FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

What you are allowed to think and what you do think are two different things, aren't they? That's another way of saying that this forum may be NSFW, if your boss is a Republican. A liberal won't fire you for it, but they'll laugh at you in the break room and you may not get promoted. Unless you're an engineer, of course, in which your obsession with facing reality is not actually a career-disabling disability.

Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:11 pm

Part 2 of 2

Early one morning, when we prayed together for the first time, they threatened to shoot us. But we kept on praying. If they wanted to shoot us, we thought, let them shoot. They didn't. They just yelled and made threats. Then a commander or some high-ranking officer came and spoke to us. He said we would be allowed to pray at the appointed times. Not because he wanted to do us any favors, but because he realized that we would rather die than not say our prayers. And they didn't want us to die because they still needed to interrogate us. From then on, we started our prayers standing, then knelt down and bowed our heads toward the East. We weren't able to wash our hands, but our faith allows us to wash with sand if there isn't any water-it's called teyamum. We cleansed our hands with sand.

When it rained, the water would sting our faces and skin like needles. Everything turned to mud. The ground was pure sludge, and you felt you might get washed away in the mud and the water. Often we'd huddle together to keep warm. Then the rain would stop, the wind would kick up again, and the cold would creep into my head. The ground froze. My overalls remained wet and clammy. I could even see the cold. I saw it in the thick gloves, jackets and overcoats worn by the soldiers and the face masks they had under their motorcycle helmets. Their entire faces were covered by the masks, with mere slits for their eyes.

We weren't allowed to get up and move around except for prayers, no matter how badly we froze. But we could hardly move anyway because we were so undernourished. 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.

In the evening, we were herded into the hangar and given an Emarie. In the morning, we were given some Afghan white bread-one loaf to be split among five prisoners. They simply threw the loaves of bread over the barbed wire. Sometimes they'd land in the dirt. Then the soldiers would throw plastic bottles of water over the barbed wire. A half-liter per person, per day. Sometimes they didn't give us any water or any bread. One morning we were all given blankets. From then on we were allowed to use the blankets for a couple of hours. Then we had to hand them back or leave them lying on the ground next to us.

At night we had no blankets. But in any case there was little opportunity to sleep. The soldiers came at night and made us stand for hours on end at gunpoint. Every prisoner was interrogated at least once a day. Interrogations also took place at night. We had to stand up and sit down. There were interrogations and beatings. Then we'd have to sit down and stand up again, When we were allowed to use the blankets, I would pull mine up over my head. After a while, my breath would warm the air underneath. But the blanket would get clammy and moist, and the moisture would freeze.

We hardly had a moment of rest. When I was lucky, I could lie down for half an hour. My breath froze on my overalls. Sometimes I asked myself which was better: the interrogations and beatings in the tents, or crouching around outside in the pen, where every few minutes we had to get up and line up against the barbed wire. At least it was warm in the tents. But you also had to deal with the uncertainty. Many people never came back from the interrogations. Had they been brought somewhere else? If so, where?

One time when the escort team came, the soldiers were carrying a long crate that looked like a coffin. But there were holes in it. They called out a number, and the rest of us had to line up against the barbed wire. I bent my head and peeped over my shoulder. The prisoner whose number had been called was lying on his stomach. The soldiers bound him, picked him up and put him in the crate. I heard them speaking to one another, but I only understood isolated words: dangerous and caution. They were saying the man was dangerous. They used belts inside the crate to tie the prisoner up like a package. Then they put down the lid and took him away.

That was how it went, day in, day out.

Nonetheless, I still hoped that I would get an interrogator whom I could convince of my innocence. I still thought they would find out that I had gotten married shortly before my trip, that my visa was legitimate, that I'd never been to Afghanistan, and that I was training to become a shipbuilder. A few more calls to Germany and they would find this out, and then they'd send me back home.

But every time I was brought to interrogation, they didn't listen to me, and I only understood a fraction of what they were saying and asking anyway. I could only answer the things I had understood. Often they acted as if I spoke perfect English. They even said sometimes, You speak perfect English. We know you do. Don't try to fool us. I recognized some of the officers who interrogated me. Then there would be new faces. But the interrogations were all the same. They recited the names and telephone numbers of my friends and tried to get me to admit to being a Taliban. They hit me and tried to get me to say: "Yes, I'm a Taliban," or "Yes, I'm from Al Qaeda" or "Yes, I know where Osama is." That was all they were interested in hearing.

I had no chance. My only hope was that someone from the German authorities or the German military would turn up.

We changed pens almost every day, moving from one barbed-wire enclosure to the next, and finally to ones that the soldiers had built under tarpaulin roofs. About two weeks after I arrived in the camp, I met a couple of Turkish men. Finally I could make myself understood and understand what someone else was saying. It was like salvation. And not only did they speak my language, they could also speak some Arabic, so they were well-informed about practically everything. I learned a lot from them. Where I was, what was going to be done with us, and who the Americans thought we were.

The Turks said we were in Kandahar.

I asked how they knew that. The camp could have been anywhere. All we could see were mountains!

They said the Afghans knew exactly what region we were in. I had no doubts any more. At least I've seen another country, I thought bitterly, and I didn't even have to pay for the trip.

I knew the two Turks had been taken prisoner in Pakistan just as I had. They told me. I didn't ask where and how that had happened, or what they were doing there. You don't ask things like that in a detention camp. The Americans asked us every day where and how we were captured and what business we had in Pakistan. If you came back and asked your fellow prisoners the same questions, you quickly got a reputation as a spy. Then you would have been shunned. In all those years, I always behaved the same way. I listened if someone wanted to tell me something, but I didn't ask any funny questions. The two Turks have since been released from Guantanamo, I'd like to see them again, To protect them, I'm going to call them Erhan and Serkan.

***

One day, people from the International Red Cross came to the camp and stood in front of our pen, Some of the prisoners went up to them and spoke with them, One of them was German, He addressed me in English, and when I explained where I was from, we switched over to German. He asked me if I wanted to write a letter to my family so that they would know where I was. Of course I wanted to. The German had long hair. He had a moustache, wore glasses, and was probably in his mid-forties.

He told me I wasn't allowed to write the letter myself. That was against the rules. I had to speak to him very loudly to make myself heard over the noise of the fighter jets landing and taking off. He stood in front of the barbed wire, paper at the ready, and I dictated a few lines to him. To the best of my recollection, this is what I said.

My dear family,

I'm sure I've caused you a lot of worry. I'm sorry for that. I can't write myself -- as you can see, this is not my handwriting. I am currently imprisoned at an American military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. They're trying to make me out to be a terrorist. I don't know what the future holds. Every day we are beaten, but I'll get through it, I hope we'll see each other soon. Forgive me for all the trouble and worry I've caused you.

Your son, Murat


I gave the man my address and my parents' telephone number in Bremen, I told him that the German authorities must have already known that I was here. If the letter reached its destination, my parents would learn where I was -- in case the authorities hadn't informed them yet. Maybe they could do something from Germany. And in case it was too late by then, at least my mother would know for certain how I had died.

That same evening, the escort team came and brought me to be interrogated. The officer held my letter in his hand. He showed it to me and then hit me. He said:

"That kind of stupid letter will never get to your home ..."

I understood that clearly.

"We're not stupid," the officer explained. "If you want to write a letter home, you have to write it differently. 'I'm doing fine. I feel all right. Don't worry.' That sort of thing, you understand?"

Of course, they weren't stupid. I shouldn't have written anything about torture or anything like that. But I had hoped that the man from the Red Cross would be humane enough to call my parents.

The officer tried to begin the interrogation. I said nothing. I didn't say a word that evening, no matter how often they hit me.

Today I know that the man from the Red Cross never called my parents. I also know he was forced to sign papers, agreeing not to pass on any information to the outside world, and that he had no choice but to agree to the conditions of the Americans, the rules of the camp. The only information that made it out of the camp was what they released. Nothing could be repeated, even orally, as another Red Cross representative explained to me later in Guantanamo. I never saw the German man who didn't call my mother again. Perhaps he took his work very seriously. Maybe he didn't want to lose his job. But I ask myself: Doesn't a person have a duty to help a fellow human being in a situation like that?

***

Again I was moved, put together with different prisoners and taken to be interrogated. The escort team brought me to one of the tents. There they told me to sit on the ground with my legs stretched out. I didn't understand and tried to kneel as always. But they said: Sit! Sit down! Then they pushed my legs to the ground. I was to stretch them out. Two soldiers held my feet tight. Others grabbed my hands and pushed on my shoulders so that I could no longer move.

"So, you're not a terrorist?" one of the interrogators asked. "You're not from Al Qaeda?"

I could tell from his tone of voice that they were trying a new approach.

"Today we're going to find out," said another interrogator.

Did they have a lie detector? I asked myself. The man was holding something in his hands. It looked like two irons that he was rubbing together. Or one those machines used to revive people who have heart attacks. Before I realized what was happening, I felt the first jolt.

It was electricity. An electroshock.


They put the electrodes to the soles of my feet. There was no way to remain seated. It was as though my body was lifting itself off the ground of its own accord. I felt the electric current running through my entire body. There was a bang. It hurt a lot. I felt warmth, jolts, cramps. My muscles cramped up and quivered. That hurt, too.

"Did you change your mind?"

"What?"

I don't know how long they held the electrodes to the soles of my feet. It could have been ten or twenty seconds, maybe longer. It felt like an eternity.

"So how is that?"

The man rubbed the electrodes together and again touched them to my feet. Again I felt the cramps, the tremors, the hot pain.

"Funny, huh?"

The electricity crackled like a series of caps being hit with a hammer. They were like little bolts of lightning in my ear. If I could look inside my ear, I thought, there would electricity there-you could see electricity. At the same time, I heard screams.

They were my screams. But it seemed as though they were coming from outside my body, as though I had nothing to do with them. My whole body was quivering.

"Did you change your mind?"

"No, no ..."

"Okay, try this!"

I heard myself screaming.

"Do you remember now who you are?"

"No, yes, no ..."

"Okay, how about that ..."

I heard my heart. It was beating loudly and very strangely. Quickly and then slowly again.

"Do you know Osama?"

"You ... Taliban ...?"

"... Atta ..."

I could hardly hear the man any more. I thought I was either going to pass out or die. But he always removed the electrodes from my feet. That was the worst thing, knowing that the pain would come again, until you thought there was no way you could take it any more.

I think I passed out. That was probably when they stopped.

It was night. I had been able to get some sleep, when suddenly I was awakened by screams. They came from some distance, from the second, open hangar, which was nothing more than a metal frame. I saw two soldiers hitting a man who was lying amidst some chain-link fencing on the ground. I could see that the prisoner's head had been wrapped in a blanket. The soldiers hit the man's head with the butts of their rifles and kicked him with their boots. Other guards and soldiers came up and started hitting and kicking him, too. There were now seven of them.

There were around a hundred feet between our pen and the open hanger. I noticed that the man was no longer moving. The soldiers kept kicking him. Then they walked away, leaving him lying there. Why, I asked myself, hadn't they chained him up and brought him back to his pen?

The next morning, the prisoner was still lying on the ground. I could now see that his head was completely wrapped in the blanket. How could he breathe, I asked myself. He was lying in a pool of blood.

That afternoon I saw four officers come and inspect him. They took notes. A short time later the escort team arrived. They unwrapped the blanket from his head, picked him up and put him on a stretcher -- without restraining him. His arms and legs dangled lifelessly.

He was dead.

We all knew he was dead.


I wondered to myself if he had any children. Whether his mother and father would ever find out that he had been beaten to death. At that moment, I didn't care whether it was him or me. My life was worth nothing more than his. I'd understood for quite some time what this camp was about. They could do with us what they pleased. And I might be next.

***

I entered the tent. What were they going to do to me now? They hadn't used electroshocks during my last few interrogations. They'd hit me as always, but that was it. At least it was warm in the tents.

On the table, there was a shallow, blue plastic bucket about 20 inches in diameter, full of water. I didn't know the interrogator. There were three officers there to ask me questions, with two soldiers as guards and assistants.

"So you still don't want to tell the truth," said one of the officers. "We will make you talk."

I knew what was coming.

They pushed my head into the plastic tub.

It's like bobbing for apples, I thought. Back in grade school in Hemelingen we had bobbed for apples at the school parties our teachers organized. It was a simple game. There was an apple floating in a bucket of water, you put your hands behind your back and tried to fish it out using only your teeth. Whoever succeeded first, won the game. But there was no apple in this bucket.

I wasn't afraid, but I was very nervous. I didn't know whether I was going to survive. I thought of something I'd learned with the tablighis at the mosques in Pakistan. It was the words of the prophet Abraham as he was about to be cast into the flames. Habe allahu we ne emel wekil: He is your Protector. What a splendid Protector.

Someone grabbed me by the hair. The soldiers seized my arms and pushed my head underwater.

In Islam, there is an idea that anyone who is forced to suffer a death by drowning will be given a great reward in the afterlife because it's a difficult way to die. I tried to think about that, while they held my head under water. Drowning is a horrible way to die.

They pulled my head back up.

"Do you like it?"

"You want more?"

"You'll get more, no problem."

When my head was back underwater, I felt a blow to my stomach. I had to exhale and cough. I wanted to breathe back in but forced myself not to, and I suppressed the urge to cough. Still, I inhaled a bit of water and could hardly hold my breath.

"Where is Osama?"

"Who are you?"

I tried to speak but I couldn't.

"More!"

I felt blows to my stomach and against my back. I swallowed some water. It was a strange feeling. I don't know whether the water went to my lungs. It became harder and harder to breathe, the more they hit me in the stomach and pushed my head underwater. I felt my heart racing. They didn't let up. I tried to answer their questions when I managed to get a breath of air, but all I could manage was "yes" and "no." I was choking. I felt like I was going to vomit, then I coughed and spat. I was dizzy and nauseous.

When they pushed my head under again and hit me in the stomach, I imagined myself screaming underwater.

Habe allahu we ne emel wekil!

I would have told them everything. But what was I supposed to tell them?

"I ... don't know ..."

The prophet Abraham didn't feel the flames.

Back in the pen, I spoke to another prisoner who had also been subjected to the waterboarding treatment. He said he had swallowed lots of water. He gestured, as though he were shoveling something into his mouth with his hand. Then he rubbed his belly to show how swollen it had been.

We couldn't help laughing.

***

The next morning, the escort team came yet again.

"053, get ready!"

I was being summoned for interrogation.

They led me to the hangar where we were usually given the Emaries. What was I doing here, I asked myself. They took me down a long corridor, then opened a door made of corrugated aluminum and pushed me inside. It wasn't a room, just a pen enclosed by aluminum and chain-link fence. Hanging from a beam was a hook like the ones used in butcher shops. A chain dangled from the ceiling.

