30 June 2010
Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish national born and raised in Germany, was sold into the hands of torturers for $3,000 by Pakistani bounty hunters in late 2001. Only 19 years old at the time, he was detained in Kandahar military base in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After five years of abuse and detention, Murat was released from Guantanamo in 2006. He spoke to Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo detainee and spokesman to Cageprisoners, on his recent trip to the UK in May 2008 to promote his book, Five Years of My Life.
MOAZZAM BEGG: Murat Kurnaz, you are now doing your tour around the country, around the United Kingdom, after writing a book called Five Years of My Life. Could you tell me what gave you the reason to write this book? What inspired you to write this book?
MURAT KURNAZ: Experience of those five years I have, it’s very important so… but all the other ones have the same rights to know about my experience.
MB: You mean, other people around the world.
MK: Other people around the world, yes. So that’s why I wrote the book because everybody, all the other ones have the same rights to know about the world where we are living in and everything that goes on.
MB: And particularly in relation to your book, how long did it take you to work on it and to actually put it into something that became a finalised project? Were you allowed to write? Did you think about writing a book in Guantanamo? Or did you do this afterwards?
MK: After I saw many strange things during my time in Guantanamo, then I said of course if I was to survive Guantanamo then I would write a book. Then I have to write a book because so many people got killed on the torture. I had to write a book because everybody has a right to know about the real Guantanamo, what is going on.
MB: And so getting to this, can you just , can you tell me, if you could describe the worst point – before we go onto other parts of Guantanamo – what is the worst part of being held by the United States military in all the years that you were held?
MK: I can’t say there was something the worst, because everything they did was very bad. But to be with a nine years old child in a torture camp, or with another one, twelve years old, and many other ones with 14 years old, to be with them in a torture camp it’s very bad. It’s horrible. To see an old man, who has gone blind because of his old age and who can’t hear any more, to see him get beaten up because he is not following rules, what he can’t hear of course – to watch all those things was very bad, of course.
MB: Indeed. You’re aware of Camp Iguana where children were held in Guantanamo. Were you aware of how many children were held there, or what ages they were there?
MK: I don’t know how many but I’m sure there was one, he was 9 years old. That is what I know. Maybe there was more than just him. That is what everyone knew there, that he was 9. There was another one who was 12 years (old). Many, many 14 years old they got to between 20 or 21 already. I myself I was 19 years old.
MB: Of course now as you said correctly that a lot of these children are no longer children, now that six years have gone by. One of these is Omar Khadr, the young Canadian boy. Did you ever meet him in Guantanamo?
MK: I met him many times. I could talk to him for a long time, so he was between 14 and 15 years old, a young man. He was very badly injured because American soldiers threw him on the floor and shoot him with an M-16 in the shoulder. And he is blind in his one eye. His interrogators are forcing him so if not they will refuse, they stop his pain medication.
MB: Yes, I remember when they brought him first into custody, he was terribly wounded. It’s very sad to see children in custody and of course you’ve spoken about very old people. What’s the oldest person you saw in Guantanamo? What do you think his age was?
MK: Just 105 years.
MB: 105 years old – amazing. And what sort of treatment did he get?
MK: Because he’s not following rules, because he’s too slow, when they called him, because he took such a long time to run to the fence, to walk to the fence, they beat him up because he is too slow.
MB: That’s amazing. Some people say that Guantanamo Bay isn’t really such a bad place, that it’s actually not as bad as some of the prison cells in Muslim countries or in third world countries. What would you say to that?
MK: Well I think that they have to spend only 24 hours in it and then they will know if it’s a good place or a bad place.
MB: You were held in Kandahar before you were sent to Guantanamo, how would you compare the two prisons in your mind in how you were treated…?
MK: You can’t compare because it wasn’t a prison. It’s just during the war time, in an American base, in war area, during the war time. We were in the middle of the battlefield. The Taliban used to shoot on that camp and they (the US) used to shoot back. It was just outside – it was not a prison – just outside, an open area behind the razor wire. They kept us over there. During my time in Kandahar, they tortured me by electric shocks because they found out that I’m innocent and they thought it will make me guilty. They brought me papers to sign it which used to say “I will never fight again (with) this Taliban against the Americans.”
MB: And of course you were never fighting with them to begin with.
MK: So of course. That’s what made me guilty. After I refused to sign those papers, I said I can’t sign that because I’m not a terrorist. So they tortured me by electric shocks, by waterboarding, they hang me on chains for five days. The guy in front of me, he died. He used to hang on the chains. He couldn’t survive, he didn’t survive. And every couple of hours the interrogator came asking me to sign those papers, asking if I want to sign it or not. If I refuse they just continue to hang me on the chains.
