Murat Kurnaz

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Murat Kurnaz
ISN 00061, Murat Kunn's Guantanamo detainee assessment.pdf
Murat Kunn's Guantanamo detainee assessment
Born (1982-03-19) March 19, 1982 (age 35)
Bremen, Germany
Detained at Kandahar Internment Facility, Guantanamo
ISN 61
Status Transferred to Germany

Murat Kurnaz (born 19 March 1982 Bremen, Germany) is a Turkish citizen and resident of Germany who was held in extrajudicial detention[1] by the United States at its military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan and in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba beginning in December 2001. He was tortured in both places.[2][3] By early 2002 intelligence officials of the United States and Germany had concluded that accusations against Kurnaz were groundless.[4] Nonetheless he was detained and abused at Guantanamo for nearly five more years.[5][6] He published a memoir of his experience, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo in 2007 and testified in U S Congressional hearings.[7] He and his family are now living in Germany.

Arrest in Pakistan[edit]

In October 2001 Kurnaz traveled from Germany to Pakistan hoping to study at the Mansura Center (which turned him down); he spent the next two months as a tablighi, a Moslem pilgrim sojourning from mosque to mosque.[8] In December 2001 on his way to the airport to return to Germany, Pakistani police at a checkpoint took him off a bus, and subsequently turned him over to American soldiers.[9] Later Kurnaz learned that the United States had distributed fliers promising “enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life” as a bounty for suspected terrorists.[2] Kurnaz says "a great number of men wound up in Guantánamo as a result."[2] One of Kurnaz's interrogators at Guantanamo confirmed that he'd been sold for a $3,000 bounty.[10]

Torture at Kandahar, Afghanistan[edit]

Kurnaz was chained to the floor of an aircraft with other prisoners and kicked and beaten by US soldiers on the flight to Kandahar.[11] Upon his arrival at Kandahar from beneath a sack over his head he could make out soldiers filming and photographing them. Later the US released such photos to the media as "evidence" of his capture in the Afghanistan war zone—even though he and all the prisoners had just been flown in from Pakistan.[12]

US soldiers stripped Kurnaz naked, and threw him into an outdoor barbed wire pen with about twenty other prisoners. The prisoners were left exposed to freezing cold, rain and snow.[13] The soldiers threw over the fence some MRE's ("Meals Ready to Eat") that had been opened and stripped of most of their contents. Kurnaz estimated they received less than 600 calories per day; human beings need over 1,500 calories to survive.[14]

During interrogations US soldiers would ask a question such as "where is Osama?" and punch him in the face when he said he didn't know.[15] "Hour upon hour, they repeated the same questions accompanied by punches and kicks," Kurnaz recalled in his memoirs. The interrogators refused to believe his protestations of innocence.[16] He witnessed seven soldiers using rifle butts to beat another prisoner to death.[17]

The abuse of Kurnaz escalated, including applying electric shock prods to the soles of his feet until the unendurable pain caused him to pass out.[18]

His head was repeatedly pushed into a bucket of water until he blacked out from lack of oxygen.[19]

He was taken to a building with a pulley attached to the ceiling, suspended by handcuffs on his wrists and hoisted off his feet, left there to dangle hour after hour.[16] Each time he was let down a uniformed officer with a patch on his chest that said "doctor" examined him and took his pulse, said "okay," and the soldiers hoisted him back up again.[19] They also hung him up backwards, with his hands bound behind his back.[20] Kurnaz is not sure how long he was suspended by his arms, but other prisoners informed him it was five days. Later he learned that this hanging treatment had killed prisoners at Bagram; he believes a prisoner in the room next to his also died from being hung up by his arms.[21]

Soldiers with uniforms showing the German flag who identified themselves as German KSK, special forces, came to interrogate him. Kurnaz hoped they would have to make a report, which would let German authorities and eventually his family know that he was being held at Kandahar.[22]

Torture in Guantanamo, Cuba[edit]

Early one morning Kurnaz was given new orange overalls, and his head bound in a gas mask, soundproof headphones, thick black diving goggles, and his hands in mittens. Blindfolded and tightly handcuffed cutting off his circulation, he was then punched in the face, kicked in the genitals, and left on the ground.[16]