The soldiers took the chain and ran it underneath my handcuffs. They looped the chain over the hook like a block and tackle and fed it into a winch. I was hoisted up until my feet no longer touched the ground. They clamped the chain to the beam and then left without a word, shutting the corrugated aluminum door behind them.

The cuffs cut off the blood to my hands. I tried to move. I tensed my shoulders, hunched my head into my neck and swung my legs. I tried to climb up the chain. I raised my legs and was able to maintain that position for a while. But then I had to lower them and wait. I relaxed my muscles. You can't fight against something like this for long. No one has that sort of strength.

I knew they were going to leave me hanging there until I couldn't take it any more. 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 sockets. I tried to breathe evenly to conserve energy. At some point, I began rocking myself back and forth in the hope that would get my blood flowing. But every movement hurt, no matter how tiny. Especially in my wrists and elbows. The best thing was just not to move and resign yourself to the pain. All I could do was let go. But letting go is impossible when you're under that much strain. I know now that people can die from this sort of treatment. Their bodies just can't take it.

At some point, hours later, someone came and let me down. A doctor examined me and took my pulse. He was wearing a uniform like the other soldiers, but he had a badge of rank on his shoulders, and a patch on his chest said: "Doctor."

"Okay," he said.

The soldiers hoisted me back up.

Three times a day, the soldiers came with the doctor and lowered me. In the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. At least I think it was morning, afternoon, and night.

I began to ask myself which was worse: bobbing for apples or being strung up from the ceiling.

At some point, someone came and started asking me questions. I could hardly understand him, but I already knew what he was asking. My answer was no.

My hands had swollen. In the beginning, I'd felt pain in them. Later on, 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.

When the interrogator arrived, they would lower me for a while. He would ask me if I had anything to say, whether I had changed my mind or had a different story to tell. But I could no longer speak.

The next time they lowered me, I could no longer stand. My legs buckled as if they were matchsticks, and I fell to the ground. The doctor examined my fingernails. My fingers were blue, and I felt a stabbing sensation. A stethoscope was hanging from his neck. He took my blood pressure. I could no longer feel anything in my hands at all-even the stabbing sensation had gone away. He pulled a penlight from his shirt pocket and shined it in my eyes.

I was no longer capable of answering, even if he had asked something. I couldn't understand a thing. I didn't even know whether he was saying anything in the first place. After he left, they hoisted me back up again. The doctor only seemed to be interested in how long I could stand this treatment. At some point, I didn't even register when he was there. I could only remember his visits because afterward I was hoisted up again. I could feel that, and I would open my eyes again. I don't know how long I lay on the ground in the intervals.

A lot of the time, it felt like I was falling asleep.

***

When they hung me up backwards, it felt as though my shoulders were going to break. They bound my hands behind my back and hoisted me up. I could remember seeing something like that in a movie once-only in the film, it was Americans being strung up by Vietnamese with their hands behind their backs until they died. I'm an athletic guy, I thought. Maybe I could pull up my legs and flip over so that I'd be hanging forward. But I was too weak.

I woke up when they hoisted me back up. I think it was a different day. This time, they hoisted me up higher than usual. Then they just left me dangling there. Before, my feet had been fifteen inches from the ground, now it was a good yard. Previously I had heard how they had hoisted up another prisoner on the other side of the aluminum wall, and I had seen the chains on the adjacent beam. Now I could see over the wall.

I didn't recognize the man. He was hanging as I was from the ceiling. I couldn't tell whether he was dead or alive. His body was mostly swollen and blue, although in some places it was pale and white. I could see a lot of blood in his face, dark streams of it. His head lolled to one side. I couldn't see his eyes.

I hardly moved, but once in a while I tried to swing myself back and forth a bit, even though it hurt. Just to do something. Several times a day, they lowered and examined me, then hoisted me back up. But no one carne to lower the man next to me. They had forgotten him. He just hung there in the same position. I thought about the prisoner with the blanket wrapped around his head. They didn't seem to care whether we died. That man is dead, I thought. He looked like someone who had frozen to death in the snow.

I watched his chest for a while. Nothing moved. There's no way to survive if you're never taken down. I assumed the worst. That was something I learned over the years. Always assume the worst. Because that's how it's going to be.

And that's how it was.

***

I was strung up for about five days. As far as I could tell, it must have been between a minimum of four and a maximum of five days. Other prisoners in my pen told me it had been five days. I didn't think I would make it. I kept thinking, I can't take any more. Every person has his limits, and I often believed I had reached mine.

Today I know that a lot of inmates died from treatment like this. Other prisoners also saw our fellow prisoners die from being strung up. In Guantanamo, rumors went around that many people had died this way in Bagram, another U.S. military base in Afghanistan. Almost all of the prisoners at Guantanamo had been held first in either Bagram or Kandahar. And there were many people in Kandahar who never returned to their pens after being interrogated.

Later, my lawyers told me that some of the prisoners who disappeared had been set free while others had simply never been heard from again. Sometimes, you would see someone you thought was long dead. One of them was Yassir, an Arab American I met in Kandahar. I didn't know he was in Guantanamo, although we both spent time in solitary confinement in the same cell block. At the end of my imprisonment there, I learned from my American attorney that he had been freed. What's more, not all prisoners were tortured with the same intensity. They carefully selected certain prisoners to be treated especially harshly.

For example, Dilawar. He was a taxi driver from Afghanistan. There was talk that he had been transporting a generator in his car, and when they stopped him, they accused him of using it to fire rockets. They hung him up and beat him until he died. He probably died of thirst.

Thinking back on my time in Kandahar, I can't cry, and when I talk to someone who was in Guantanamo, we laugh about it. We laugh a lot about how we were beaten and how we used to listen to one another screaming. What else are we supposed to do? Sit down and cry? It happened, and now it's over. Either I talk about it seriously, or I feel like I have to laugh. So I laugh. But I haven't forgotten a thing.


***

It's strange. I'm sitting here in my room, and everything is the same as when I was thirteen: the CDs I used to listen to are still on the shelf, Tupac and Snoop Dogg. The same curtains hang in the windows, my model boat is on the window sill, and my barbells are on the floor. It's as though I never got any older. When I first returned to my room, after being imprisoned for five years, I ate some mandarin oranges. Mandarins are good. I sit here and think about Kandahar, and I feel at home. I'm well fed, and the house is warm. I can eat and drink. Everything is here.

But I've learned that pain is part of life. That's the way life is.

***

When they finally took me off the hook, I lay on the ground for two days. I slept as much as possible. I hadn't eaten anything and hardly had anything to drink. Sometimes they offered me something to drink, but they'd just pour the water over my head and laugh. Once they stuffed an apple in my mouth and told me to eat. But I couldn't eat, and the soldiers laughed.

Then the escort team came and brought me back to the pen. It was raining. I lay down in the mud. I could still hardly move, and I fell asleep. At some point I had to go the toilet. I went to the bucket.

Then a woman came. Female soldiers often came and watched when we went to the toilet. We had to remove our overalls almost completely to use the bucket. It was humiliating. The women cracked stupid jokes about our private parts.

About fifteen soldiers, approximately one-third of them women, patrolled in shifts. It was only the women, not the men, who said anything, when we went to the toilet. I tried only to go to the toilet when there weren't any soldiers nearby. My fellow prisoners were polite enough not to watch.

Later on, soldiers appeared and called my number. They escorted me from the pen and told me to stop and get undressed. It was winter, and they had a bucket of cold water, which they poured over my head. They enjoyed that. The women stood in a circle around me with their weapons and laughed.

I was ashamed, but I wasn't voluntarily naked. I don't want to repeat what they said, although I remember most of it. They called this treatment the "shower." Some of the other prisoners were also treated this way, and in my case it was usually at the hands of female soldiers. Perhaps it was because, even though I'd lost a lot of weight, I had been in very good shape.

"053, get ready for your shower!"

Ha ha.

Although the water was ice-cold, it felt burning hot on my skin. Sometimes even the water in the bottles that they threw over the fence of our pen was frozen. We could only drink it after we had warmed it up underneath our overalls.

Ha ha.

The prophet Abraham was stripped naked before he was cast into the flames. That's why it is said that he will be the first to receive clothing in paradise. "The help of Allah alone is what I need!" Abraham said when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to offer him his assistance. "God is my protector. I expect help only from him." They threw Abraham into the fire. But he didn't feel the flames, and he wasn't burned. Allah commanded the fire not to burn him, and Abraham felt fine in the flames.

***

I sat in my usual spot and thought about what would happen next. Two prisoners sat beside me, Erhan and Serkan, or sometimes it was an Arab or an Afghan. We were moved repeatedly. Every couple of days they'd build a new pen, and new prisoners would be brought there. I met some Uzbeks from Afghanistan-their language is like ancient Turkish. There are some eight million people of Turkish descent living in Afghanistan, as I found out; they come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which border Afghanistan to the north. In Kandahar I began to learn new languages. The Uzbeks also spoke Farsi, and that was helpful because they could help me talk to the Afghans.

"053, get ready!"

I looked around. It was dark.

I went to the fence. A short distance away, next to the Americans, were two other soldiers wearing different uniforms. I noticed that immediately, even in the darkness. I'd never seen uniforms like that in the camp. I studied the uniforms and saw the colors of the German flag on their sleeves. German soldiers? Were these the German soldiers I'd been hoping for? Somehow, I had the feeling that these two soldiers weren't going to get me out of here and take me back home. Still, perhaps it would be possible to send a message back home.

"That's him," said one of the Americans. "That's the German guy."

The German guy. Had the two soldiers come here because of me?

Now I could see them better. They really did have German flags on their epaulettes. One soldier had dark hair; the other was blond and a bit more powerfully built.

I could see their faces. They nodded and looked me in the eye.

"Picked the wrong side, didn't you," said the dark-haired one in German. "Look at the ground!"

That was all they said. They didn't ask me anything, and they didn't seem to want anything from me. I sat back down on my spot.

A half hour later, my number was called again. I lay on my stomach with my hands behind my back, and they put the cuffs on. The escort team led me to a military truck. Behind it were the two German soldiers.

Were they waiting for me? What did they want? Would they help me perhaps?

The escort team threw me to the ground in front of their feet. I heard the Americans step back. The dark-haired soldier approached. He bent down to me and grabbed me by the hair. He pulled my head up and turned it so that we were staring each other in the eye.

"Do you know who we are?" he yelled, again in German. "We're KSK. German special forces."

I didn't say anything. This was not the time for a conversation. I lay there at his feet in the frozen mud, and he held my head in his hands.

Then he slammed my nose into the ground.

The soldier stood up, and I felt a kick. One of the two German soldiers had kicked me in the side. I couldn't see which one it was.

They hadn't come here to help me.

The German soldiers laughed. I heard the escort team, too, begin to laugh a little further off.

Then the Germans went away. They just left me lying there. The escort team came, picked me up and led me back to the pen. I was sitting in my spot again. My head buzzed, I felt nauseous, and my nose was bloody. I asked myself why they had treated me like that. The Americans tortured me because I was supposed to confess to being a terrorist. But why did the Germans do that? Did they hate me for being Turkish?

Still, I hoped that something good would come of the situation. The German soldiers would probably have to file a report. They wouldn't report that they had abused me, but they would mention that they had seen me in the camp. They had to tell the German authorities about me. Then not only my family, but also the state would know that I was being held in an American military base in Kandahar.

That same evening I saw the German special-forces soldiers patrolling the camp with the American troops. As they approached our pen, I could see the blond soldier showing the Americans his machine gun. It was very different from the M-16s the Americans carried. To demonstrate how it worked, the German soldier shouldered his weapon and pointed it at us. I could now see that it was equipped with a laser aiming device. I saw the red dot wander through the gloom, stopping on the heads of the prisoners. The German special forces soldier was only a few meters away from us and was aiming at our heads.

The Americans seemed to be fascinated by this. The dot from the laser went from head to head.

Other soldiers joined their group, expressing their enthusiasm for the weapon.

***

One day, the first of the prisoners were led away in groups. Word was that they were being moved. But we quickly realized they were being taken away from the camp. But where to? We didn't know. Then someone said they were taking us all away by plane.

They always came and took ten to twenty people. They always took a few people from every group, from every pen. This went on for a couple of weeks. Once a week, the same procedure. The prisoners all had to approach the fence, and those whose numbers were called had to get ready for the escort team. We never saw them again.

The camp was full of rumors. Some people thought they were taking us to a prison in the United States. Others believed we were being set free since they couldn't prove anything against us. Others still thought we were going to the electric chair. For days, we talked about how we were going to die.

"No," said one of the Uzbeks. "In the United States, they inject you with a needle full of poison. You're given some sleeping pills, and when you're unconscious, the poison is injected."

"How do you know?" asked someone else.

"I saw it in an American movie called Dead Man Walking. About some guy. In the end he was dead, but he wasn't walking."

We couldn't help but laugh at that.

"No way," said a Pakistani, who claimed to have been in the United States and know the country. "We're going to fry."

"They'll hang us," said the Uzbek. "They still have the death penalty by hanging in the United States."

"They've already hung us," I said and held up my hands.

We kept speculating about how they were going to kill us.

I had been reunited with the two Turks in the same pen, and we could talk with one another.

"But why would they want to torture us to death if we're innocent?" asked Serkan. We asked ourselves what was going to happen next, whether Turks would come and get us and put us in jail.

I had known Erhan and Serkan for some time, but it was only on the final night before we were taken away that I learned where Serkan was from. He said that he had a small carpenter's shop in his hometown. I asked him which town. Sakarya on the Black Sea, he said.

That was where my mother came from.

I had a lot of relatives there, I told him. Every year we went there and spent the summer in a village just outside the main town.

He told me about a certain spot on the sea where I had often gone swimming too. His carpenter's shop was located at a street crossing where an old eucalyptus tree stood. I remembered the street and the tree. Perhaps we had seen one another there on the beach.

***

I didn't sleep a wink that night. For the first time, I thought again about Turkey, about Sakarya, the town where, a few months previously, I had married Fatima. I thought about my grandfather's village, Kusca. My grandfather grew hazelnut trees there. He made his living from them, just as half of the village had for generations.

I saw the grove in front of his house.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:12 pm

Chapter 4: KUSCA, TURKEY

THE VILLAGE OF KUSCA IN THE SAKARYA REGION OF Turkey is surrounded by mountains, but they are full of trees and other lush greenery. The air is warm and soft-it smells like salt and cough drops. Not far from my grandfather's house, the sea rolls in. You can hear the sound of the waves from his yard. A river flows behind his hazelnut grove. I called my grandfather Dede.