MB: It’s amazing. They used electric shock techniques on you?
MK: Yes, they did.
MB: What sort of things did they do?
MK: In Kandahar, how I said, electric shocks, waterboarding, hanging from chains, many, many types they used to beat all of us, any time.
MB: President Bush today says that waterboarding is not torture. Waterboarding was first used in the Spanish Inquisition, and in Spanish it’s called tortura del agua which means torture of the water and this was 6-700 years ago. Today, he says it’s not torture. What do you think he’s thinking when he’s saying this, Why does he say this?
MK: He’s saying this because he killed many people under torture, many, many people, and he got used to it so it is for him democratic. Waterboarding is, for Bush, democratic.
MB: Can you explain a little as to the circumstances as to how you got captured? You were in Pakistan at the time. Could you explain what happened, and why you were in Pakistan and why they picked on you, and why they arrested you?
MK: I am from Germany. I was born and raised in Germany. I lost many friends because I got involved with drugs. They start selling drugs onto youth, (they) used drugs. It’s still one of the biggest problems back in Germany, and many European countries, not only Germany. So I was worried about those things because I lost many friends. I used to laugh and we go together. So some of them went into prison. I saw a group call
ed Jama’at at-Tabligh. They go on the streets, they go to homeless people, speaking to them, ‘Can we help you?’ If he says ‘yes’, they try to get him a job and try to find him somewhere where he can stay; helping young people who had problems with drugs. I thought many times, when I saw this Tablighi group, I said that this is exactly the type of thing I’d like to do. I spoke to them many times. They told me about this school in Pakistan. It’s the second biggest Islamic foundation after the pilgrimage in Hajj. It’s very huge, it’s a very famous school. There are students coming from all over the world.
MB: Indeed, yes.
MK: I was only one of them. But I didn’t know the American government they gave out $3,000 of bounty for anybody.
MB: That’s true, after the Americans offered the bounty, hundreds of people who were not Pakistani were turned over, including yourself and including myself. So can you explain to us under what circumstances how did they actually arrest you or detain you?
MK: I was after like six weeks later, I was ready to go back home. I had already my plane ticket to go back to Germany. I was also very close to the airport.
MB: This was in Islamabad or Karachi?
MK: It was in Peshawar. I was very close to the airport. There was a checkpoint…. What’s very common in Pakistan they did it many times but that time I didn’t know that the American bounty had given out a bounty for $3000 and so the police people used to know that. And after they saw me with the white skin, they saw that they found their $3000. They sold me to the Americans. Even I had the visa and everything. I didn’t break any rules in Pakistan, nothing.
MB: So they actually came and took you?
MK: The first time they came to the bus, they stopped the bus. They asked me a couple of questions – they came to the window, knocked on the window. I opened the window. I showed them my visa and passport. They asked me to go out of the bus, which I did. There was no reason to keep me. They just asked me first if I’m a journalist, if I work for the German government or the American government. After I said no, they were sure there can’t be any problem to send me to the Americans because I am not America and not German – it will be easy to send (me)… so they kept me. After a couple of weeks later, I had my first interrogation by Americans in Pakistan, who came after… they picked me up and took me to Kandahar, and tortured me over there to sign those papers.
MB: Did the Pakistanis actually physically beat you or hurt you or was it the Americans only during your incarceration?
MK: The Pakistani government wasn’t nice to me.
MB: Did they actually physically harm you or was it just the Americans?
MK: They kept me underground in the prison, underground. They didn’t allow me to make phone calls, nothing.
MB: And how long were you held there by the Pakistanis?
MK: Like…a month, one month, or something.
MB: In this cell underneath the ground?
MK: I’m not sure, but between two and one months.
MB: Did you see any other prisoners from other parts of the world held close by you or were you by yourself?
MK: There were many other prisoners. First they kept me in isolation. After that then they brought me over to…
MB: After this whole process you were handed over to the Americans. What was your feeling when you were handed over from the Pakistanis – a third world country- to the Americans, which is supposed to be a first world country? What was your feeling, that you might get treated well by the Americans or that you might get treated worse? What did you think? Did you know you were going to be sent to American custody?
MB: You didn’t know.
MK: They didn’t told us nothing. They didn’t tell us anything.
MB: And when you did get handed over to the Americans were you happy, or were you afraid?
MK: First, when I saw the Americans, in my first interrogation by Americans, then I saw them, before they asked me the first question. I thought okay now the Americans are there, I’m sure they have democratic rules and very soon I can go back home. But after they asked me the first question, I understood it’s going to be different than I thought, because the first question was, ‘where is Osama Bin Laden?’ And I told them, I am from Germany, I don’t know where is Osama Bin Laden.