Some hours later Kurnaz and others were chained together and herded onto a plane. During the long flight the prisoners were not allowed to sleep: "the soldiers kept hitting us to keep us awake."[23] After the cold of Afghanistan, blinding sun visible even through the goggles and extreme heat provided the first evidence that he had arrived in a different country.[24]

On the bus ride from the plane to the prison cages, soldiers continued to beat the prisoners and dogs bit them.[24] Then Kurnaz was taken to a tent, his fingerprints and DNA swabs taken, and afterwards he was taken to a cage made of chain link fence.[25] Small metal cages were to be his home for the next five years, most spent in a cage with three and a half by three and a half feet of free space.[26]

Kurnaz learned that the difference between Kandahar and Guantanamo was a system deliberately designed to inflict "maximum pressure around the clock," to humiliate and brutalize, but to keep prisoners alive to extract information. The killing of six prisoners, three suffocated on one night and three more apparently poisoned with drugged food (US authorities later claimed all six were suicides), broke the rules and created problems for the Guantanamo hierarchy.[27]

At Guantanamo Kurnaz was beaten and sprayed with pepper spray and tear gas repeatedly for invented infractions like lying down or standing at the wrong time, touching a fence, talking or staying silent, looking at a guard or failing to look at a guard.[28] He was also beaten during interrogations. A series of interrogators always asked the same questions, never believed the answers, and when he passed out from exhaustion they hit him in the face and head as "they couldn't think of any better way to keep me awake."[29] Beatings and leaving him shackled in contorted positions for days were the most common forms of abuse.[30]

During "Operation Sandman" soldiers woke Kurnaz every one or two hours to change cages, forced him to stand or kneel 24 hours a day, and deprived him of sleep for three weeks.[31] Toward the end he was semi-conscious and not able to walk, and they had to drag him from cage to cage.[31]

Kurnaz was also put in solitary confinement in a windowless refrigerator and subjected to hypothermia. He was caged in a container in the Cuban sun baking in extreme heat, and in a small airtight box so that over hours and days he suffocated slowly.[32] He was starved or force-fed; subjected to sexual humiliation; and beaten constantly.[33]

Detainees were also terrorized by the treatment of fellow detainees. A military doctor amputated both legs of a Saudi detainee named Abdul Rahman because of frostbite. Kurnaz watched from the neighboring cage as soldiers beat the legless man's fingers off the chain link fence when he tried to pull himself up to sit on his toilet-bucket. Dragged out for interrogations with his stumps dangling, he would return with his face bloodied from beatings.[34] Another had frostbite on one finger and a military surgeon amputated all his fingers leaving only his thumbs.[34] A third complained of a toothache and the dentist pulled his healthy teeth.[35] Wounds and fractured limbs, including fingers broken during interrogations, were left untreated.[36] Kurnaz's health suffered over the years but he "tried to avoid being taken to the doctor at all costs. I wanted to keep my teeth, fingers, and legs."[36]

American and German intelligence agencies had concluded that Kurnaz was innocent of any involvement in terrorism by early 2002. Nonetheless he was held at Guantanamo under these conditions and brutalized for five years, until 2007.[2]

Military tribunal declares him enemy combatant[edit]

After two and a half years at Guantánamo, in 2004, Kurnaz was brought before a military tribunal.[2] The Combatant Status Review Tribunals began after the US Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush that detainees had a right to due process and habeas corpus to challenge the grounds of their detention. A Summary of Evidence memo was prepared for each detainee listing the allegations that supported detention as an "enemy combatant".[37][38] Tribunal rules forbade Kurnaz from seeing or challenging his file.[39]

The evidence against Kurnaz included his association with an alleged suicide bomber named Selcuk, who in Pakistan had traveled to the airport on the same bus with Kurnaz. In fact Selcuk had never been arrested nor involved in any bombing; he is married and lives in Germany with his family.[7][40] The other evidence was that Kurnaz had accepted food and hospitality from mosques in Pakistan, and some mosques may have been associated with a suspect Islamic missionary group called Jama'at al Tablighi.[41] Based on this evidence the tribunal ruled Kurnaz a dangerous “enemy combatant,” a member of Al Q'aeda.[41]

