punished 
and humiliated, regardless of what I did,” Kurnaz 
said. Once, he was put in solitary for ten days 
for feeding breadcrumbs to an iguana that had crawled into his cage.

Besides regular beatings from IRF, who commonly 
entered cells with clubs swinging, Kurnaz 
received excruciating electroshocks to his feet 
and was waterboarded in a 20-inch diameter 
plastic bucket filled with water. He describes 
the experience as follows: “Someone grabbed me by 
the hair. The soldiers seized my arms and pushed 
my head underwater. 
Drowning is a horrible way 
to die. They pulled my head back up. “Do you like 
it? You want more?” When my head was back 
underwater, I felt a blow to my stomach
. “Where 
is Osama? “Who are you?” I tried to speak but I 
couldn’t. I swallowed some water
.It became 
harder and harder to breath, the more they hit me 
in the stomach and pushed my head underwater. I 
felt my heart racing. They didn’t let up
imagined myself screaming underwater
I would have 
told them everything. But what was I supposed to 
tell them?”It should be noted that U.S. and 
German authorities had decided as early as 2002 
that Kurnaz was innocent---that he really was a 
student of the Koran in Pakistan when he had been 
seized by bounty hunters and sold to the 
Americans as a “terrorist." Yet they continued 
the tortures for years knowing all along of his innocence.

On yet other occasions, Kurnaz, like so many 
other prisoners, was hung from chains backwards 
so that “it felt as though my shoulders were 
going to break. “I was hoisted up until my feet 
no longer touched the ground
.After a while, the 
cuffs seemed like they were cutting my wrists 
down to the bone. My shoulders felt like someone 
was trying to pull my arms out of their 
When they hung me up backwards, it felt 
as though my shoulders were going to break
I was 
strung up for five days
Three times a day 
soldiers came in and let me down (and)a doctor 
examined me and took my pulse. ‘Okay,’ he said. 
The soldiers hoisted me back up. I lost all 
feeling in my arms and hands. I still felt pain 
in other parts of my body, like in my chest 
around my heart
” A short distance away Kurnaz 
could see another man hanging from chains--dead.

To compound the inmates’ misery, Guantanamo 
guards would trample an imate’s Koran, the sacred 
book of the Muslims. While U.S. authorities 
denied that Korans had been thrown in toilets, 
those denials are worth little considering that 
when the evening call to prayer was sounded, 
Kurnez said, the caller’s voice “was drowned out 
by loud music. It was the American national 
anthem.” One boorish guard specialized in kicking 
at prisoners' cell doors when they attempted to pray.

When Kurnaz was transferred within the Guantanamo 
prison system to “Camp 1” he was put in a maximum 
security cage inside a giant container with metal 
walls. “Although the cage was no smaller than the 
one in CampX-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? 
hardly saw the sun at all. They had perfected 
their prison..It felt like being sealed alive in a ship container.”

Although U.S. politicians and ultra-right radio 
talk show hosts ridiculed the use of sleep 
deprivation against prisoners, this was, in fact, 
an insidious practice used earlier in Bolshevik 
Russia to torture known as “the conveyor belt.” 
In 2002, Kurnaz writes, when General Geoffrey 
Miller took over command of Guantanamo, “The 
interrogations got more brutal, more frequent, 
and longer.” Miller commenced “Operation 
Sandman,” in which prisoners were moved to new 
cells every hour or two “to completely deprive us 
of sleep, and he achieved it.” Kurnaz says, “I 
had to stand and kneel twenty-four hours a day,” 
often in chains, and “I had barely arrived in a 
new cell and lay down on the bunk, before they 
came again to move me. 
As soon as the guards saw 
me close my eyes
they’d kick at the door or punch 
me in the face.” In between transfers, “I was 
I estimated the sessions lasted up 
to fifteen hours” during which the interrogator 
might disappear for hours at a time. “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
Days and nights 
without sleep. Blows and new cages. Again, the 
stabbing sensation of thousands of needles 
throughout my entire body. I would have loved to 
step outside my body, but I couldn’t
I went three 
weeks without sleep
.the soldiers came at night 
and made us stand for hours on end at gunpoint. 
At this point, I weighed less than 130 pounds.” 
Kurnaz was released to Germany in August, 2006, 
and testified by videolink in 2008 to the U.S. 
Congress. During his five years of confinement, 
he was never charged with a crime.

And so it happened that, during the presidency of 
George W. Bush, tens of thousands of innocent 
human beings, Kurnaz among them, were swept up in 
dragnet arrests by the invading American forces 
or their allies and imprisoned without legal 
recourse---the very opposite of what America's 
Founders gifted to humanity in their 
Constitution. None of the prisoners ever saw a 
real judge or jury. Torture among them was 
widespread. As for President Barack Obama, sworn 
to uphold a Constitution that does not permit 
torture, his failure to act forthrightly and, in 
particular, to ignore crimes by the CIA, an 
agency for which he once worked, would appear to 
make him guilty of subversion of that founding 
charter which he is legally obliged to honor. As 
for not taking action against the countless 
Pentagon operatives who tortured---including 
doctors and dentists and surgeons, etc.---Obama’s 
inaction will permit these sadists to be returned 
one day to practice among the general civilian 
population. Think about that. Think, too, about 
the stain on the American flag that may never be washed clean.

Sherwood Ross is a Florida-based media consultant 
and director of the Anti-War News Service. To 
comment or contribute to his work contact him at 
<mailto:sherwoodross10 at gmail.com>sherwoodross10 at gmail.com.

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