MB: It’s funny you were asked this question. I think this question was asked of everybody; every person who passed through Kandahar was asked two questions – where’s Osama Bin Laden and where’s Mulla Omar? It was really funny.
MK: Because Bush said maybe you guys need to ask them a very difficult question.
MB: Yeah and that probably was a very difficult question that nobody knows the answer to until this day! The experience in Kandahar, when they put you through the process – I know from my own experience – it was one of the most dehumanising, it was one of the most humiliating. Is that something you’d like to describe? Could you describe this process of being put into American custody, how you had to go through the process before they put you in the cell?
MK: In Kandahar, it wasn’t any cells, it was outside, an open area, as I said before; behind the razor wire.
MB: Did they strip your clothes off? Did they shave you, those sorts of things?
MK: Yes, yes they did. They didn’t shave us that time but they took out our clothes and everything. Just in the first minute they started to beat me. At the same time, they insult me, said I’m a terrorist and so on.
MB: One of the things I saw in Kandahar when I was there that when they shaved off people’s hair and shaved off their beards, and they…
MK: They did. It was later on… before they sent us to Guantanamo…
MB: One of the things that I remember from that is that if you were to look yourself in the mirror, especially a person who has a beard and long hair, he couldn’t recognise himself. It would be so difficult; you don’t know who you are. They kept you in Kandahar for some time, and they interrogated you how many times?
MK: After the first thirty interrogations, I lost count, so I don’t know how many.
MB: What sort of questions were they asking you? Were they asking you the same questions again or different questions?
MK: They forced me to sign those papers. They said that I’m lying, that I’m a terrorist; that they know everything; just I’m a liar, that I had to sign those papers.
MB: And they just continually kept on saying those things to you?
MK: They threatened me if I am not going to sign those papers then they will do this, or other kind of torture.
MB: What’s the worst kind of torture they threatened you with? Did they threaten you with execution, with more torture, or what – to kill you?
MK: To kill me? It would be easy. If they kill me, you will die, to me, under torture is more difficult.
MB: One of the hardest things that people like me and you have to figure out in this that ok that was the Americans and the Pakistanis what did our own government do at this time. Are you aware of the Germans being involved in interrogation or being present in Kanadhar?
MK: The German used to know, during my time in Guantanamo, that I was over there but they didn’t do anything. Even I had contact with German soldiers, KSK soldiers in Kandahar. I thought they can help me.
MB: Did you speak to the German soldiers?
MK: I tried.
MB: These were the visiting German soldiers.
MK: The American soldiers brought me behind the truck and the German soldiers beat me up over there.
MB: The German soldiers beat you up?
MK: German soldiers.
MB: And what did the American soldiers say after that?
MK: They laughed just altogether after that and brought me back behind the razor wire.
MB: And what did the German soldiers say to you?
MK: First I thought I can talk to them behind the razor wire. First I saw them they asked me to come closer to them. So I used to stand behind the razor wire and one of the German soldiers told me, you decided on the wrong side, look at the ground. Then I understood.
MB: That he’s calling you a traitor.
MK: He’s not going to talk to me. After a while they asked the Americans to bring me behind the truck and the German soldiers used to wait over there for me. One of them, he pulled me on my hair. He said, ‘do you know who we are? We are the KSK soldiers.’ He hit my head on the floor. After, one of them kicked me in my stomach, onto my side. They laughed altogether, the American soldiers and the Germans. And after that they brought me back that was my first and last contact with German soldiers.
MB: And did you see any German officials during this time at all, anybody from the government?
MK: I can’t remember.
MB: You were then eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay. One of the things that is often reported about Kandahar is that people saw that Qur’an being ripped up and thrown into the place that was used as the toilet. Did you see anything like this happen?
MK: Yes, I did. I was in the cage, in Camp Delta.
MB: This was in Guantanamo.
MK: In Guantanamo. I saw that in Kandahar. They hold the machine gun on us and they went into behind the razor wire where we are staying at. We had to walk beside and they did the same thing in Kandahar, but also many times in Guantanamo. They went into an empty cage – they used to hang the Qur’an on the face mask. The guards grabbed the Qur’an, throw it on the floor, they kick it, then a couple of minutes afterwards he kick it into the toilet.
MB: When you saw this happen, how did you feel?
MK: I couldn’t understand how some soldiers are…
MK: how they feel… even if they thought they got ordered from those very high up, even if they disliked it…
MB: You couldn’t understand why they did it.
MK: No, of course not.
