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Kurnaz spent almost five years in captivityImage: AP

Remembering Guantanamo

DW staff (tt)
April 24, 2007

Former Guantanamo inmate and German-born Turkish citizen Murat Kurnaz has published a harrowing account of the time he spent in the notorious US prison.


Beatings, amputations and torture were parts of the excruciating daily routine with which Murat Kurnaz claims to have lived for almost 5 years. The 24-year old German-born Turk was a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay and the subject of a legal battle with the German government of the time, who, according to Kurnaz, failed to secure his release when they had the chance.

A shackled detainee at Guantanamo Bay
The US was prepared to release Kurnaz from Guantanamo in 2002Image: AP

His memoir, entitled "Five Years of My Life," which hit German bookstands on Tuesday, paints a disturbing picture of Kurnaz' ordeal.

"I understood a long time ago what this prison was about," Kurnaz said. "They could do with us whatever they wanted."

Kurnaz was arrested in Pakistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Kurnaz insists he didn't travel to Pakistan to fight alongside al Qaeda, but rather to work for an Islamic "Salvation Army" to help the homeless, among others. Kurnaz claims he was "sold" to US soldiers by unscrupulous bounty hunters. He was then taken to Afghanistan, where he faced torturous interrogations.

No help from Germany

According to his own account, Kurnaz was left for days to hang by his hands that were tied behind his back and that were attached to electrodes. He hoped in vain that the German authorities would help him out.

German Interior Minister Otto Schily
Otto Schily said the German government did what it had to do to protect its citizensImage: AP

"One of the German soldiers came, pulled my head up and asked if I knew who they were," Kurnaz said. "He said they were the elite force, the KSK, and slammed my head on the floor. Later another one came up and kicked me and the group of soldiers started laughing."

Kurnaz was subsequently transported to Guantanamo. In the book, he accuses the US soldiers there of gross maltreatment. He describes how doctors would make unnecessary amputations and how guards would hand out regular beatings. Kurnaz himself spent over a year in solitary confinement, suffering from extreme cold, heat, darkness and oxygen deprivation.

"I never imagined I would come out of it alive," Kurnaz said. "I presumed I could die at any minute. I was often unconscious due to the pain and the cold. My body couldn't take any more."

Personal intervention

It wasn't until August 2006 that the newly elected Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened personally to secure Kurnaz' release from Guantanamo. The US was reportedly prepared to release him as early as 2002, but the Germans were allegedly reluctant to allow him to return to Germany at the time -- a fact that sparked uproar and prompted a parliamentary inquiry.

The question whether Kurnaz did represent a terror threat and whether the government of the time should have done more to free him is the subject of an ongoing investigation. According to former Interior Minister Otto Schily, however, the Social Democratic-Green party government coalition headed by Gerhard Schröder responded adequately to the situation.

"We have a responsibility for the safety of our citizens," Schily said. "And that includes keeping people out of our country who represent a danger to our security. And that was the case with Murat Kurnaz."

Now back in his home city of Bremen, Kurnaz says he just wants to get on with his life. He says the book is not intended to settle any scores, but rather to tell the world how his co-prisoners lost their legs, hands and lives in Guantanamo Bay.

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