First Meeting with American Lawyer[edit]

In October 2004 — after two years of abuse and weeks after the tribunal had already ruled him an "enemy combatant"— a civilian American lawyer, Professor Baher Azmy succeeded in getting an interview with Kurnaz. Professor Azmy brought a handwritten letter from Kurnaz's mother, the first Kurnaz learned his family knew of his situation and was working for his release.[42] His mother's German lawyer had heard the US Center for Constitutional Rights represented Guantánamo detainees; they assigned Mr. Azmy.[2] Azmy also showed Kurnaz newspaper and magazine clippings indicating the outside world was paying attention to his case.[43] Kurnaz was one of the first three Guantanamo prisoners allowed to see an attorney.[44]

Kurnaz shared with other prisoners news he had learned from the lawyer: a war in Iraq; a new government in Afghanistan; and a US judge had ruled the Guantanamo military tribunals unconstitutional.[45] As a punishment for speaking to the lawyer and telling others what he had learned, guards shut up Kurnaz for a month in the asphyxiating oven called Block India, "the harshest punishment there was." They accused him of "talking to the others about Jihad."[44] But it was worth it, Kurnaz said, because "We were connected to the world again! We knew what was happening outside Guantanamo!"[46]

Documents reveal him innocent[edit]

Kurnaz's lawyer challenged the legality of his detention in a Washington, D.C. federal court. A writ of habeas corpus, Murat Kurnaz v. George W. Bush, was submitted on his behalf in October 2004.[47] His case was one of nearly 60 reviewed and coordinated by Judge Joyce Hens Green of the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia.

In response to Kurnaz's habeas corpus petition, on 15 October 2004, the Department of Defense published 32 pages of unclassified documents related to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal. In 2005, Kurnaz's entire file was declassified, through a bureaucratic slip-up. During the brief window when it was declassified, in March 2005 the Washington Post reviewed all the evidence against him and published a summary.[48]

The file documented that both German investigators and United States Army investigators failed to find any evidence of a tie between Kurnaz and Al-Qaeda or involvement in any terrorist activities, and had concluded he should be released in 2002.[48] Nonetheless US authorities continued to hold Kurnaz at Guantanamo, abuse and pointlessly interrogate him, until the late summer of 2006.

Rioting and deaths of inmates[edit]

During Kurnaz's detention there were several incidents of inmates fighting back, whether with violence or hunger strikes, usually triggered not by the routine abuse, but rather by US soldiers desecrating the Koran.[49][50]

Fighting with the only weapon they had, the inmates emptied their toilet buckets over soldiers who had thrown the Koran on the dirt floor.[51] After the arrival of General Geoffrey Miller in late 2002 (the abuse considerably worsened during his command) the inmates coordinated a welcome, emptying their buckets of excrement on him as he walked past their cages.[52] Thereafter inmates called him "Mr. Toilet."[52] For dumping excrement on General Miller, the punishment Kurnaz reported was relatively mild—an extra month of solitary confinement—but later for insulting him there was no food for the whole cellblock; rations were halved for about forty days.[53]

Three rebellious prisoners subsequently were poisoned. "One evening, out of the blue, the guards had brought us baklava" saying it was to celebrate the release of some prisoners.[27] The release they had in mind proved to be death. One of Kurnaz's neighbors fell asleep in his cage, and lay unmoving with a white froth around his mouth. Kurnaz learned two others were removed from their cages dead in a similar state. US authorities said the three prisoners simultaneously committed suicide by taking pills. A lie, Kurnaz said, since "[n]o one had any pills, and we were searched, orally as well, three times a day."[54] In addition, two of the men had been cleared for release.