MB: Yeah… so eventually you arrived in Camp X-ray and you remained in Camp X-ray for quite some time. What did you feel when you were first brought into Guantanamo Bay, what was your feeling compared to Kandahar?
MK: They didn’t tell me I’m going to be held. In Kandahar before they make me ready for the plane they said, ‘we are going to shoot you. We are going to bring you somewhere to shoot you.’ And I laughed, because to shoot me was easier to stay with them, and I laughed. They put me in goggles, mask, handcuffs, shackles, air protection and everything they had. So after a long flight, I opened my eyes and in Kandahar (Cuba) it used to be very hot. They brought me into a cage, it’s called Camp X-ray. They get me orange suit to wear. I thought I was going to be (in there) a couple of minutes, or a couple of hours, to get ready for the prison. I didn’t know I had to live for a couple of years in those cages. I thought it’s just for a couple of minutes, because the cage was so small, that I thought it was just to get dressed and then after they were going to bring me to the prison.
MB: Did you know which country you were in? Did you understand that you were in Cuba?
MB: When did you discover you were actually in Cuba?
MK: After many days.
MB: After many days. Had you heard of Guantanamo Bay before?
MK: I had heard of Guantanamo, but I never knew there was an American base on Guantanamo.
MB: Amazing. You were perhaps the only German citizen there…
MK: I am not a citizen.
MB: Okay, sorry, perhaps the only person with German residency, or lived in Germany rather, or who was born in Germany.
MK: Born and raised in Germany.
MB: What did you think regarding the other nationalities that you saw, there were many people from different parts of the world in Guantanamo Bay. How did you interact with these people, sometimes they are speaking Arabic, Pashtu, Farsi, Urdu?
MK: The American government made the bounty of $3000 so that was the reason for it.
MB: So everybody was the same. It’s a democratic bounty, is it?
MK: They made a democratic bounty of $3000.
MB: What I mean is though really is how did you interact with these people? Some of the languages obviously you couldn’t understand.
MK: Today I speak almost seven languages. Two of them are bad because I didn’t practice, but I can speak five of them very well.
MB: And is this because of Guantanamo?
MK: Because of Guantanamo. And one of them is English.
MB: Your learnt English in Guantanamo? Ma sha’Allah.
MK: Yes, I couldn’t speak English before.
MB: What else did you learn in Guantanamo?
MK: Arabic, Uzbek…
MB: Pashtu or Farsi?
MK: Farsi, Italian – but Italian and Farsi are not the best.
MB: So before Guantanamo you couldn’t speak any English at all?
MB: SubhanAllah, it’s amazing. Ok, so going on to this then, did you ever come across any soldiers that you could regard as decent people, that you could regard as friendly soldiers?
MK: There were a couple of soldiers, when they saw how I was getting tortured, some of them used to cry, but it was just four or five soldiers during the whole five years. There was very few. There was some of them had human feelings.
MB: Did you spend much time in solitary confinement, in isolation?
MK: Altogether about a year.
MB: One year. Which camp was this?
MK: It depends… I spent much time in the India block. It’s called Block India…
MB: That’s in Camp Delta.
MK: Block India is in Camp Delta.
MB: And you spent some time in Camp Echo?
MK: Camp Echo, many times. Altogether in year one, I had to stay in isolation India Block for three months.
MB: Why would they put people into isolation, what was the reason for it?
MK: Many times they did it because I was not signing those papers…
MB: In which you agree not to…
MK: Yes, every time I refuse, they punish me by isolation. Many times they punished me because I used to feed the birds. They punished me in isolation because I feed the birds and sometimes they punished me because I did push ups in my cell…
MB: A lot of time people spend in solitary confinement they think a lot. What did you manage to do? What did you gain out of solitary confinement? can you say you gained from solitary confinement?
MK: If I did benefit… yes, I know today the real democracy. I know today the real democracy of the USA.
MB: On a personal level, sort of physically or spiritually, or any of those sorts of things; memorising Qur’an, doing lots of push up and sits up. Do you think any of that helped you?
MK: It’s enough… that’s enough that I saw many people, all of them that they are innocent and maybe there is one or two guilty, but all the other ones are innocent. It’s enough that I saw them; that experience is very important
for me. That I saw by myself and talked to them and know by myself those guys are innocent.
MB: In Guantanamo, did you also have to suffer also abuse in Guantanamo, As far as physical abuse was concerned?
MK: Of course. Many times they came with the IRF team. They used to spray pepper spray on me first.
MB: The IRF Team is the Immediate Reaction Force team, dressed in the…
MK: They come first with bullet proof armour and spray first pepper spray on you, wait five to ten minutes.