As a child, I used to play every summer amid the trees. When I was hungry, I'd pluck a few nuts from the branches and crack them open. The shells were so soft that I could crack them with my teeth. I'd climb up into the branches and then jump down to the ground. I'd hunt for mice with switches that I carved from the supple branches. But what we liked most was sliding. My cousin Ibrahim and I would often steal metal sheets from my Anane's (Anane is Turkish for grandmother) oven or my mother's, my aunt's, or our neighbors' stoves. Our hazelnut grove sloped steeply toward the river. We'd take the metal sheets, which smelled of baklava and bread, sit on them, and slide down the hill. The sheets were big enough so that we could lie on our stomachs and pick up a head of steam. Sometimes we'd go tumbling or land in the water. We ate hazelnuts until we were about to burst and our stomachs ached. In Dede's garden there were also fruit trees, cherries, and apples.

My mother had a sister and two brothers who still lived in the village; we had a big family. I often went swimming with my uncle in the Black Sea. Or sometimes I'd get up on his tractor, and my uncle would let me steer. It was a nice life. We went fishing in the river, using nets instead of poles. We threw back what we'd caught. Anane bought her fish in the village, since it was very cheap.

Sakarya was pure freedom, I thought that night in the prison camp. When we wanted to go fishing, we went fishing. When we wanted to go swimming, we went swimming. Even the cows went swimming, I remembered. The farmers would bring them to the river and herd them in. And when we wanted to go riding, we went riding. We had a horse.

There were animals in the grove, including snakes, some of them poisonous. As long as I didn't frighten the snakes, they wouldn't bite. They would slither over my legs. It would feel raw and cold, and then they'd disappear. I didn't like walking through the brush, though, because I couldn't see where I was stepping. I killed a few snakes out of curiosity, but normally I did them no harm.

One time when Ibrahim and I were older, I saw a very long yellow snake. We had been tramping through the brush on the edge of the grove, and suddenly the snake appeared in front of me. Its skin was glowing yellow, and its belly was white. It was lovely, but it also looked very dangerous. I took a thick branch and bashed it on the head. It rebounded into the air, and I quickly stepped to one side. I hit the snake repeatedly on the head, but it was like the creature was made of rubber. Ibrahim stood there and watched, laughing.

"What are doing?"

''I'm trying to kill the snake. It's dangerous. Come on and help me!"

Ibrahim laughed. He went and got a twig from one of the hazelnut trees and stripped the green bark quickly and skillfully, as if it were a peel, from its hard, white, and very moist interior.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "What good is that little twig?"

Ibrahim grinned. He stood in front of the snake and rubbed it a couple of times gently on the head and belly with the twig. The snake became calm. Then it stopped moving entirely. It was dead.

"How did you do that?" I asked.

"It's like poison for snakes," he said. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it was true.

This was new to me, that strength and aggression aren't always the best answer. I had played with twigs like this as a child and even chewed on a couple of them. The sap didn't hurt me. But for snakes, it was deadly.

***

I had spent the summer before I was captured in Kusca as well. That was five or six months ago, I thought. It seemed so long ago.

I had announced to my parents that I wanted to get married and start family. I was old enough to look for a respectable woman. A multesima-a Muslim woman who adhered to the rules of Islam.

I had had enough of the girls in Germany. I had had enough of discos and Turks who used and dealt drugs and got sent to prison. And I was sick of my job as a bouncer.

I wanted to do something sensible. I had had both Turkish and German girlfriends. They only lasted a couple of weeks, and sometimes I even had two simultaneously. It was just for fun. I was seventeen or eighteen years old, and I did what all my friends did. Now I wanted to put that behind me.

A multesima wouldn't hang around in discos. She wouldn't cheat on me or disappoint me. I could have children with her. But you had to marry a multesima, and before I could do that, I had to change my life. I had to become pious and live according to Allah's rules. That's what I did. In the past, I had occasionally drunk alcohol. I put an end to that, and I quit all my jobs as a bouncer.

One day, my aunt called and said she knew a young woman in Kusca I might like. Her parents were religious people. She told me about her and sent a photo.

In Turkish villages, when a young woman reaches a certain age, the family of the young man visits her parents' house and tries to reach an agreement with her family. If the young woman and the young man agree, things can happen very quickly. In our village, there were two large families: mine and Fatima's. My aunt had known Fatima since she was a child. She used to help out around the house.

I called Fatima and we agreed to meet in the summer. We didn't know whether we would like each other. I only had two weeks' vacation because I was about to complete my apprenticeship as a shipbuilder. My whole family drove to Turkey as part of a convoy in my father's Mercedes, as we always did. There were a number of families from Bremen or the surrounding area who were driving to the same region in Turkey or at least in the same direction. Along the way, we would stop and eat together, and other Turkish-German families would join us. At times there were as many as ten cars in the convoy. Turkish people don't like to travel alone. My father took his vacation, and Ali and Alper were on holiday from school. My aunt and uncle were expecting us. I had the time of my life.

My aunt arranged a meeting with Fatima. According to our rules, a man is only allowed to meet with an unmarried woman if a third person is present. It doesn't have to be the parents. The point is that everything stays decent. We met at my aunt's.

When I saw Fatima for the first time, I immediately liked her. I told her about Bremen and how I had grown up. I told her about my apprenticeship, the discos, the kung-fu studio, and I made it clear that I had become a religious person. She and my aunt listened carefully. I told her that I wanted to live with my future wife in Bremen. There was talk that we might marry. Then she told me about herself. At the end of our meeting, I said that I would think things over and that she should do the same-then we could tell one another what we'd decided.

I was already sure after our first meeting that Fatima was the right one for me. I didn't need to meet her a second time. So I asked my parents to start the necessary steps. We don't propose marriage by bending down on one knee in front of the bride-to-be. Our parents make the arrangements among themselves, once we have made our decision. My parents delivered my proposal to Fatima's parents. First, in line with our tradition, they had to go shopping. Allover Turkey there are stores where you can buy whatever is necessary-everything from a suit to a bridal dress to gifts for the bride's family. One such gift is a special kind of handmade chocolate that isn't meant to be eaten, but rather kept as a memento. My parents drove to a store in Sakarya and bought a watch for Fatima's father, a suit for Fatima's brother, a blouse for her mother, a headscarf, and other such items. Everything was wrapped up nicely. Then my parents and my grandmother went to visit Fatima's family with their gifts.

Salam alaikum -- Alaikum salam. They had tea. Tradition demanded that I not be present at this meeting. In accordance with custom, my parents introduced my proposal, invoking the "command and will of God" and presenting the flowers and gifts, including the chocolate on a silver platter. Fatima's parents then said, also in keeping with tradition, "We'll . consider it." Fatima's father knew me, we had met once in the mosque. He remembered me well-but of course he wanted to know what I did for a living and what my future looked like financially. His daughter's wedding would be a somewhat sad occasion for him since he wouldn't be seeing her very often, if she lived in Bremen.

In the end Fatima's father said, "If our children would like to marry, let it bring them happiness." Then he asked Fatima, and she said yes. Everyone shook hands. Then they discussed the details of the wedding. If they hadn't accepted my proposal, Fatima's parents would have given back all the gifts.

Weddings, so people believe in Turkey, always bring good luck. So we spare no expense. It's a question of honor. Every detail of the ceremony is prescribed and follows tradition. One week before the wedding, it was announced via loudspeaker in Kusca and the neighboring villages that Murat Kurnaz was going to marry the daughter of family X (I'd prefer not to give their name) from Kusca. All the inhabitants of the villages were invited.

On the eve of the wedding, the men and the women in our families celebrated separately. The women sang sad songs about Fatima's departure from her childhood home. She wore a red headscarf as a sign of grieving and my mother gave her gold jewelry.

***

The wedding ceremony took place in my aunt's yard. Hundreds of people came. We sat at a table decorated with flowers, were served like royalty, and got lots of presents. We were given a Koran (a symbol of faith), a candle (a symbol of light) a mirror (a symbol of enlightenment), and rice and sugar-the symbols of fertility and the sweetness of life.

We exchanged rings, bound together with a red ribbon. We were happy. My mother was happy-my father, too, although he had to pay for everything. But he wasn't thinking about money. That is our custom, and many Turks save up for a long time in order to be able to celebrate a wedding some day.

My vacation was coming to an end. Fatima and I had agreed that she would stay with her parents until I had taken care of the formalities in Bremen so that she could emigrate to Germany. That was supposed to be around Christmas. My family stayed in Kusca. I took the bus alone to Istanbul and flew back to Germany.

On the plane, I started to worry. I was now married. I had longed for a wife, and Fatima was a pious multesima, just as I had wished. But what did I know about our faith? I had prayed in a few mosques, but the mosques didn't teach us much about Islam. I hardly knew anything about the Koran, about how it had been written and how it was meant to be read. I knew very little about the prophets and the laws and the commandments. How was a pious husband supposed to behave? What were my responsibilities?

I hadn't even really learned to pray properly. For a multesima, what I knew wasn't enough. My German friends in Hemelingen had learned about Christianity in school or during communion and confirmation. Religion wasn't taught at my school, and as a child I'd mostly skipped the lessons on Islam at the mosque. I could go back there and sit among six-year-olds in order to catch up but it would take years in Germany until I'd learned everything-there are Islamic schools in Germany, but they are only open on the weekends.

So I thought about what my friends in Bremen had told me about the Jama'at al-Tablighi organization. At mosques in Hemelingen and in the center of Bremen I had heard about the Masura Center in Lahore. There I'd be able to learn everything I needed to know in order to be a good husband and a good Muslim in less than two months. That's how I imagined it on the plane back to Germany.

A stewardess came and asked me if I wanted something to drink. I didn't look at her. That much I already knew: If I was going to be a good Muslim, I was no longer allowed to look at another woman. We refrain from doing this not out of a lack of respect for women, but because we hold them in such high regard. I looked at the floor of the plane and ordered a Coke.

I had thought about going to Pakistan and studying at the Mansura Center for some time; now my mind was finally made up. I could go there and be back by Christmas. It was my last chance, and my last adventure, before Fatima came to Germany.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:12 pm

Chapter 5: GUANTANAMO BAY, CAMP X-RAY

"053, GET READY FOR THE ESCORT TEAM!"

It was still dark. The numbers of Erhan and Serkan and of the two Uzbeks were also called. It was our turn.

We were gathered at a spot in front of the open hanger, led off one by ne, and brought to a tent. There they cut off our beards and shaved our heads. At least they would no longer be able to drag me around by the hair, I thought.

We received new orange-colored overalls, and they chained us back up.

"We're gonna put you now into the same cave with Osama bin Laden," said the soldier who had shaved my head, "and then we're gonna shoot you."

They didn't put a sack over my head this time. Instead they wrapped it up like a package with soundproof headphones, a gas mask, blinders, and watertight, thick black diving goggles. The soldier tightened the handcuffs so that they immediately began to hurt. It was hardly bearable.

"Too strong," I murmured underneath the mask. I was trying to tell the soldier that the handcuffs were too tight, but I didn't know the right word.

"Let me see," I heard another soldier say, who must have been standing next to the first one. I held out the cuffs in his direction, but he tightened them even more around my wrists. You bastard, I thought. He put something thick and stiff over my hands-gloves or maybe mittens. Then he hit me in the face and kicked me in the genitals. I fell. They carried me out of the tent and threw me on the ground. I was told to lie there on my side.

"You guys are going to get shot," the soldier said.

That I understood. And as I lay there for four, five, or maybe six hours in front of the hangar, I also understood the purpose of all of the get-up. The gloves weren't meant to warm my hands, and the headphones and mask weren't there to protect my ears and face. They were there to ensure the soldiers' safety, so we couldn't bite, scratch, or spit at them. We couldn't cough any bacteria into their faces, spread any germs, or infect them with a disease. They didn't care whether we suffocated under the masks.

I knew what awaited us: a first-class flight. They chained us together and herded us onto the plane. We were bound so tightly we couldn't move a millimeter. Again, I thought that they were taking us to an American military base in Turkey. What else was I supposed to think?

Sleep would have been the only consolation in such a situation. But the soldiers kept hitting us to keep us awake. I thought about the American movies I had seen in Bremen. Action flicks and war movies. I used to admire the Americans. Now I was getting to know their true nature.

I say that without anger. It's simply the truth, as I saw and experienced it. I don't want to insult anyone, and I'm not talking about all Americans. But the ones I encountered are terrified of pain. They're afraid of every little scratch, bacteria, and illness. They're like little girls, I'd say. If you examine Americans closely, you realize this-no matter how big or powerful they are. But in movies, they're always the heroes.

The flight must have lasted twenty-seven hours. Somewhere we made a stopover. We weren't able to move throughout the entire flight. They never loosened the restraints, not for a moment. We didn't know where we had landed or where they were taking us. We didn't even know if we were going to arrive alive.

***

I felt the heat immediately and could hear the barking of dogs in spite of the soundproof headphones. Through the goggles, I could perceive the bright light of the sun. On the runway, the first prisoners collapsed. They took off our face masks. The sunlight was blinding. We were told to lie on the ground. I kept my eyes closed. I heard the clicking of cameras. We were being photographed.

"Don't move."

I carefully opened my eyes, but all I could see were boots on the glittering concrete surface. They put our masks back on- ine was a bit loose. They herded us into a bus. It was white. It was dark inside the vehicle. There were no seats in the bus, just hooks attached to the floor. They chained us to the hooks so that we could neither sit nor stand properly. They kept hitting us, and the dogs, which had been taken onto bus, bit us.

"Don't sit like that!"

A blow followed.

"Sit differently!"

Another blow.

"Sit up straight!"

It was unbelievably hot on the bus. We must be in a country with warm winters, I thought. Southern Turkey? It was February or March. Maybe somewhere near the city of Adana. Adana could have been this hot. It was definitely above ninety degrees.

I felt the bus drive across a bridge or an on-ramp. Then we stopped. The bus began to sway. We must be on a ship, I thought. They were kicking us constantly, and the ship listed to one side. Is there an American military base on an island off the coast of Adana, I asked myself. Or are they taking us to Cyprus? Then we rolled back down the ramp and left the ship. At some point-we couldn't have driven more than a half-hour -- the bus stopped.

"Get out! Out!"

We had to kneel and lower our heads to our chests. There was a crunching sound. From under my mask, I could see gravel. I don't know how long exactly we knelt there. Several hours. The heat was unbearable. In Afghanistan and on the plane, it had been ice-cold. The soldiers were constantly yelling and hitting us. At last, I was allowed to stand up. The soldiers pushed me forward, and I stumbled barefoot across the gravel. The way was long, with lots of left and right turns. They yelled at me the whole time.

"Terrorist!"

"We'll kill you!"

"Motherfucker!"

Then a soldier yelled, "Stop!" Someone took the mask from my head. I was standing in a tent. I saw a name tag. It was the first time I saw a soldier with his name on his chest. I will never forget it. Two other soldiers held my arms tight. They took off the gloves.