After another incident of desecration of the Koran, Afghan prisoners tore down a ceiling fan, honed one blade sharp on the next, and attacked their captors using the fan blades as swords.[55] No soldiers were killed though some were badly bloodied. Three more prisoners subsequently died. "Dinner had come early that evening" and everybody in the cellblock "suddenly got tired and fell asleep." The metal shutters in front of the windows were closed. That night soldiers carried three of the prisoners out of their cells dead, pieces of torn sheet in their mouths and other torn sheets binding their arms and legs.[56] US authorities said they too had committed suicide.[56]

Release in 2006[edit]

Kurnaz's release came not because of courts and lawyers, nor because the US government admitted his innocence — but because of German government diplomatic pressure, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel's face-to-face appeal to American President Bush.[57]

On February 12, 2006 Deutsche Welle reported that German authorities were negotiating Kurnaz's repatriation.[58] The German magazine Focus reported in 2006 that the Bush administration was trying to tie the release of Kurnaz to Germany's agreeing to accept four other Guantanamo detainees.[59] The USA had cleared approximately 120 detainees for release or transfer. But many could not be returned to their countries of origin. The German and American governments denied that Kurnaz's release had been tied to Germany accepting other detainees.[59] Focus reported that the German government has agreed to accept one other detainee, not four, and that the Americans had not informed the German government of the identities of the other detainees it wanted them to accept.[59]

Kurnaz was released on August 24, 2006. As during his arrival at Guantanamo, he was transported to his destination by plane, restrained in shackles and wearing a muzzle, opaque goggles, and sound-blocking ear-muffs, and denied food and water during the 17-hour flight.[60]

Life in Germany after release[edit]

After his release Kurnaz published his memoirs Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo in German, English, French, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and Polish (a year later) editions. Excerpts were published serially by The Guardian beginning April 23, 2008, and Palgrave Macmillan published an English translation of the book in the United States the same year. Author John le Carré called it "[t]he most compassionate, truthful, and dignified account of the disgrace of Guantanamo that you are ever likely to read."[61]

Kurnaz also testified via videolink in 2008 to a United States Congressional hearing.[3]

He cooperated in the investigation of German soldiers who had interrogated him in Kandahar.[62] According to an articles by the United Press International, Deutsche Welle and Reuters Kurnaz picked out the pictures of his interrogators from photos he was shown of members of the German military's elite KSK unit.[62][63][64][65] The German Ministry of Defense initially denied that KSK members were in Afghanistan at that time.[62][63][64] By May 2007, they acknowledged that the KSK had officers in Kandahar and had contact with Kurnaz. Although the investigation was eventually dropped, the government conceded abuse may have occurred.[66]

In 2007 a German Parliamentary inquiry undertook investigation of the extent to which German military and counter-terrorism authorities participated in the United States extraordinary rendition program.[62][63][64]

On June 15, 2008 the McClatchy News Service published a series of articles based on interviews with 66 former Guantanamo captives, including Kurnaz.[67][68] In the interview Kurnaz said that since his return to Germany, he has lived with his parents. He has a desk job, which he enjoys. He says he does not hold ordinary Americans responsible for the abuse he endured.[68]