MB: So they blind you.
MK: So you cannot look at them or see them. After that they come in and beat you up that happened many times. That was just part of Guantanamo, to get beaten up, that’s normal. If it’s not happening for a couple of days you would be surprised.
MB: And how did you feel when you saw someone else getting IRF’d?
MK: I couldn’t change anything. I can’t do anything except watch.
MB: They have something called a ‘rec yard’ in Guantanamo. They call it recreation. ‘Recreation’ in English means to do things as far as an outdoors opportunity is concerned. What sort of recreation did you do in the time that they gave you outside?
MK: It was just – they just build it to make a thing of it. You go in after, a couple of minutes later and the guards will tell you that your time is done.
MB: So you’re in there for two minutes?
MK: Yes, sometimes even less than two minutes. You go in and after that they say your time is up.
MB: As soon as you’ve gone in?
MK: Yes. They try to make you fight against them or to insult them so they can punish you.
MB: They call it recreation. What could you do inside this yard? What sort of facilities were there inside this yard?
MK: You could have a little bit of fresh air, you could walk.
MB: So there was no gym equipment?
MK: There was nothing.
MB: But it’s a recreation yard! One of the bizarre things I always found about American terminology.
MK: It’s a USA democracy.
MB: A series of hunger strikes have taken place in Guantanamo and the whole world has been talking about these hunger strikes, and they have resonance here what used to happen with the Irish community, in Northern Ireland. Why did the hunger strikes happen? What was the purpose behind them?
MK: People tried to stop a couple of tortures; it was the only thing that they could do to stop just a couple of tortures. They did it to get medication for the sick; they did it to stop the guards doing it to the holy book, the Qur’an.
MB: Abusing the Qur’an. And do you think the hunger strikes had any effect?
MK: They like to see you laying over there and you are close to dying, the guards think it’s very funny, they are laughing about it, they love to see you like that. Just they are not authorised to let you die because they will get in trouble, because they paid $3000 for you – so they can’t let you die.
MB: So it’s an investment return, is it? The hunger strikes continue to this day, and there are several people including Shaker Aamer and others, who are well known in Guantanamo Bay. They were often force fed. Is that something that happened to you? Did they ever stick a tube into your nose?
MK: Yeah, they did, yeah.
MB: What’s that process like?
MK: The pipes – because they force us – they used very large pipes.
MB: Inserted through the nostrils.
MK: So it’s more painful. After the pipes filled with blood, because they stick it, they force it. Then they wait and tried another time, and many other times.
MB: Is there anyway you can resist? Is there any way you can stop this?
MK: No, they have built special chairs. I don’t know which factory did it but they built a special kind of chair where they can rope your hands by belts and your legs and from your belt, from your back and from everywhere, so you can’t move. Just they grab your head and stick the pipes into your nose.
MB: SubhanAllah. And how many people do you think were on hunger strikes at any time? What’s the most number of people who were on hunger strike at any given time?
MK: Couple of hundreds. Not a couple of hundreds… I’m not sure, but many hundreds. I can tell you by percent… once it was 90% just except couple of very sick people, anyone who was close to death, they didn’t but all the other ones did.
MB: Some people died when you were in Guantanamo.
MK: Many people died yeah.
MB: What was your reaction to the deaths?
MK: One day I heard that one guy he is ready to go home. The American military came to his cell and said ‘you are one of the next group going home’, and he was very happy. He used to talk to everybody, that he is going home soon and he was very happy about it. After a while we heard that he killed himself, from the guards.
MB: Do you know who this was?
MK: It was the same guy – he was ready to go home.
MB: He was from Yemen or Saudi Arabia?
MK: I don’t know, whether from Yemen or Saudi Arabia. But anyway this guy never would kill himself because he spent many years and he didn’t kill himself. After he’s ready to go home, he would never do it. His hands and legs were wrapped, and his mouth was also wrapped by a sheet and he used to hang that way on the fence, inside the cell.
MB: This was inside the cell?
MK: Inside the cell. The guards were watching the cells every couple of seconds. One man can’t wrap his hands and feet and hang himself, and his mouth. So I’m sure the guards did it and said that he killed himself.
MB: Did they ever explain to you, to the other detainees, how he died?
MK: They said he killed himself.
MB: They didn’t give any sort of…
MK: …and at the same time two other ones, there were three altogether, and how I said, the guards watching him, every person, every few seconds, they are looking into your cell. If they would do it themselves, if he would not see one, he’d see the other one.
MB: At the time that this happened people within the American government and the Commander of Guantanamo, he said that this is asymmetrical warfare, which means this is another way that these people, these terrorists that they fight. What do you think about this statement?