"I speak German," said the man with the name tag. "We're going to have a really great time together."

A number of soldiers were busy doing things to me. They pulled out hairs from my arms, put a swab in my mouth, and took my fingerprints. Someone was always fiddling with me. The procedure took quite a while. I kept looking at the one soldier's chest, at his name tag. I was weighed, and they measured my height.

"Name?" they asked.

Murat Kurnaz.

Spelling!

K-U-R-N-A-Z.

It was a wonder to me that I could still talk. I hadn't slept properly in weeks because of the noise from the planes, bombs, and electrical generators in Kandahar and because of the interrogations. But at least I was standing up. I was happy to be standing because we sat the whole time on the plane. I didn't know how I was able to stand. It was almost as though the name tag on the male soldier's chest was keeping me upright. I will call him Cecil Stewart.

They put an armband on me. There was a new number on it: 061. It was green and made of plastic.

"This is a nice place," said one of the soldiers who had taken hair and saliva samples. "Lots of trees."

Trees? Were they making fun of me?

He pointed outside the tent.

The tent door was open. I couldn't see any trees. I saw hills. Hills and sand and cactus. Big cactus. There aren't any trees where cacti grow.

"Do you know why you're here?" I heard the man with the nametag ask.

"Do you know what the Germans did to the Jews?" he said. "That's exactly what we're going to do with you."

Someone grabbed me by the shirt and pushed me out of the tent. Outside I saw a number of tightly packed rows of chain-link fence. It was like a labyrinth. I saw another prisoner in his orange overalls being led through the fencing. The soldiers immediately threw me to the ground. I landed on the gravel. "Lie there!" The man with the nametag pressed his knee into the back of my neck, pushing my face into the gravel, so that I could no longer see the other prisoner and the escort team. Only when they were out of sight did we move on.

Where is the prison they're taking me to? I asked myself.

We passed through a number of doors in the chain-link fence and arrived at a pen, also made of chain-link fence. These were cages. Prisoners in orange overalls were already sitting there, each in their own little cages. One beside the other, all in a row, like tigers or lions in a zoo. The labyrinth had to be pretty big if we were all going to fit in here. Surely these strange cages were only an intermediate station. But all I could see around me were hills and cactus. Maybe the prison was over the crest of one of the hills. The soldiers opened up a cage and pushed me inside. I was told to kneel.

"You are Charlie-Charlie-3. Say it!"

"Charlie-Charlie-3," I said. I had trouble understanding. Why was my cage called Charlie-Charlie-3?

Then the soldier took off the chains and locked the door in the fence.

"Sit down!" they ordered.

I sat down.

"Don't move!" they snarled.

I didn't move. They yelled something else that I didn't understand, but I suspected it was about how they were going to kill me. But surely they could have done that a lot more easily earlier. The soldiers left.

***

I thought they would come back in a few minutes and get me. I sat somewhat more comfortably Indian-style and collected myself. I rubbed my wrists and ankles, which were swollen and bloody. At least they had taken the cuffs off. That felt better, and I calmed down a bit, even though I felt a stinging sensation, as if being poked by a thousand needles. I need to distract myself so I looked around.

In the cage, there were two plastic buckets, the color of eggshells and semitransparent. One contained some water that stank. Perhaps for washing, I thought. The other seemed to be the toilet. There was a thin foam mattress, less than an inch thick, on the ground and a blanket on top. Next to the blanket were a piece of soap, a towel, and a pair of flip-flops. We'll be taking these new things with us, I thought. We're probably just waiting here while they prepare our cells.

The prisoners in the other cages greeted me.

Salam alaikum.

Alaikum salam.

One of the prisoners in a nearby cage looked like an Afghan Uzbek. He, too, greeted me. I asked him in Turkish how long he'd been here, but he didn't understand. I tried to communicate with my hands. You? Here? I counted on my fingers: one, two, three, four ...

The Uzbek answered in his native tongue and held up all his fingers twice: "Twenty." I took this to mean twenty minutes. He'd been in his cage twenty minutes longer than I had in mine.

I waited. Someone would soon come and get us. Still seated, I measured my cage with my hand. I knew from my shipbuilder's apprenticeship how long the span between my thumb and little finger was when my fingers were stretched out. So I didn't need a measuring tape to figure out that the cage was six feet by seven. It was around six feet high. All told, it was less than fifteen square feet. In Germany, there's a law that kennels in the animal shelter have to be at least twenty square feet. I knew that because I myself had been a dog owner.

I waited and looked around. Not far from me, a prisoner was being led through the chain-link fences. He was still wearing his mask and the soundproof headphones, and I heard the soldiers screaming at him. They kept walking back and forth along the same passageway. Now I understood how we had come here. I thought that we had walked a long distance, but the spot where we had been forced to kneel for hours before they took the mask off was only a few yards away from my cage. We had kneeled directly beside one another, but we didn't know that. They led us around in circles until we thought that we were in a large camp or a prison. But the whole time we had always been in the same place within the maze of chain-link fence pens.

I thought, if it's March, my birthday is coming up. What a surprise.

Suddenly I heard a quiet splashing. A frog was swimming in the bucket of water. I had only ever seen them on television- frogs don't live on the Weser River in Bremen. It must have been looking for water in this desert. Where had it come from? I fished him out of the stinking water. It sat on my hand and looked at me, breathing rapidly. I tried to pat it gently, but it hopped to the ground and disappeared through the fence.

Hour upon hour I waited. No one came. No one was brought away and relocated. In the end, guards came with something to eat. On paper plates, as I saw from a distance, but it was something. Until now we had only ever gotten Emaries. I was looking forward to eating some real food. Maybe everything would get better. It couldn't be any worse than in Kandahar.

That would prove to be a mistake ... in every respect.

As the guards approached my cage, all I saw on the plate were three spoonfuls of rice, a slice of dry bread, and a plastic spoon. That was it. They shoved the plates through a small square opening around knee-height within the fencing. I thought there must be some sort of mistake. Perhaps something had fallen off the plate. Then I saw the rations given to the Uzbek. It was the same miserably tiny pile of rice, or maybe even less. I would have rather had an Emarie. At least they contained crackers.

I ate the rice and looked at my armband. The rice was cold and not fully cooked; the kernels were as hard as sand. But it was all I had to eat. My armband read: "Kunn, Murat, male, Turkish, 5-foot-4, 165 pounds."

They had misspelled my name-after all the time they kept me in custody and despite having confiscated my travel papers. I drank some water from the bucket. I was exhausted. The difference in climate between here and Kandahar was enormous.

Suddenly, within a matter of minutes, the sky grew dark. The sun was gone, and harsh bright lights were switched on. The light came from neon lamps affixed to the corrugated aluminum roof and a large number of spotlights that were mounted on sentry posts and the fences. It reminded me of the soccer stadium in Bremen. From loudspeakers that must have been hanging somewhere, there came some static and then a call to prayer. The time for evening prayers was a while ago, I thought, but then suddenly the voice was drowned out by loud music. It was the American national anthem. I heard the other prisoners start to complain, but that didn't help. At some point, I knelt, carried out the prayer ritual and said as well as I could in Arabic: "Praise be to Allah. Allah hears all who praise him." I bowed thirty-three times. Rock music was now blaring from the speakers, almost too loud to bear. The volume was louder than in any Bremen disco I'd ever experienced.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the Uzbek hadn't been saying he'd been in his cage twenty minutes longer than me. He had meant twenty days. They weren't going to be taking us to prison today. That was all right by me. Despite the light and the noise, all I wanted to do was sleep.

But I couldn't sleep. Every few minutes, guards came and pounded the fence with their nightsticks. Every few minutes someone, sometimes next to me and sometimes in front of me, killed something in his cage and threw it out-snakes, rats, and spiders, The guards' boots crunched on the gravel And then there were the 1,000-watt spotlights.

The guards returned. We all had to get up and "identify ourselves." We had to extend our hands through the opening in the cage where the food had been shoved through, so that they could read our armbands, Later they pounded on the fencing of my cage because I had my hands under the blanket.

"Take your hands out!"

Later still, they rattled the fencing because I was lying on my side.

"Lie on your back!"

At some point, I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

***

Camp X-Ray had been built especially for us, and true to its name, it was supposed to be a prison camp in which everything was completely transparent, This was something entirely new, There were no cells where you could be alone, There was no privacy, no protection from the watching eyes of the guards or the cameras, not even for a second, The cages were so small that it drove you to desperation, At the same time, nature-and freedom-were so tantalizingly close it could make you go crazy, An animal has more space in its cage in a zoo and is given more to eat. I can hardly put into words what that actually means.

The cellblocks all had a second roof of corrugated tin, but the cages were still somewhat in the wilderness, The sun beat down, and there was no refuge in the shade unless the sun was shining directly on the tin roof, which hung about a foot above the chain-link fence roof proper of the cages, The aluminum also heated up fast, We were just as exposed to the rain since it always was driven in from the side. You couldn't escape it no matter which comer of the cage you crept into.

The camp contained six cell-blocks: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot. The blocks were separated by narrow corridors through the chain-link fence pens. Every block had six wings, also named from Alpha to Foxtrot. Awing consisted of ten cages arranged at a right angle. Every cage had a name: Alpha-Bravo 1, Bravo-Charlie 5, Delta-Alpha 9. I was in Charlie-Charlie 3. There were high chain-link walls around the six blocks, interrupted by guard towers with sharp- shooters.

The initial days in Camp X-Ray weren't easy. I didn't know we were in Cuba. I had no idea what rules applied here. The rules were constantly changing anyway, and you'd get punished for breaking them. The first night I learned that I was only allowed to cover my legs, and nothing else, with the blanket, and that I wasn't allowed to sleep on my side, only on my back. In the days that followed, I learned that I wasn't allowed to get up and walk around my cage. 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 touch the fence or even lean our backs up against it. 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, did something I shouldn't have, the IRF team would come and beat me.

IRF stood for "Immediate Reaction Force" and consisted of five to eight soldiers with plastic shields, breastplates, hard- plastic knee-, elbow-, and shoulder-protectors, helmets with plastic visors, gloves with hard-plastic knuckles, heavy boots, and billy clubs. I would say they were thugs. Thugs whose entire bodies were protected by bullet- and knife-proof gear. They didn't have weapons with them other than the billy clubs-probably because they were afraid of us getting our hands on them.

I often saw fear in their eyes as they stood in front of our cages and waited to be deployed, even though we didn't have shoes on and were already cowering on the ground. They came with pepper spray in a kind of pressurized aerosol gun that they could aim precisely at a prisoner from ten feet away. It contained oleoresin capisicum, which is made from chili peppers. They sprayed the entire cage and waited until the prisoner was completely unable to resist. Then they stormed in.

***

"Getup!"

"Hurry!"

"Getup!"

I heard loud rock music, and I heard their commands. The pepper spray burned my nose, throat, and eyes. I had to cough. The burning was diabolical.

"Get up!" they yelled.

"Get to the wall!"

"Hands to the wall!"

"Move! Move!"

I couldn't see anything, couldn't breathe, and didn't know what was happening to me. I heard them beating the fence with their billy clubs. When the cage door was opened, I heard them yelling. I felt a baton blow to my head. I huddled, and they beat me. They picked me up and threw me to the ground. They kicked and punched me. I curled up into a ball. Then I got angry and tried to defend myself. I jumped to my feet, blind, and started swinging my arms. I got hold of someone's helmet, but they forced me back down and grabbed me by the genitals. They held my arms and legs to the ground, until I was lying there like an animal about to be drawn and quartered. One of them pressed his shield on my chest, while another punched me in the face. At some point, I couldn't hear the music anymore. I heard nothing.

I didn't get much sleep the night of my first visit from the IRF team. I lay on my back-shaken by throbbing pain and the pounding bass from the music-and tried not to move. I had learned that I was only allowed to cover my legs with the blanket and had to keep my hands in plain view on my stomach. I heard the IRF team many times that night. I prayed to Allah that they wouldn't return to my cage.

The next morning, my whole body hurt. I sat up and looked around. It was still dark outside the fences, but breakfast had already arrived: a hardboiled egg without its shell, a slice of dry bread, and a few peas. I heard a couple of the prisoners calling to the guards. It was always the same word:

"Tee-pee!"

A short time later, the guards came and brought the prisoners a small piece of toilet paper. They shoved through the square hole in the cage.

"TP!" I called.

"TP?"

I didn't get any toilet paper. I had learned that toilet paper was a matter left entirely up to the guard. If he felt like giving you some, you got some. If not, you had to improvise.

A short time later, the escort team arrived. They bound me, and we walked through the corridors in the chain-link fencing. They pressed my head down so that I couldn't look around. At every door, the guard who did the unlocking read my armband and searched me for weapons. We left Block Charlie, went through the corridor between Charlie and Bravo, walked along Bravo and arrived in the corridor between Bravo and Alpha. All I could see was the gravel and the cages with other prisoners. Suddenly someone called out in Turkish.

"Murat, Murat! It's me!"

It was Nuri's voice.

Nuri was a Turk I'd met in Kandahar. He sat next to me in front of the hangar while we were waiting to be loaded on to the plane. He had looked terrible. His eyes were swollen, his lips were split, his wrists and ankles bled from the cuffs, and some of his teeth had been knocked out. I had asked him what his name was and where he came from. He said he came from Izmir. That was the city where my father was born.

Nuri was an electrician. He was married and had two children. We had heard the constant screaming of prisoners being tortured in the hangar. Nuri had said:

"Now we're going back to where we came from."

Allah, he said, had created us from earth, and the earth was where we would return.

"Do you think," Nuri had asked, "that they'll just let us go after all they've done to us?"

"In any case, it will be better than here," I had answered, "whether or not they kill us."

Nuri had laughed. "You're right. But I'm still worried about my children."

***

So Nuri was here, I heard him, but I wasn't able to turn my head enough to see him. I couldn't answer.

"Try to get transferred to Block Alpha."

How was I supposed to do that?

''Ask the guards," he said. "Ask them to move you here."

I heard him call the guards. They stopped and let my head go, Nuri glared at one of them and gestured for him to come closer. He pointed to an insect crawling on his arm. He pointed to the guard, as though saying: You are this insect. Then he squashed the bug with his hand.

We came to an open space. There was an electric car like a golf cart. We drove in it past a row of long, low buildings, made of chipboard. They were arranged in blocks of four, raised on stilts about three feet off the ground.

Soldiers and an African American woman in uniform waited in front of the building where we stopped. The soldiers frisked me, then the woman asked:

"Do you have any weapons?"

That was ridiculous. Where was I supposed to get any weapons?

I said, "Yes, I have."

"Where?" the woman asked and immediately took a step back.