  • (English) Murat Kurnaz: Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo Palgrave Macmillan April 1, 2008. ISBN 978-0-230-60374-5
  • (German) Murat Kurnaz: Fünf Jahre meines Lebens. Ein Bericht aus Guantánamo (Five Years of My Life: A Report from Guantánamo). Rowohlt, Berlin April 2007. ISBN 978-3-87134-589-0
  • (French) Murat Kurnaz: Dans l'enfer de Guantanamo. (In the Hell of Guantanamo) Paris: Fayard, 2007. 306p. ISBN 978-2-213-63425-8
  • (Norwegian) Murat Kurnaz: Fem år av mitt liv : en beretning fra Guantanamo. Oslo, Norway, 2007. ISBN 978-82-92622-33-9
  • (Danish) Fem år af mit liv: En beretning fra Guantánamo af Murat Kurnaz. Klim, 2007. ISBN 978-87-7955-582-2
  • (Dutch) Murat Kurnaz: In de hel van Guantánamo, Forum, 270p. ISBN 978-90-492-0002-2
  • (Polish) Murat Kurnaz: Guantanamo: pięć lat z mojego życia. Wydawnictwo W.A.B., 2008. ISBN 978-83-7414-493-3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AlterNet: Rights and Liberties: Disappeared: Five Years in Guantanamo". Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Murat Kurnaz (January 7, 2012). "Notes from a Guantánamo Survivor". New York Times. Retrieved 2016-03-02. 
  3. ^ a b "Christian Science Monitor: Guantánamo ex-detainee tells Congress of abuse". Retrieved 2008-05-21. 
  4. ^ Anton Dankert (September 26, 2002). "Interrogation team has just reported in by telephone from the base in Washington" (PDF). The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-01-09. Delegation head MA Räuker asks that - because of numerous noteworthy details - he be able to personally present Pt on September 30, 2002 upon his return. 
  5. ^ "Turk Was Abused at Guantanamo, Lawyers Say", Washington Post, August 25, 2006
  6. ^ "Meeting Murat Kurnaz: A Visit with a Man Wrongly Detained at Guantanamo", Der Spiegel
  7. ^ a b "Guantanamo ex-detainee tells Congress of abuse", Christian Science Monitor, 22 May 2008, accessed 24 January 2013
  8. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 25.
  9. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 33.
  10. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 47.
  11. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 48.
  12. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 50.
  13. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 64.
  14. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 56.
  15. ^ Murat, Five Years 2007, p. 58.
  16. ^ a b c Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 58.
  17. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 70.
  18. ^ Murat, Five Years 2007, p. 69.
  19. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 72.
  20. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 75.
  21. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 76.
  22. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 80.
  23. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 92.
  24. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 93.
  25. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 95.
  26. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 156.
  27. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 215.
  28. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 101.
  29. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 163.
  30. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 146.
  31. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 178.
  32. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 179.
  33. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 164.
  34. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 109.
  35. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 110.
  36. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 111.
  37. ^ OARDEC (September 22, 2004). "Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal: KARNAZ Murat" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. pp. 76–77. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  38. ^ OARDEC (date redacted). "Summarized Sworn Detainee Statement" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. pp. 101–110. Retrieved March 5, 2016.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  39. ^ Alan Freeman (February 1, 2005). "U.S. military tribunals at Guantanamo ruled unconstitutional". Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  40. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 196.
  41. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 198.
  42. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 201.
  43. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 203.
  44. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 205.
  45. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 206.
  46. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 207.
  47. ^ "Murat Karnaz v. George W. Bush" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. 15 October 2004. pp. 91–122. Retrieved 2008-05-25. 
  48. ^ a b Carol D. Leonnig (March 27, 2005). "Panel Ignored Evidence on Detainee". Washington Post. pp. A01. Retrieved 2008-01-20.  mirror
  49. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 149.
  50. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 188.
  51. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 150.
  52. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 192.
  53. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 193.
  54. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 216.
  55. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 213.
  56. ^ a b Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 214.
  57. ^ Kurnaz, Five Years 2007, p. 251.
  58. ^ "Germany Negotiates with US to Free Guantanamo Prisoner", Deutsche Welle, February 12, 2006
  59. ^ a b c Germany asked to take in four Guantanamo prisoners, Khaleej Times, July 1, 2006
  60. ^ Lou Dubose (July 7, 2007). "Disappeared: Five Years in Guantanamo". The Washington Spectator. Retrieved 2007-07-11. During the seventeen-hour ride, the prisoner was provided with neither food nor water. Nor was he allowed to stretch his legs or relieve himself.  mirror
  61. ^ Murat Kurnaz (2007). Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantànamo. Rowolt Berlin Verlag GmbH. ISBN 978-0-230-60374-5. (John Le Carre's view was reprinted as a jacket blurb on the front cover)
  62. ^ a b c d "Did German soldiers abuse ex-prisoner?". United Press International. January 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-08. 
  63. ^ a b c "German Soldiers Accused of Abusing Terror Suspect". Deutsche Welle. January 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-08. 
  64. ^ a b c "Germany probes 2 in ex-Guantanamo inmate abuse case". Reuters. January 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-08. 
  65. ^ John Goetz, Holger Stark (September 3, 2007). "German Soldiers under fire: New Testimony May Back Kurnaz Torture Claims". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2007-09-03. 
  66. ^ IHT, "German prosecutors drop investigation into alleged abuse of prisoner in Afghanistan", International Herald Tribune, 29 May 2007
  67. ^ Tom Lasseter (June 15, 2008). "Guantanamo Inmate Database: Page 1". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  68. ^ a b Tom Lasseter (June 15, 2008). "Guantanamo Inmate Database: Murat Kurnaz". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2008-06-16.  mirror

External links[edit]