MK: That is a government using the name of democracy and doing other stuff, doing other things and if they got caught doing other things, far from democracy then they’d finding out the lie and make people believe.
MB: It’s important because to this day nobody has seen an autopsy report about how these people died and the Americans have never produced one. Recently they’ve been cases of Al-Ghizzawi and it’s said – and this is after you were released from Guantanamo – it’s said that he contracted AIDS in Guantanamo through whatever technique that they employed on him. Did you find that the medical teams that were involved, the docs, the medics, the corpsmen, were they doing their job properly? Were they giving you the medicines which you needed or giving you things you didn’t know about?
MK: Of course, they forced me many times to take medication.
MB: And did you know what the medication was?
MK: No they didn’t tell us. Then I refuse, they just went into my cell, the IRF team, they hold me and give me the injection.
MB: So you had no choice?
MB: And were you aware of anybody, did you become sick or worse after these medications were given to you
MK: Yes after they gave you injection they came to watch you. There were many new doctors doing it the first time and if one doctor never had done the operation they sent him over to Guantanamo so he could try it on one of the detainees. If he would make a mistake it would not be a problem.
MB: One of the things people often talk about Guantanamo Bay that people there are Muslims and Americans don’t understand Islam, they make fun of the adhan (call to prayer), they abuse the Qur’an and so forth. Do you think you were given the ability to practice your faith your religion properly?
MK: When I start to pray over there – when I try to pray, they kick my door. One guard, his name is Philips, when he saw me every time, praying he came, kick my door and all the other guards (behave) the same way. They open the national anthem very loud when we used to pray. They make fun of other prayers or they spray pepper spray on us because we are praying.
MB: How did people react to this? How did the detainees react to the American soldiers who did this? What did they say to them?
MK: Many detainees said just only this: even if you tell me you will kill me, I will practise my religion.
MB: So it made people stronger in their religion.
MK: Yes, there were many young guys also. They didn’t care about the torture they just continued to practice their religion.
MB: You said masha’Allah you’ve learnt all these languages in Guantanamo Bay, were you given books to read? Were you given courses that you could study? Or how did you learn these languages?
MK: I forced FBI to teach me English.
MB: Through interrogations?
MK: That’s true, yeah. During my interrogations, they brought, every time, an interpreter and I said this man (the interpreter) not out of the room, (then I’m) not talking. They tried many, many times to not teach me English, to use the interpreter. But after many months I didn’t talk, I refused many months. After that they didn’t have any other opportunity, any other choice and they had to talk to me in English. And after a while I learnt English very well.
MB: That’s funny I’ve heard other detainees call Guantanamo Bay a ‘madrassa’ (school) because they learnt so many things in Guantanamo that they couldn’t have learnt anywhere else and obviously you’re an example of that. Were you able to communicate properly with your family?
MK: No. Never.
MB: Did you have letters through the Red Cross or anything like that? Was that allowed some times?
MK: Once after many years I got a letter from my mother.
MB: One letter?
MK: It was already a couple of years old. And it used to say just hello on the beginning and everything else was blacked out and there was just the date. So I could know it’s from my mother and everything else was blacked out. I could never read a letter from my mother.
MB: SubhanAllah. During this time, my own father, your mother and many other people went to America, campaigning and doing all sorts of things. Did you know about any of this happening?
MK: No, I didn’t. Nothing. I didn’t know anything because they never could watch the news, never could listen to the radio.
MB: Newspapers… Did guards ever tell you any information, or interrogators?
MK: We didn’t even know that the war started, that there was a war in Iraq and America, we didn’t know anything.
MB: It’s funny because I remember that one thing the Americans did do that although we didn’t know officially that the war had happened in Iraq, the Americans went around and told everybody that they’ve captured Saddam Hussain. Do you remember this at all? That the Americans told everyone officially that Saddam Hussain was captured, even though we weren’t supposed to know that the war had happened?
MK: Oh yes, yes, I can remember.
MB: And people used think they’ve captured Saddam Hussain, what does that have to do with us? Why are you telling us? Do you remember that?
MB: That’s another funny one. Did you ever come across anybody called Mr Toilet?
MK: Yes, it’s Geoffrey Miller.
MB: Geoffrey Miller. The famous Geoffrey Miller.
MK: He’s a guy working as a General over there (in Guantanamo).
MB: Why was he given this title, Mr Toilet and who gave him this title?
MK: He’s only known by the name Mr Toilet so if you would say Geoffrey Miller nobody would know about who we are talking about. This man… sometimes he walked inside the blocks with all the others officers with him, behind him to take a look. When we called him Mr Toilet then he punished us with one month with no drinks for breakfast.