I bared my teeth.

The woman ran away, calling out that I had tried to bite her. Other soldiers hurried up and threw me on the ground.

"You want to bite the guards?"

One spoke loudly and quickly. I could hardly understand a word.

"No, no," I said. "No problem. I don't bite women."

They pressed me to the ground and screamed at me. They were nervous.

I hadn't been counting on that. I heard them call an IRF team.

"He wants to bite," the officer said.

The IRF team hit me a couple of times. Then they picked me up and brought me into one of the wooden buildings. There were two rooms, fifteen to twenty square feet, obviously for interrogations. The building had looked much bigger from the outside. There was a chair in the middle of the room. I was told to sit. There was a massive ring in the floor, and they attached the chains between my feet to it with a padlock. The chains around my feet were attached to another chain that ran around my stomach and was attached to my handcuffs.

I couldn't stand up, raise my hands, or even move. In front of me was a table and another chair. That was all. There were two doors but no windows. All around me there was compressed wood. Even the table was made of compressed wood. I looked around the bare space. I didn't see a camera or a mirror. My interrogator would enter through the second door. Behind it there had to be another room, the camera room. But where were the cameras? A guard stood at my side.

My interrogator came out of the second door. He was in his mid-forties.

"This is a great opportunity," he said in German. "I'm looking forward to speaking German with you. I don't want to forget it."

He spoke with an accent, but his German was fluent. I was surprised. At least I would have the chance to explain myself in German and prove my innocence. But before I could say a word, he told me that he went to university for a few years in Germany. I think he said in Frankfurt. I waited for him to finish.

He lit a cigarette.

He didn't ask me any questions. Instead, he just talked. He had shared a house with other American students, and they had regularly smoked hashish. A woman from the authorities regularly came to their house with a dog trained to sniff out drugs. But they knew when she was coming so they would break the hashish into little pieces and spread it all over the carpet with a toothbrush. The dog went crazy because he smelled the scent of hashish everywhere, and the woman was happy because she seemed to have discovered the drugs. But she couldn't find them, and every time she left disappointed.

Why was he telling me this silly story?

He was excitable. A lot of the time, he was laughing. There was a file with some papers and a pen on his desk. He told me some more stories, which bored me. He was talking as if I were hardly even there. I think all he wanted was to hear himself speaking German. Or was he trying to win me over?

Whatever, I thought. At least, I was sitting in a chair and no one was beating me.

Suddenly he asked: "Do you know what we have in store for you?"

I smiled and held the smile long enough so he was sure to see it.

"Yes," I said.

His expression changed. He had probably been expecting a different reaction. He continued to smoke.

I had hoped I would finally be allowed to explain. But I soon realized that this man wasn't at all interested in whether or not I was innocent.

"Tell me your life story," he said.

I started telling him about my apprenticeship as a shipbuilder.

"No, start with your childhood," he said. "Tell me about your childhood."

I told him about going to school in Hemelingen, but he kept interrupting me, he wanted to know names. The names of the friends I had mentioned. He wanted to know if I had any girlfriends-their names interested him, too. He wanted to know when and where I had spent my time and which discotheques I had worked for. Names, names, names.

He said it was obvious that as a terrorist I had only tried to hide in the discos, that I was using them for cover.

"I know you terrorists," he said.

Why should I have tried to hide in a disco?

"You didn't use to wear a beard," he said. "A disguise. You only used your girlfriends."

He was always interrupting me. Did he really think I was a major terrorist?

"I know all your stories. You might as well start with the truth."

He kept smoking.

I told him about my interest in kung-fu.

"Typical for terrorists," he said. "You've all had training in martial arts. Of course, you have. But you're probably the only one who admits it."

He wanted to know which fitness and karate studios I'd worked out in. He said he himself went to a fitness studio.

"Mohammed Atta had a fitness studio in Germany, but behind the scenes he planned his attacks. Just like you."

"I only worked out in my studio in Bremen, nothing else," I said. "I don't know what Mohammed Atta did. I only know him from television."

He wrote down everything I said. I noticed that he used a different pen than the one he had put on the table at the beginning of the interrogation, which he had handled so strangely. It dawned on me that there had to be a hidden camera in that pen. He had placed it on the desk with the cover pointing directly at me so that the camera could film me head on. He never used it for writing, and he handled it so carefully that I knew it had to contain a miniature camera. That much I knew about electronics.

The interrogation lasted for several hours. I told him everything up to the day of my arrest in Peshawar. A few times he stood up and left the room briefly. Perhaps he went to get a bite to eat or something to drink.

He packed up his files and carefully put the camera-pen into his breast pocket.

"That's enough for today," he said. "I know you're lying. From the beginning to the end. That's only going to make your situation worse. Bad luck, boy. You shouldn't lie."

"I'm not lying. Why should I be lying?"

"We know exactly who you are. But we wanted to hear it from you in your own words. You blew your chance!"

Then he left, and the escort team brought me back to my cage. They searched me for weapons and then left me alone.

***

In the meantime, my sneaking suspicion had become a certainty, The Uzbek had indeed meant twenty days and not twenty minutes. The cages weren't temporary pens, They were the prison, wherever it was we were, There wasn't going to be anything else, These cages were my future, I realized that now. But for how long? Chayr Insha Allah. With Allah's will, good things should happen.

But how could any good things happen here?

The guards came and said: "Get ready for a shower!"

I remembered those words from Kandahar.

I stripped down to the boxer shorts they had given us, put the towel, soap, and flip-flops under my arm and waited, They came back with the IRF team and a German shepherd, What had I done wrong now? I only learned later that some prisoners were always accompanied by the IRF team when they were taken to showers or interrogations. They were the ones who were especially strong or had trained in martial arts. Others were just escorted by normal guards.

"Turn around and get on your knees! Hands on your head!"

I turned around, knelt, and put my hands on my head. They entered the cage and put me in handcuffs and foot shackles, Then we walked through the chain-link fences until we got to the showers. They were ordinary cages like the ones in which we were imprisoned, but they were divided in two and there was a hose hanging from the fence. A guard outside the cage turned on the water, They put me in the cage and took off the handcuffs. A thin stream of water came out of the hose, I stepped under it, and as I took the soap and lathered myself up, a quick countdown began, Three-two-one-over. There was no more water. My body was still covered in soap suds, but the soldier operating the tap said:

"Your time is up."

That was what they called taking a shower.

On the way back to my cage, one of the soldiers asked me if I worked out and, if so, in what form.

"Hey, you got big arms," he said. "What do you do?"

I said nothing.

When I arrived back at my cage, I could hardly believe my eyes. There was a new prisoner in Charlie-Charlie 1, which had previously been unoccupied. He was young, around my age, maybe nineteen or twenty. He lay on the ground, making soft noises. He wasn't crying. Instead I thought I could make out something of a melody, a sad song in Arabic. He didn't have any legs. His wounds were still fresh.

I sat in my cage, hardly daring to look, but every once in a while I had to glance in his direction. The stumps of his legs were full of pus. The bandages wrapped around them had turned red and yellow. Everything was bloody and moist. He had frostbite marks on his hands. He seemed hardly able to move his fingers. I watched as he tried to get up. He crawled over to the bucket in his cage and tried to sit on it. He had to go to the toilet. He tried to raise himself up with his hands on the chain-link fence, but he didn't make it. He couldn't hold on with his swollen fingers. Still he tried, until a guard came and hit his hands with his billy-club. The young man fell to the ground.

Every time he tried to hoist himself onto the bucket, the guards came and hit him on the hands. No one was allowed to touch the fence-that was an iron law. But a young man with no legs? They told him he wasn't allowed to stand up. But how could he have done that without arty legs? He wasn't even allowed to lean on the fence or to crawl onto the bucket.

Over the next few days, I talked to him a bit. I could hardly understand him. His name was Abdul Rahman, and he came from Saudi Arabia. I think he said he had been at Bagram, where he had been exposed to extreme cold, just as we had at Kandahar. That's why he had frostbite in his fingers and legs. American doctors had amputated his legs at a military field hospital.

I felt incredibly sorry for Abdul. He must have been in unbelievable pain, and he looked half-starved to death. Nonetheless, they just threw him in a cage and left him lying there instead of treating his injuries. How was he supposed to survive? What kind of doctors were they? And the guards that hit his hands ... what kind of people were they?

The bandages wrapped around Abdul's stumps were never changed. When he took them off himself, they were full of blood and pus. He showed the bandage to the guards and pointed to his open wounds. The guards ignored him. Later I saw how he tried to wash the bandages in his bucket of drinking water. But he could hardly move his hands, so he wasn't able to. And even if he had, where would he have hung them up to dry? He wasn't allowed to touch the fence. He wrapped his stumps back up in the dirty bandages.

When the guards came to take him to be interrogated, they ordered him to sit with his back to the door and put his hands on his head. When they opened the door, they stormed in as they did with every other prisoner. They hit him on the back and pushed him on the ground. Then they handcuffed and bound him so he could no longer move. Abdul howled in pain.

Why did they do this? He had no legs and only weighed around a hundred pounds. What could he do to them? Abdul was carried to interrogation. The guards put their arms under his armpits, pressing his shoulders, neck, and head down. They lifted him and carried him through the corridor, his stumps dangling in the air. Abdul cried out horribly. When he was brought back hours later, his face always looked like he had been beaten.

We spent a few weeks together in Charlie-Charlie. Abdul was always friendly and pleasant, a real nice guy. It took a while for us to communicate, but in the end we managed. I learned that, like myself, he was newly married. His wedding had been a couple of months ago. I asked him if his wife knew he had lost his legs. Of course she didn't-I should have known better. No one knew anything about us. We talked about sports a lot. Abdul said he liked playing soccer.

The strange thing was how calm he remained, even though he was in terrible pain. He was a person who never lost interest in others despite his own atrocious situation. When the IRF team beat him, he never cried. But when he heard or saw them beating prisoners in the other cages, he did cry. He cried in a loud voice. He still felt sympathy for others, even though he himself had been treated so inhumanely. Then he was moved, and I never saw him again.

***

Today I know that Abdul survived his injuries. His wounds healed, and he can use his hands again. He's gained weight, and he tries to keep himself in shape. I've heard from another prisoner that he can even do push-ups. Abdul had told the other inmate to say hi to me. As of 2007, he's still being held captive at Guantanamo.

***

Abdul wasn't the only prisoner who had parts of his body amputated. I saw other such cases in Guantanamo. I know of a prisoner who complained of a toothache. He was brought to a dentist, who pulled out his healthy teeth as well as the rotten one. I knew a man from Morocco who used to be a ship captain. He couldn't move one of his little fingers because of frostbite. The rest of his fingers were all right. They told him they would amputate the little finger. They brought him to the doctor, and when he carne back, he had no fingers left. They had amputated everything but his thumbs.

A lot of Afghans had been injured or maimed in the fighting. Some of them were missing an arm or a leg. 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. In Camp X-Ray I saw a man taken away to interrogation. When he returned, his arm was dangling as though it was only attached to the rest of his body by skin and tissue. The bone in his arm must have been completely severed, but he was simply thrown back into his cage. How was it supposed to heal?

I never saw anyone in a cast. That will heal by itself, the guards always said. Shortly before my release, I met another prisoner who had had two of his fingers broken by the IRF team. The swelling got worse over the days and weeks. I saw some of the people who suffered these injuries again. Others simply disappeared. Or perhaps I didn't recognize them. In the initial days in Camp X-Ray, we all had shaved heads and faces. Later most of us had long beards and hair. There were always prisoners whose arms, legs, and fingers had healed crookedly. They couldn't use their fingers or their limbs. Some of them only had one arm.

Over the years, I had a lot of toothaches and other health problems. But I tried to avoid being taken to the doctor at all costs. I wanted to keep my teeth, fingers, and legs.

I saw an elderly man who was blind. He was interrogated, beaten, and tortured the same way the rest of us were. The Americans didn't distinguish among us. The man, I was told, was over ninety. He was an Afghan. His hair and his beard were as white as snow.

A prisoner in a cage next to mine at Camp X-Ray told me his father was also being held at Guantanamo. He had asked the guards a number of times to be allowed to see him. They refused. It was not a unique case. There were lots of fathers and sons in Guantanamo. I knew an eighteen-year- old whose fifty-year-old father was also being kept prisoner. There were also lots of brothers. The fathers had to watch as their sons were beaten, and vice versa. Who can stand to watch his own father being beaten up? In Camp Delta, I saw the IRF team mistreat a prisoner in the cage facing mine. His son was imprisoned next to me. He was forced to watch everything.

Once in Camp X-Ray, I spit at a guard who had hit the old man. They came and said, You're going to be punished! I answered, What are you going to do, lock me up? I'm already in this cage. They beat me up. I'm not proud of what I did, but with some people all you can do is spit on them. This particular guard was maybe twenty or twenty-five years old. The old man was blind. I'd never experienced anything like it. How can people be so awful, so repulsive?

The first time I saw Abdul, I thanked my God that he had spared me that fate. I thanked Allah that I was doing a lot better than Abdul, although I was being tortured and kept locked up in a cage. Sometimes, when I heard the IRF team coming to Charlie-Charlie, I prayed they would come and beat me up and not Abdul.

During one of my interrogations, the American who spoke German showed me some newspaper clippings. They'd been printed out from a computer, and you could see the logo of the newspaper. The New York Times, the Washington Post. There was a whole pile of them. He translated the headlines.

"German Taliban Captured by Special Forces in Afghanistan Fighting."

Had they written those articles themselves? They sounded genuine. My interrogator read a couple of paragraphs out loud in English, then he translated: "Units of American special forces succeeded in capturing a German Taliban during fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan. The man who was trained in martial arts put up bitter resistance ..."

An American newspaper had written such lies about me?

"But you know that I was captured in Pakistan," I said.

"Yes, we know it," the man answered. "But the people on the outside don't know it. It's none of our business. Journalists write whatever they want."

The American laughed.

***

At night the creatures came. Perhaps they came down from the hills I could see during the day. Our cages were full of spiders, black widows, and small tarantulas. The tarantulas were black and covered in thick fur. We became good friends. The guards had no objection to us being visited by spiders. Family visits weren't allowed, but spiders were. I didn't care. Tarantulas don't kill people. If they bite you, all you get is a headache. The guards used to crush them into the gravel under their boots.

There was another type of spider the guards were afraid of. They called it the "brown la cruz" or something like that. The spider was reddish-brown, very small, and, with the exception of its backside, hairless. It was supposedly far more poisonous than a tarantula. Its bite could be fatal if not treated immediately. The spiders were able to jump. I always caught them and threw them as far away as I could. I didn't kill them. They hadn't done anything to me. You shouldn't kill any animal you don't intend to eat. The same goes for plants. Snakes also carne at night. They were attracted by the warmth of the gravel and concrete.