MB: That’s amazing. General Miller, I remember I only met him once only very, very briefly but the second time I really heard his name afterwards when I was released. General Miller, then of course, as we know, went to Bagram and then to Abu Ghraib where he became the Commander of Abu Ghraib. Did you see anything from his regime, when General Miller was in charge, was it different, and different to after he left? What were the things that you saw during General Miller’s time that were different?
MK: When he came many things got changed. There wasn’t any rules in Guantanamo when he arrived.
MB: Things were relaxed a little?
MK: There wasn’t any rules when he arrived.
MB: You mean, through the S.O.P (the Standard Operational Procedures)?
MK: He made rules after he came, that made everything more difficult and worse than it used to be.
MB: How did you find religious holidays, like Ramadhan, Eid, things like that?
MK: When I used to be in isolation, I didn’t know we had a religious holiday, because you don’t know the date; you are just in a dark room; you don’t know how many days you spent already or which day you spent or what’s going on… nothing. Once I came out from isolation and then went into the blocks, it was a religious holiday already but even if it was you don’t know the days.
MB: You don’t know the days. How did you work out the prayer times when you were in isolation?
MK: You don’t know… you just guess.
MB: So you look through the door when it opens, if you see any light.
MK: It depends which isolation you are in.
MB: Yes, that’s true.
MK: There are other isolations where you cannot see anything at all.
MB: Eventually lawyers were given access to detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Did you start seeing a lawyer in Guantanamo?
MK: It was about three years later.
MB: Three years later. Once you met the lawyer how did you feel? Did you feel that there might be some hope now that you might be released, or did you feel that there was not much hope?
MK: No, I didn’t hope anything from the lawyers. Just I tried, if he can get me coffee, It was three years had gone and I had not have a coffee. He asked me, ‘are you taking me as a lawyer? Are you going to sign those papers?’ I said, if you will get me coffee, I will look. If you can make things change in the camp… then I will sign.
MB: And did he get you coffee?
MK: And the next morning he brought me coffee.
MB: So you trusted him after that?
MK: And I took him as a lawyer.
MB: Then do you know about the tribunals, the Combatant Status Review Tribunals? Did you ever attend one of these tribunals, when they determine if you are an enemy combatant?
MK: It’s the theatre of Guantanamo. If you’d like to
see theatre in Guantanamo then you can have it every twelve months.
MB: So I take it from your answer that you did attend?
MK: Yes, the first time I thought this could be something real I didn’t know its theatre so I went but I didn’t know it was not real. But I saw it’s just a game, just a lie.
MB: You didn’t have any chance to prove your innocence?
MK: No, nothing.
MB: Any evidence? No lawyers… it’s not a court.
MK: No, no, nothing. It’s just to lie to the people on the outside.
MB: To try to justify your detention.
MB: So eventually then how many years did you spend in Guantanamo in total?
MK: Five years… in total. Altogether, when I got imprisoned in Pakistan, until the day I got released, five years.
MB: Did you think your title of your book during the time or after your release?
MK: A little bit before and also a little bit after I was released.
MB: How long before your release did you actually know you were going to be released?
MK: No, they just came – after five years, the guards came and threw civilian clothes, jeans jacket and pants over the fence – I was in Camp Four – just throw over the fence on the ground and yelled at me and told me to put it on. I picked it up and looked at it – It was a jacket, jeans jacket and jeans pants and a t shirt, and white sneakers I didn’t know where it’s going to be … it could mean another jail somewhere, whatever… or it could be a new game or a filming…
MB: So did they say to you you’re going anywhere?
MK: No, they just said to wear it. So I said goodbye to the other ones in case they would bring me somewhere else and it was the last time that I saw the prisoners in Guantanamo. After that, they brought me to a room. The camera people came, and photographs and everything. And many higher up officials brought me the same papers that I’d seen for all the years they said, ‘you are ready to go home, you just need to sign those papers.’
MB: Did you see any German officials at this time?
MK: No, but the German Government came twice to interrogate me over there and hide it from Germany.
MB: You mean they didn’t tell the German public.
MK: Yes, they hide it from the public.
MB: This was the Government or the Intelligence?
MK: The Government. So I said I am not going to sign those papers.
MB: So these were the same papers that they had been handed to you before in Kandahar?
MK: The same papers. They got very angry and said that if you will not sign it you will stay here for the rest of your life here. I said, ‘I got used to it, to be here. I am not signing, I am not going to sign it.’ They got angry and stand up and went away. After that they brought me to the aeroplane.