Charlie-Charlie was one of the outer rows of cages so we were the nearest to the surrounding natural environment. I never got as many visitors as I did there. One time a boa constrictor carne. It was very long and thin, and I thought-it still has a lot of growing to do. There were various kinds of snakes, brown ones, green, gray. But they did us no harm. I remembered the snakes in my grandfather's yard and in the hazelnut grove. I thought about the yellow one I had tried to kill with a branch and which Ibrahim had taken care of with a hazelnut twig. Now I felt sorry for it.

One night, I had just fallen asleep despite the din from the loudspeakers, when I felt something crawling on my hand. It felt like someone was trying to tickle me. I thought in my half-sleep that I was at home and my mother was trying to wake me up. She often used to wake me up by tickling me. I opened my eyes and saw that there was a scorpion on my hand. A little black scorpion. I threw it to the ground and crushed it under my foot. I knew that if I did this quickly he wouldn't have time to sting my foot.

Frogs often slipped through the chain-link fence. They looked nice. I don't know how they got into my cage, but suddenly they'd be sitting there. They were in search of water and would leap into the bucket. Sometimes I only saw them when I was drinking. They would be crouching at the bottom of the bucket. That always cheered me up.

The animals I liked best were the iguanas. I always kept some of my slice of bread to feed them. I rolled up the bread into tiny balls and scattered it in front of them on the ground. The iguanas had various colors, green, greenish yellow, or gray. They looked like tiny dragons. Some of them were too big to slip into the cage. But they carne anyway. I would flick breadcrumbs through the chain link. They got used to it.

Iguanas? Where were we?

Hummingbirds also visited me in my cage. I had read a lot about hummingbirds. Weren't they native to the Caribbean?

Some time later I heard another prisoner say he thought we might be in Cuba. One of them said the Americans had a military base in Cuba. So I asked one of the interrogators, We're in Cuba, aren't we?

Yes, he said, we're in Cuba.

***

The cage next to me had become vacant. There was a relatively small but powerfully built man in the one behind it. At first I never saw the IRF team in that cage. Perhaps they were afraid of him. One evening I spoke to him in Turkish. He talked a lot, but I could only understand a little bit. He was Chechen but came from Dagestan. I tried to imagine what it looked like there. I think he said he was a wrestler. But it must have been some unusual form of wrestling. Using his hands, he explained that you weren't allowed to touch your opponent's legs. I liked the man.

I don't want to reveal too many personal details about him. Today I know that he's back in prison. After being released from Guantanamo and sent home, the Russians arrested him at the airport. They trumped up some accusation against him and threw him in jail. I've been told he was sentenced to fourteen years. He is named after an Arab prophet. It's a common name. I'll call him Isa-the Arab name for the prophet Jesus. In Christianity, Jesus is the messiah. In Islam, he's a major prophet, whose return we are still awaiting. I hope that the Chechen will return some day, too, after he's been freed.

Isa was a funny guy. He was always smiling and making faces, although that was forbidden. He didn't give a damn about the guards or the IRF team. He stood up and exercised when he felt like it. He was unbelievably strong. He could do standing backflips. Once he showed me just how powerful he was.

"Psst," I heard him whisper.

Isa was sitting Indian-style and motioned for me to edge over toward him.

"Psst ..."

"Evet?" I asked in Turkish, Yes?

Isa grinned.

"Ha?"

Isa raised his arms and bent his upper body over sideways toward the cage door. He grabbed a vertical iron bar, I could hardly believe my eyes, Bracing himself on one elbow, his legs walked through the air in slow motion, as if suspended by an invisible rope, Then he straightened both of his arms so that his entire body was suspended off the ground horizontally, I wouldn't have thought that was possible. I'd never witnessed such strength and body control. Isa held this position for a couple of seconds, then carried out the same slow-motion movements in reverse, until he was once again sitting Indian-style on the ground.

I was thrilled.

"Eh?" said Isa, grinning with joy like a child, He slapped his thighs.

I applauded, as though I'd just witnessed a magic trick.

The IRF team came and beat him up terribly. Shortly thereafter they sprayed my cage with pepper spray, the door opened, and it was my turn. I rolled up into a ball as best I could on the ground. At least, I thought, the beating was worth it.

Another time Isa gave me a present, It was after dark and the guards were doing their rounds, so no one was talking.

"Psst," I heard Isa whispering again.

I looked over, He wasn't asleep yet.

"Hediye," he whispered, That's Turkish for gift.

In his hand I saw a ball of rolled up paper. I was curious. Was there something to eat inside?

"What's in it?" I asked.

"Hediye," he said.

He waited until the guards had passed by his cage, He flicked the paper through the empty cage toward me, It bounced off the fence and landed on the ground, but I succeeded in getting it through the chain link. I opened it and was startled to see to a giant, disgusting, exotic-looking worm. It was neon green, yellow and red, with legs like a millipede and pincers like a scorpion. The worm looked really dangerous. Its colors were like a pretty piece of graffiti art. It quickly crawled from the paper and onto my hand. I let it drop. It writhed on the ground, and I grabbed a flip-flop and tried to crush it. Isa laughed himself sick. He was lying on his back holding his stomach in his hands. Then the IRF team came.

Isa was full of such stunts. When the guards yelled at him, when they threatened and tried to scare him, he would roll up on the ground and laugh. That got the guards really mad. But Isa would just point at them and laugh. As if to say, "Look at how their faces get red when they're yelling."

***

At Camp X-Ray, there were also female guards-just as there had been in Afghanistan, serving in many capacities except on the IRF teams. There were whites, blacks, and Latinas. The guards were frequently rotated, but I soon came to know most of them. I often saw Cecil Stewart, but he never talked to me. I had the feeling some of the guards would have liked to talk with some of the prisoners. "Sorry," those guards would say,-"I can't talk to you. They're watching me." They were under surveillance. It was an iron law that guards weren't to talk to the prisoners. They weren't allowed to treat us like human beings.

I learned the names of two other guards. I will call him Johnson. His specialty was kicking on the cage doors while we prayed. He did this over a course of months. He was known for it.

Once I called him by his name.

"Mr. Johnson, please TP."

That made him mad. Instead of giving me some toilet paper, he sent in the IRF team. The guards patrolled around the clock in twelve-hour shifts. Their boots were always crunching somewhere on the gravel. The only time you didn't hear the sound was at night-because of the loud music. In Charlie, they patrolled the corridors between the cages in pairs, while the others sat somewhere and drank coffee. The sharpshooters watched us from the guard towers.

There were signs in Arabic, English, and Persian on the chain-link fence. "Escape is pointless. Sniper surveillance round the clock." But there was no way we could get out of the cages. The fence was made of thick chain link, with the links welded together. One evening, however, I witnessed a scene that made me think.

It was already dark by the time our guard shoved our paper plates through the opening in the cage doors. Cold gruel and a slice of bread. His mind must have been elsewhere because he also shoved a plate into the empty cage between me and Isa. Maybe he thought its occupant was away being interrogated.

Isa ate his food. Then he turned in my direction. I saw him tear the fence in a certain spot. He bent the wire and loosened, bit by bit, the solder. It sounded like a seam of thread popping. The hole was maybe ten or fifteen inches in diameter so that his arm and half his shoulder fit through the opening. Isa grabbed the plate of gruel from the neighboring cage. He replaced it with his empty plate and sealed up the hole in the chain link so that no one would notice a thing. The chain link fences were full of dents from the batons and prisoners wrestling with the IRF teams.

Isa laughed and ate his second helping of gruel.

Then the guards came to collect the plates. They threw them in a plastic garbage bag. I held out my plate through the opening. In the cage next door, the guard retrieved the empty plate and moved on to Isa, who also handed his plate through. Suddenly the guard stopped. He turned around and looked at the empty cage. He looked at his garbage bag, at Isa, and then at me. He scratched his head.

"I saw who ate that plate of food," I said.

The guard approached my cage.

"You know Lee [not his real name]?"

"Yeah ..."

"Lee was here. He ate the plate of food and then left it."

"I know Lee is crazy," said the guard. "But he's not that crazy."

"Then you tell me who ate it," I said.

He shrugged. Then he moved on to collect plates from the other prisoners.

Lee was the third guard whose name I knew. He was Asian, and the other guards used to make jokes at his expense. Lee treated us just as badly as his colleagues, and so we often made fun of him, too.

Isa was grinning from ear to ear.

Until that point, I'd never thought about trying to escape. But after I saw how Isa had torn a hole in the chain-link fence-it got me to thinking. If he'd made it bigger, he could have slipped through. There was a possibility to escape. You had to be very strong. But if Isa could do it, couldn't I as well?

Then I would have to climb over the next fence. It was maybe twelve feet high. There was barbed wire on top that you'd have to get through. But what was the story with the perimeter fence?

That night I dreamt of Faruk, a friend of mine from Bremen. I dreamt of how he was consumed by the drugs he took, how he tried to prove how tough he was by beating people up. And I then I dreamt of him looking me in the eye as if to say: Help me! You're my friend!

It was dark when I woke up. I heard the noises of the animals, and I thought about Faruk. I had failed him as a friend. I thought about Bremen. I asked myself how I had come to be sitting in this cage. Actually, I thought, everything started with a joke Selcuk had made about my beard.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:12 pm

Chapter 6: BREMEN, HEMELINGEN

I WAS BORN IN 1982 IN THE MATERNITY WARD OF A HOSPITAL in Bremen. My family rented a top-floor apartment in the working-class district of Hemelingen. When I was twelve, my father bought a row house on a small side street. There were lots of jobs in the area. There was a large meat-packing factory, a soft-drink plant, the Bremen public utilities company, and a company that makes silverware called Wilkens & Sons. The district was a city unto itself, made of red-brick buildings with towers and gables. There were countless derelict warehouses and factory buildings along the Weser River, which separated Hemelingen from the rest of Bremen. My father worked for Mercedes, as did most of the Turkish men in the area.

He did the night shift as a metalworker. It was a hard job. He'd been on the assembly line since the mid-1970s, working the whole night through. The assembly line never stopped-he didn't even have time to scratch his head. For that reason, it was always quiet in my house. We always had to whisper so we wouldn't wake up my father. We only spoke to each other in normal voices after 9 PM, when he would drive off to the factory in his Mercedes.

I also worked for Mercedes during some of ,my vacations-in the carpenter's workshop and in the cleaning department. Mercedes was a world all its own. The factory halls were so big that everyone used bicycles or golf carts to get around. They had their own carpentry shop, cleaning service, and electricians' division-even their own fire department. Almost all of the employees lived in Hemelingen.

Our district, with its fruit-and-vegetable merchants, kebab shops, and tea salons, began directly behind the Sebaldsbriick train station. From miles away you could tell, by the jungle of satellite dishes on the roofs and next to the apartment windows, that the district was almost entirely Turkish. The sky above the Weser was often cloudy from the fumes of the utilities company.

There was the Solen kebab stand, the Sultan Travel Agency, the Foreign Workers' Association and the bridge over the train tracks. As a small boy, whenever I would cross the bridge with my father, he would lift me over the railing and hold me on the narrow concrete strip at the edge of the abyss, trying to scare me. "You're going to fall," he'd joke, but he always held me tight in his grasp. There was the Tokcan Market and the bakery where my mother would send me in the afternoon to fetch bread and some baklava. And then the Aladin Discotheque, which was famous for its laser show, one of the biggest discos in Germany. A lot of my friends worked there, including my uncle Ekram who was a bouncer.

I went to school in Glockenstrasse, or "Bell Street," after which the school was named. My friend Orhan lived right around the corner. Back then I also had a Chinese friend whose parents ran the Chinese restaurant at the end of our street. We played together. He'd speak Chinese and I'd speak Turkish, but as kids we didn't need a common language to understand one another. Sometimes his parents would invite me over for dinner and I found it very exotic. I first learned German in kindergarten- almost all of the pupils came from Turkish families. I had a crush on one of the girls. Often I'd convince her to play "family" with me. She was the mother, and I was the father. But after kindergarten, she went back to Turkey with her parents.

Every afternoon, either with Orhan or on my own, I'd ride my bike to the industrial part of town. I'd pedal under the autobahn overpass, past the vacant fields with the abandoned trailers and into the industrial area. That was my favorite spot to play. You could climb on the cranes and on the heaps of sand and gravel. I used to slide down them on my belly like we used to do in Dede's hazelnut grove in Kusca. There were old barges on the sides of the Weser, loaded up with sand, gravel, and giant crates. Fishermen stood in the shallow, marshy water. We kids played everywhere, and sometimes they would even let us hop onto the barges. Abandoned trailers were parked alongside uneven paths full of potholes. We cleaned them up and made them look nice again. They were our homes. That's where we played.

I went everywhere by bike. I knew every corner, every abandoned ship, and every three-foot-high roll of cable. There was a junkyard full of metal ship containers and broken furnaces. They were as big as caves. I fooled around between the train tracks. It smelled of either diesel fuel or coffee, depending on whether the wind was blowing in from the wharves or from the coffee factory where they roasted the imported beans.

Below the factory was the spot where I used to go swimming. The ground around the electrical house in front of the wharf was full of rabbit droppings. There, on the slope leading down to the lake, were blackberry bushes surrounded by chain-link fences. I climbed over them, hid in the bushes and ate blackberries. In the evening, the rabbits came out to play. The place got really romantic in the evenings. The factories closed their gates, but the yellow lights stayed on and were reflected in the water. During the day, the machines growled, there was noise everywhere from behind the fences, and thick clouds of steam and smoke rose from the chimneys-but at night, everything was peaceful and quiet. I was alone with the rabbits and the yellow lights.

Sometimes Uncle Ekram came with me to the Weser. He was my mother's younger brother, and I adored him. Uncle Ekram was a funny guy and an adventurer. He taught me how to ride a bike when I was little. Later, we'd go fishing together along the Weser. He'd been in prison once in Cologne. He was very strong. He could pick me up with one hand and hold me over his head, even when I was twelve.

***

I never found it a disadvantage to be a foreigner. As a kid, it was great to be able to speak two languages. I could have both Turkish and German friends. With my Turkish friends, I could play along the banks of the Weser until it got dark. The German kids had to be home earlier, and many weren't allowed to go to the industrial part of town. They were only allowed to play in their yards or inside their homes. I didn't like that. In the summer, Turkish families spend almost all their time outside.

We were different. We Turkish boys used to play fight. It was completely normal to punch someone. German kids weren't used to it. They immediately took it seriously and started crying or got insulted. Our families and traditions were also very different. We had scores of uncles, aunts, siblings, and cousins. We didn't celebrate Christmas and Easter. We celebrated Eid ul-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice after the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and Eid ul-Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, when we would gorge ourselves on sweets.

For the Festival of Sacrifice, I would accompany my father to the butcher, and we would select a lamb. We blindfolded the animal. "Bismillah," my father would say. In the name of Allah. Our animals had to be killed by halal slaughtering. As its blood drains out, the animal doesn't feel any pain. The Prophet Mohammed ordered that the knives we use be as sharp as possible. A portion of the meat is supposed to be given to needier people, but most families would just send money to Turkey.

After grade school, I went to the Parseval High School in the Sebaldsbriick district. At the age of eight, I started doing judo. But soon I wanted more. I was fascinated with martial arts, Bruce Lee, and kung fu. Lots of Turkish kids go to karate and kickboxing schools as well as to regular fitness studios. It's an important part of our culture in Germany. All of our uncles and older brothers worked out. Uncle Ekram showed me how to do one-arm push-ups. He told me he'd give me ten Marks if I learned how to do them. I practiced until I could do no more.

A friend of mine even became a European Champion in kickboxing. He was a year older than me, and we were all proud, my friends and I, that he coached us. For a while I joined a boxing club. I was good, but my thoughts were always elsewhere.

After working out, we'd hang out with the girls in the Hemelingen Youth Club. All I thought about back then was which disco had the best-looking girls. With German girls, being a foreigner wasn't a disadvantage. I also had Turkish girlfriends, but problems would quickly arise with them. They weren't allowed to have boyfriends -- let alone have sex -- before they were married. For me, however, what was written in the . Koran was one thing, and what I thought was right was another.

Boxing ceased to interest me by the time I was sixteen. Then I discovered bodybuilding. I already had barbells at home. I'd work out before breakfast, and in the afternoon I'd go to the gym. At the age of seventeen, I could press over three hundred pounds-almost twice my own weight.

If someone had encouraged me back then, I could have gone places with my weightlifting. But I wasn't interested. I wanted to build up my triceps and shoulders. I wanted to look good, have big muscles, and be strong. I had a five o'clock shadow and had put on a lot of bulk. I was very strong for someone my age. Once, at the age of fourteen, I had to appear in court because I had beaten up someone who was over thirty. Things happen.

One day we went go-cart racing. Most of my buddies were already sixteen or seventeen. Some of us were racing while the others watched. We got a bit wild on the track and rammed each other a couple of times. We just wanted to have fun. We hadn't broken anything or done any damage. Beside the track, there was a glass wall and a ticket counter. After our turn was over, the other members of our group wanted to drive and tried to buy tickets. The woman behind the counter said she wouldn't sell them any tickets because the boss said we hadn't behaved. We promised to be good. The lady smiled and gave us the tickets.

But there was another man at the counter. He was well over six feet tall. He took off his glasses, rolled up his sleeves, and attacked my friends. He was very strong. He took two of them simultaneously and smashed their heads against the glass wall. They defended themselves, but they didn't stand a chance. The rest of us joined in and tried to wrestle the man to the ground. Even my friend, the European Champion, got in on the action. But the man managed to get everyone in a headlock or throw them to one side. So I took a barstool and hit him in the back. He turned around and the second time I caught him in the face. In court, they said I broke his chin.

News of that fight soon got around Hemelingen. Two years later, when I joined the fitness studio, the adult members still remembered it. Soon thereafter, I had a number of jobs. I worked in Bremen and the surrounding area as a bodyguard and a bouncer at concerts, parties, and dance clubs. I was earning good money for a sixteen-year-old. But it was risky. My job was to prevent fights. You have to be able to keep strong people apart and, if necessary, hustle them outside. Since I also worked as a bouncer in a Turkish disco, I had to be prepared for people pulling knives and other weapons. I began to ask myself whether I wanted to risk my life for a couple hundred Marks. But everything went well and I never had any problems.

I wore designer clothes. Jackets by Hugo Boss and designer shoes you could buy cheaply in our district. We were always buying and selling something. Jackets, PlayStations, cell phones; we always wanted to have the latest models. I could afford this because I earned a lot of money for my age. I tried to look good. Uncle Ekram was proud of me.

It was around this time that I met Selcuk. We met through Apollo, my Rottweiler. Selcuk lived on our street with his German girlfriend. I was taking the dog for a walk one evening when Selcuk called down to me from his balcony. He wanted to know what to look out for when you get a dog. I had read a lot about being a good dog owner. Then he asked me where I worked out. Selcuk was eight years older than me, and I felt proud when he suggested we go to the gym together. When I met him several days later, he was carrying a puppy under his arm, a Kangal dog.

We were like two peas in a pod. We lived on the same street, we did the same sport, we took our dogs for walks together along the Weser, and we went to the same disco. Selcuk was as religious as I was in those days, which is to say not very religious. Eventually, we found our way to the Muslim faith at roughly the same time. I was eighteen and had begun my apprenticeship as a shipbuilder.

It was fall 2000, around Ramadan. I hadn't seen Selcuk for two weeks. I fasted during the daytime like all the other Muslims and hadn't shaved for a while. Selcuk rang my doorbell. When he saw me, he laughed.

"What happened to you?" he asked. "Are you going on the hajj to Mecca?"

He had a good laugh at my expense. I didn't know what he was talking about.

"You look like a pilgrim."

We both laughed at that, and he left.

But Selcuk's remarks had made me think. Wasn't it part of Islam and our heritage that men grew their beards? Surely, fasting wasn't all that connected us as Muslims. The Prophet Mohammed wore a beard. Was that really funny? I didn't shave for the rest of Ramadan.

More and more Turks started asking me why I was growing a beard. They said I should shave it off. I told them I was a Muslim, and that growing a beard was part of our faith. I didn't really know much more than that. But once I had taken that first step toward Islam, I grew curious. What was our faith exactly? What was it about?

I bought some books about Islam, but I didn't really understand them. I went to our mosque in Hemelingen, the Kuba Mosque. I'd gone there sometimes with my father on Fridays, but I didn't understand the Arabic prayers and rituals.

That was how I began to get interested in religion. The trigger was Selcuk's joke about my beard. But at the same time, I had already begun to notice how my friends in Hemelingen were changing. Faruk and Ilias, for example.

I had known Faruk since childhood. We had played together a lot along the Weser, sometimes getting into fights. His parents were divorced. After the divorce, his mother got together with a new man who didn't want Faruk around, and they sent him to live with his grandmother in Turkey. Two years later, he returned. He'd become a tough guy, someone who tried to solve every problem with violence. His mother threw him out of her apartment. He was sent first to a home and then to reform school. By the time we were both sixteen, he was in love with money. He stole things and often got caught. I felt sorry for him. I ran into him all the time in discos, but no one liked him any more. He had become a criminal and started taking drugs. Sometimes when I looked at him, I felt he was drowning in drugs-that's how absent he seemed.

Ilias, too, was hooked. He had grown up with his mother in Turkey, while his father worked in Germany and was married to a German woman. At the age of twelve, he came to Bremen to live with his father, this woman, and their two children. But he didn't get along with his father. When he got into fights with his German half-siblings, his father always took their side. Ilias was also sent to a home. Those homes couldn't have been very good. Alot of people I knew who went there came out broken. When Ilias got out, he told me he knew people now who made a lot of easy money with drugs. I told him that that wouldn't get him anywhere. And I was right. He was thrown in jail, and when I saw him next, hanging around the train station, he was totally stoned. The police nabbed him and deported him to Turkey. I lost several friends this way. They became criminals and addicted to drugs, and then they were deported.

It wasn't because we were foreigners. Allah creates all human beings so that they need love, regardless of whether they're tough or soft. If a person doesn't get any love, I thought, he becomes hateful and violent as he no longer has any feelings for other people. If you take a puppy away from its mother too soon, it will become a problem dog. Of course, there were cases of foreigners being treated badly in school or by the police, and that could easily get to be too much. Back in Bremen, I started to feel like a foreigner for the first time in my life. Once, when I had to go to a government office for foreign residents to take care of some simple formality, they made me wait outside in the cold for half a day, then they simply sent me home without an explanation. "Come back tomorrow," they said, showing no respect at all. If I had been German, they wouldn't have treated me that way.

Things were easier for me at first because I wasn't as noticeably Turkish as other kids. As a child, I had blond hair and very light skin. And I had a good mother and father. Faruk and Ilias didn't have families any more. But didn't Allah create us to have families and love?

Eventually, I gave up the life I had been leading. The people I knew, even if they had been friends, had started ripping each other off. All anyone was interested in anymore was money so that they could buy the latest stuff-cell phones, GameBoys, and laptops-and they didn't care where they got that money. As a bodyguard, it would have been no problem for me to start selling drugs. I had offers. But I couldn't. Someone would be taking the drugs, and that person would have a mother and a father who would worry about him. Islam, as far as I knew, forbids everything bad in our lives: drugs and alcohol, lying, stealing, and unfaithfulness.

***

In the winter of 2000, I went to the Kuba Mosque a lot. On holidays, I went to the Abu Bakr Mosque near the main train station on my way home from trade school. It is named after the Prophet's father-in-law. Some Arab and black Muslims also prayed there. One day, a group of Muslims from Jama'at al-Tablighi appeared. They said they represented one of Islam's largest groups. There were five of them, two Turks and three German Muslims. After prayers, I started talking to them. German Muslims? I was both fascinated and ashamed. The' German Muslims knew a lot more about Islam than I did. I didn't even know the five prayers that we were supposed to say every day.

From then on, for several months, I saw the tablighis almost every day in the mosque. One of them had visited the Mansura Center in Lahore. He talked about it a lot, and I asked him about the school. The tablighis, they explained, came from Pakistan. If you wanted to do the Hajj, they said, you had to go to Mecca; if you wanted to learn about Islam, you had to go to Lahore. I read about the tablighis on the Internet. One day, they said: Come with us!

They wanted to show me what they did. They approached addicts and homeless people in the train station and other parts of the city and offered them help. We visited people who used to be criminals or addicts and who now, thanks to the tablighis, had jobs and families. It wasn't just Turks-there were Germans, too. The tablighis got people off the streets and helped them find work. I liked the way they practiced Islam.

I decided that I was going to visit the center in Lahore before I got married that summer. I could have chosen an Islamic school in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. But neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia interested me. I had only heard good things about the Mansura Center, and I wouldn't need much money in Pakistan. I would learn the language, I thought, somehow.

In the meantime, Selcuk had moved to the Sebaldsbriick district. He'd broken up with his German girlfriend and married a Turkish girl. He also wore a beard now. We met up sometimes on the weekends and prayed in the Kuba Mosque. Once again, we seemed to fit together. Selcuk also wanted to know more about Islam. He had gotten to know the tablighis and was going to the mosque even more often than me. I excitedly told him about the school in Pakistan. He listened, saying nothing.

In the summer of 2001, before I went to Turkey, I had told him about my plans to get married, saying that I had probably found a wife. When I got back, I declared I was definitely going to Pakistan.

"If I can work it out, I'll come with you," he said.

Apparently, he wasn't in as much of a hurry as I was.

"If you want to come with me," I said, "then let's go. I want to see this through now. I'm planning to bring my wife to Hemelingen in December. I have to be back by then."

Selcuk hesitated.

"Now or never," I said. "Otherwise I'm going alone."

"You're right," said Selcuk.

We agreed not to tell anyone about what we were planning. The one person we let in on our plans was Ali. I'd met Ali in the Abu Bakr Mosque. He was 35 back then and he also knew Selcuk. He was in the mosque every time we were there. I'd already told him before the summer that I was looking for a multesima to marry. Ali had told me everything I needed to know about the ceremony. When I returned from Turkey, he was very happy that I had married Fatima. So I told him about the I and our travel plans. At first Ali said nothing. But a couple days later, he took me aside.

"If I can give you some advice, don't go."

He repeated that a number of times.

"I'm not trying to tell you two what to do, but I'd advise against it."

I told him that I liked traveling and didn't see any danger, and he shrugged.

"I hope you know what you're doing."

***

On September 11, I was at shipbuilding school when the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington took place. On my way home, I met a friend who said that a plane had crashed in the United States. That's not so unusual, I said. Why are you telling me this? When I got home, my mother called me into the living room. Come quick, she said. There's something earth-shattering in the United States.

Then I saw the two towers collapsing. As I watched the images being repeated, I knew that this was not an accident. I felt sorry for the people who had been in the buildings. My mother had woken my father up, even though it was still afternoon. I sat in front of the TV for a long time, as if under a spell.

A few days later it was reported that the attack had been carried out by a group led by a terrorist named Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan. I didn't think there would be a war with Afghanistan, and my father agreed. They only wanted to capture Osama bin Laden and his cronies. I heard about U.S. preparations for war on the news. But I thought that they would only go into the mountainous region where the terrorists were hiding. Or that the Afghans would give him up. It would work itself out somehow.

I couldn't imagine there was going to be a war. And if that happened, it would be a war between Afghanistan and the United States. I would be in Pakistan. What did Pakistan have to do with Afghanistan? It was a different country. I didn't see why I should change my plans.

For Friday prayers, I went to a Turkish mosque. The imam spoke about the attacks. He said that it should never be allowed to happen again. Selcuk and I called the Pakistani consulate in Berlin and asked about the entry requirements. We got an appointment to apply for visas and we drove to Berlin. The consulate took our passports and mailed them back to us two weeks later with our visas.

I didn't tell my parents about our plans. They would have gotten upset and tried to keep me from going. We're not allowed to contradict our parents-it's part of our faith that we should show them respect; it's laid out explicitly in the Koran. I couldn't tell my mother, she wouldn't have let me go. So I decided to call her from the airport.

I withdrew money from the bank and Selcuk and I went to buy our plane tickets. The only travel agency we knew was located in a shopping center my parents also went to. My mother sometimes ran into her friends there. Some of our relatives also went to the mall to drink coffee and go shopping. If anyone had seen me coming in or out of the travel agency, they would have asked questions. I gave Selcuk 1,100 Marks for my ticket and waited in a Turkish tea salon several streets away.

I called Ali, and he tried to talk us out of our trip. But I already had my return ticket in my pocket and wasn't willing to change my plans. Several days before I left, I sold my cell phone. It was a Nokia phone with a pre-paid German card that wouldn't have worked anyway in Pakistan. We always sold our old cell phones, sometimes once everyone or two months, so that we could always have the latest model. What's more, 1 needed the money, After I returned, I thought, I'd get a new cell phone.

Selcuk and I agreed to leave at night. The closer our day of departure came, the more excited I got. I had a bad conscience because of my parents. I would have liked to say good-bye to them, but that was impossible.

Then it occurred to me how I could at least give my mother a hug. I knew my parents and my brother Ali were visiting a family in Sebaldsbruck, but they were sure to come home before midnight.

***

"Ana, my back aches."