MB: It was a small aeroplane?
MK: It was a big plane, big army plane. Fifteen guards watched me. And the same way that they brought me from Kandahar to Cuba, the same way they flew me back to Germany.
MB: It was a German plane or an American plane?
MK: And they filled the plane in the air, I know. They are not authorised to use any airport of other countries because I am in the plane, it’s against… the world support Guantanamo. (That’s) what they did anyway, when they transported us from Kandahar to Guantanamo, but after five years people started to get scared that the public could know what it is they are supporting, many other countries are supporting the flights from Guantanamo to other countries. So they didn’t allow it and they filled the plane in the air. And after a long flight I was a free man.
MB: What was your feeling when you first arrived in Germany? Were you arrested in Germany or did you walk straight home?
MK: I walked straight home.
MB: And who met you at the airport?
MK: My mother. Not on the airport. I was on an American base. German official officers came. Police officers came and brought me to my family, close to the base.
MB: SubhanAllah. I remember the last time I met your mother was here, in this building, and I spoke to her, and we felt that she needs to speak to someone people who met her son. Your mum must have been very pleased. What about your community? How did your community to react to your return to Germany?
MK: The German public?
MB: Yes, in general. German, and everybody.
MK: It depends. Some of them are staying in the place of the government, trying to protect the government, trying to support them, so they will not get in trouble.
MB: And other people have been very supportive?
MK: Very few people have been supportive, in Germany, very few, very few only.
MB: Your experience in Guantanamo and returning back home to the world that’s supposed to be filled with terrorists, how do you feel now that you’ve returned? What are your feelings about Guantanamo?
MK: I don’t know much about the terrorists but I see people supporting governments who’s torturing people and killing people by torture. I’ve see many people supporting those kind of governments.
MB: Do you have any hopes for the future? That this will stop?
MK: Of course this will stop one day. I am sure about it that day will come and I will be very happy.
MB: Is that one of the reasons why you wrote your book, because you have hope?
MK: My book will not change much but it will help to understand the real world, where we are living.
MB: Has Guantanamo made you a stronger person?
MK: I don’t know… I don’t know.
MB: You still have to wait for the answer to that question…in your life, as you go on…
MK: I don’t know if it’s made me stronger or not but I don’t feel that I got changed. I am the same person.
MB: You have a case that you are talking about bringing against the German government who were involved in your interrogation and particularly the beating by the soldiers… is that something you think may help change German attitudes to your case?
MK: No, no. The German government closed that case many times. They don’t want me to go to trial as they know they are going to lose; that is why they are trying their best not to go to trial.
MB: But you’re still fighting.
MK: They’ve stopped it many times and it’s not happening, anything. They told me after I talked about it, the German government said in the news to the public, he is a liar. They said, Murat Kurnaz is a liar and there wasn’t any German soldiers in Kandahar. Afterwards, journalists got photographs of the German KSK soldiers during that time in Kandahar. Then they came back to the public, (saying) ‘ok, he is not a liar but they didn’t torture him. They (the KSK) used to be over there but they didn’t torture him.’
MB: So now they need photographs of them torturing you.
MK: They used to be over there but they didn’t torture him. There was truck that he’s talking about. The journalist brought the photographs of Kandahar, of the same truck, in the same place. They said, okay, the truck was there but it was not there at that place, at that date. So they asked for witnesses from British ex-prisoners who came to Germany and said that they saw the truck over there. Then they said they found something else. They asked me to show (identify) the soldiers. They brought me like 48 pictures, 48 photographs, all very similar and new photographs of the KSK soldiers. And those two soldiers used to be between those 48 photographs. They asked me to show the right gu
y, right soldiers… it was five years after and I asked them for photographs from five years ago. They said they didn’t have any photographs before five years. No actual photographs. All of them had the same clothes on. Many of them didn’t used to join the KSK even… I could recognise the guards, the soldiers. I showed them.
MB: You pointed them out.
MK: Yes. It was the right ones. He knows the guy. Between 48 photographs, after five years of torture, I could recognise them and I could show them. Ok they are the right ones, you are right. But I’m not authorised to go to court because they will lose. That is democratic position.
MB: There are over 200 detainees still left in Guantanamo. What do you feel towards these men who have been held there all this time?
MK: They need to go out of there. Every single person can do, even if it’s a small thing, he can stand up and say no against torture and that will change many things.
MB: And you think that’s what’s important for people to do everywhere: to stand up and speak out against torture?
MK: Yes, of course. They need to just say no against torture.
MB: Murat Kurnaz, jazakAllahu khairan. Thank you very much. Assalamu ‘alaykum.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)