"It's late. I'll give you a massage in the morning."

"Salam alaikum," I said.

"Aaikum salam," she said.

***

We checked our bags at the ticket counter, received our boarding passes, and went to the passport control with our visas. The customs officer scanned my passport and motioned for me to go through. But he didn't let Selcuk pass. After he'd entered Selcuk's details into his computer, he said:

"You're not allowed to leave the country. There's a fine you haven't paid."

"What kind of fine?"

"For bodily injury," said the customs officer. "If you want to leave Germany, you have to pay the fine."

I was already in the waiting area. I heard Selcuk try to clear up the matter with the customs officer. Selcuk said he wanted to call a lawyer.

"That's fine," said the customs officer. "Come this way."

Another officer asked me if I wanted to take the plane or not. The bus to the aircraft was waiting for us-all the other passengers were checked in. Our names were called via loudspeaker. We were to proceed immediately to the boarding gate. There was no way Selcuk would make it.

Everything happened so quickly.

"I'll call my brother," Selcuk said. "He'll pay the fine for me, if there's no other choice."

"Okay."

"I'll take the next plane," Selcuk said. "We'll meet at Karachi airport. Wait for me there."

"Okay," I said. "I'll wait for you."

Selcuk followed the customs officer, and I went to the bus.

I never saw Selcuk again.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:13 pm

Chapter 7: GUANTANAMO BAY, CAMP X-RAY

"ALI MIRI?"

"Yes, Ali Miri. Who is Ali Miri?"

"A friend bf mine from Bremen ..."

"What do you know about him?"

"Not much. He's nice. He's married. With kids ..."

"Where did you meet him?"

"In the mosque ..."

"Which mosque?"

"At the main train station. I went there on Fridays after shipbuilding
school ..."

"The Abu Bakr Mosque?"

"Yes, that's the one."

"Where does he work?"

"I think he's on welfare."

The German-speaking American seemed impatient. He smoked a lot and played with his camera-pen. I was not allowed to sit down during the interrogation. I was chained by my hands and feet to the ring in the floor so that I could only kneel or stand half bent-over. If I knelt, I could straighten my back, but my knees hurt. If I bent over, the blood would start flowing into my legs again, but I had to look up at the American, and that made my neck hurt. But what could I do, tell him, "I want to go home now"?

The interrogation lasted several hours. I was starving, thirsty, and sweating from every pore, as though I had run for miles. Every fiber of my body hurt. The American asked the same questions over and over. It had been a long time since he'd told any amusing stories. He spat out orders, yelled, and called me a terrorist. He'd asked about my friends and schoolmates, naming names and telephone numbers. One of them was my coach at the fitness studio. Suddenly he had hit upon Ali. I was surprised.

"Ali Miri was your imam," said the American. "The deputy imam of the Abu Bakr Mosque."

"The imam? No, he wasn't an imam. I know that he taught children. I only saw him praying like everyone else in the mosque. The man who led the prayers was someone else."

"He was your secret imam. Your leader."

"He wasn't a leader."

"He encouraged you to become fighters."

"No."

"He made you into a Taliban, admit it!"

"No, he was my friend."

"He called you nine times before your departure. What did he tell you?"

"Nine times? I don't know anything about that."

"Don't lie!"

"It may be that he called me. He wanted to convince me not to go to Pakistan...."

Ali had tried to call me nine times? We had talked on the phone once or twice before I left, but I remembered calling him. Had he tried to reach me after I had already left?

"You called Ali Miri from Pakistan!"

"No, I didn't call anyone from Pakistan. No, wait a minute. I did call Selcuk's wife because I wanted to know whether he was still coming. But she hung up on me. Twice."

"What kind of car does Ali Miri drive?"

"What kind of car? A station wagon. A big station wagon."

"Brand?"

I don't know. It was a big station wagon."

"Color?"

"Light-colored. Maybe gray ..."

"Does he preach against America? Did he try to stir you up?"

"I've never heard him say anything about that. He never talked about these things."

The American stood up and fished some photographs from his briefcase. He showed them to me. They were pictures of Ali Miri. They must have been taken somewhere on the street in Bremen. Where did he get these photos? And how did he know that Ali had tried to call me?

"Is that Ali Miri?"

"Yes, that's him. What did he do?"

"That's none of your business."

The American showed me pictures of Ali before he had grown his beard. It was hard to recognize him. But I told him, "Yes, that's Ali," so as not to disagree. Then he said that my plane ticket had been paid for by terrorists.

"My plane ticket? I paid for it myself. I withdrew money from the bank and paid for it. You know that already."

"No, it was paid for with a cash card. It belonged to the father of a Tunisian, Sofyen Ben Amor. You were friends with him, too."

"I don't know him. Who?"

"Sofyen Ben Amor!"

"I know two Sufyans in Bremen. I don't know whether or not one might have been Tunisian. If you show me a photo, maybe I'll recognize him."

"Sofyen Ben Amor had contacts to terrorists in Hamburg!"

"I don't know anything about that ..."

"Don't lie! He paid for your ticket! In a travel agency called Go Travel!"

"Selcuk paid for my ticket!"

I told the American why I hadn't gone with Selcuk into the travel agency. I couldn't understand how this other man could have possibly paid for my ticket. I went with Selcuk to the shopping center alone and had waited in a nearby tea salon for him. Selcuk didn't have anyone with him when he returned. He didn't give me back my money. Why should he have kept it? There was never any talk of a Tunisian. I didn't know every one of Selcuk's friends and acquaintances, but he hadn't told me he had met anyone in the shopping center, either. And even if he had, why should that guy have paid for my ticket? It didn't make sense. Was the American making everything up? But how then did he know so many details about my life?

I didn't know what I was supposed to think. But I noticed he was trying to set me a trap. Only now-months after they had asked about my cell phone for the first time, my bank account, and Selcuk-did I realize that they had known everything about me from the very beginning. They weren't interested in the fact that I had never been to Afghanistan and was innocent. I didn't stand a chance. I knew that now.

***

What does someone do who's cooped up in a cage all day? I sat. Sometimes cross-legged, sometimes with my legs stretched out. I waited for food. I prayed when the time came. I waited and I sat, legs bent, legs straight. When I thought the guards weren't looking, I got up for a second and stretched my legs. Or tried to speak with the other prisoners. Sometimes I'd do a couple push-ups. I used to be able to do a hundred. Now I had problems just supporting my weight with my arms. More than five were out of the question anyway. The guards would notice and send in the IRF team.

I estimated that I had lost around forty or fifty pounds. Every few week we got new clothes, and though I used to need an XXL, small or medium now fit me. One of the other men was little more than skin and bones. He must have weighed less than ninety pounds. I spied him from a distance and remembered seeing him once in Kandahar. He was much bigger back then. Whenever I looked over, he was sitting. He never got up. Maybe he could no longer stand up. Sometimes, in a cage like that, you entertain stupid thoughts.

I began to pick at the threads of my blanket. Before long I had a sixteen-foot-long thread in my hands. Every now and then, we would get Emaries again. I had saved the package in which the crackers came. I filled it up with dirt and pebbles. I tied it to the thread and threw it several feet away into the corridor between the caves. You could hardly see the thread. I waited until Lee came.

"Lee, can you help me?"

"What?"

"My neighbor threw me some crackers, but they landed in the corridor."

"That's against the rules! It's not allowed! Where are they?"

"Over there. Can you see them?"

Lee wanted to pick up the package and throw them away.

I tugged the thread.

"My God!" said Lee.

He tried to pick up the package again, but I pulled the thread.

"What's going on?"

I pulled the package into my cage. Lee still hadn't noticed the thread. He was really afraid. He ran back to the other guards and kicked up a fuss. All the prisoners who had been watching started to laugh. When the other guards came, I showed them the thread. They laughed, too, and said I would have to be punished. The IRF team came, and they took my blanket and mattress away. Two days later they gave them back.

Why did I do this?

Lee treated us badly. He yelled at us, made fun of us, and pounded against our cage doors while we prayed, just like Johnson. He was simply stupid. But he wasn't as bad as Johnson, who beat Abdul on the hands when he was trying to hoist himself on to his bucket. Johnson was a red-faced, bald man whose eyes twinkled as though he was on drugs. He tried to play the tough guy. He particularly had it in for Isa since the Chechen was always grinning and making fun of the guards. The IRF visited him more often than any of the other prisoners now. And Isa fought back every time. Sometimes, he succeeded in throwing one of the IRF soldiers to the ground or hitting one of them in the visor.

It's strange, but with time, you grow numb even to blows. Blows from the IRF team were the basic form of punishment in Camp X-Ray. At that point there were no solitary-confinement cells-they were still being built. They would also punish us by beating us and then chaining our hands and feet, connecting those chains with a third one. You couldn't move your arms, they were pressed to your body. Then they'd leave you sitting there like that and take away your blanket and the thin mattress. It could take days before they'd unshackle you.

I couldn't see any rhyme or reason in their punishments, though I understood that the IRF team would beat me if I dared to playa joke on Lee. There was no way they could sit back and tolerate something like that. The IRF was called in on numerous occasions when the guards had seen me feeding breadcrumbs to iguanas or birds. I could understand that as well. And, of course, the IRF team came when they caught me doing push-ups.

But most of the time I didn't know why I was being punished. Sometimes they just seemed to invent excuses. For instance, they claimed I had tried to hide my blanket, although I hadn't touched it the entire day. Why would I want to hide my blanket? And where? Under the mattress? Or I was punished for dirtying my shirt, even if it was clean. Sometimes, the thugs came without any excuse at all-in the middle of the night, in the afternoon, or at breakfast time.

I gradually came to realize that punishment itself was the rhyme and reason for their behavior-there was no avoiding it. The point of punishment was to constantly humiliate us. It was the same when we took showers. Every time the soldier who operated the water supply thought up something new. Even if I lathered myself up as quickly as possible, the water would still be cut off before I had washed off the soap. Once I was brought out to take a shower and the soldier turned on the water while my guard was still unlocking the cage. As I was about to dash under the hose, he turned it off. "Your time's up," he said. I hadn't gotten a single drop of water. That really made me mad. I wanted to hit someone.

But that was exactly what they were trying to achieve, and I suppressed my anger. Sometimes weeks would go by without them letting us take a shower. We didn't have the right to one.

***

Then I got a new neighbor in Charlie-Charlie 4. It was a nice surprise. The escort team dragged him into the empty cage, which since my arrival had only been occupied by a dead cockroach that decomposed a little more every day. It was Salah from Oman, whom I'd met in my jail cell in Pakistan. Kemal, who had also shared that cell with us, was put in Charlie as well, but he was in Charlie-Alpha. I could only communicate with him via hand gestures. They both arrived on the same day. Salah stretched his finger through the chain link, and I shook it.

I was happy to see Salah because he was like an older brother to me. He was a quiet guy with five children. I knew from our previous encounter that he had gone to university in the United States, but I didn't know what he had studied, and Salah didn't like talking about his family and his life before Guantanamo. In prison it's better not to open up too much about yourself. But I was able to learn English from him.

At some point they hung a crest of arms on the fence. It was impossible to overlook. It featured a five-cornered building, with a black star inside it with an ocean and a horizon behind it. In the middle, you saw the outline of Guantanamo. On top of it all stood the words: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.

I asked Salah what that meant.

Salah translated things for me, also from Arabic, so that I could understand what the others said. Thanks to him I was able to get new information for the first time in a long time.

Someone had talked to the Red Cross. According to them, the Americans said we would have to stay in the camp permanently. Salah knew the specifics. He said that Donald Rumsfeld believed we could be kept in these cages indefinitely and without a trial. That was the news. But Allah would decide whether he wanted to send us home or not. Allah was on the side of the good people and not of Donald Rumsfeld. I mustn't worry.

I learned my first Arabic suras. An imam was now leading our prayers. He was a dark-skinned fifteen-year-old who had learned the Koran by heart. His cage was far from mine, but it was still in Charlie. I saw him sometimes when I was taken to the showering cage. He had a clear, loud voice. His prayers varied in length depending on which of the suras he recited.

A few of the prisoners had English versions of the Koran in their cages. They hung them on thin threads from the chain- ink fencing since the Koran must never get dirty or lie on the ground. Arabic editions weren't permitted. "Maximum security!" we joked. There could have been something dangerous in it. I wanted a Koran, too, but the guards refused to bring me one. One of them said they had run out. Another pointed to a prisoner who did have one and said, Ask him! A third guard said, What am I, a Muslim? I don't have one. When the young dark-skinned imam called us to prayer, I tried to repeat the words in my heard or whisper them softly.

***

One time there was a long, tortured cry. I turned around. There was a second and then a third cry, but they sounded different from the cries of people being beaten. It was the long and frightening wail of death. Through the chain-link fencing I could see a guard in the cage of one of the Arab prisoners. I immediately knew what had happened.

We were searched every day. They even searched the Korans. The guards grabbed the books by their spines and shook them to see if anything was concealed in the pages. This guard must have thrown the Koran on the ground-otherwise the prisoner wouldn't have howled like that. I saw the guard trampling on something.

Some of the prisoners sprang to their feet. A terrible wailing arose. One by one, all the prisoners were losing their cool. ''Allahu akbar!" they yelled. "Don't do that!" I screamed. The guard continued trampling on the Koran. It was as though lightning had struck in a zoo. Some of the prisoners tried to kick down the cage doors, others shook the fencing, trying to tear or bite their way through the chain links. Suddenly, the guard was afraid. He left the Koran on the ground and ran away. The other guards also beat a hasty retreat from Charlie Block. They ran through the corridors and hid behind the second chain-link fence.

The prisoners were getting wilder. They screamed and wailed and kicked against the fencing and spun around in circles like dervishes. Some of them were rolling around on the ground. The clamor spread like wildfire to the other blocks. I heard yelling and crying from Alpha and Foxtrot. A short time later, Humvees, jeeps, and trucks arrived. Soldiers marched forward slowly encircling the camp. They wore bullet-proof vests and carried machine guns. Kneeling or lying on their stomachs, they trained high-caliber rifles on us.

They took aim. I looked up at the watchtowers. The sharpshooters also had us in their sights. The situation was alarming. A massacre could have happened at any minute. The only thing that had to happen, I thought, was for someone to break out of his cage.

What was Isa doing? He wasn't tearing at his cage door. He was just standing there with a clenched fist, smiling.

They turned on the floodlights. I heard one of the prisoners call out something in Arabic. I didn't understand what he said, but the howling began to ebb. Most of the prisoners calmed down and let go of their cage doors. Some of them were already beginning to sit back down. I sat down too, thinking it was the best thing to do in the situation. The Arab prisoner whose Koran had been defiled picked the Holy Book up off the ground. Again, someone called out something that I didn't understand. A number of long minutes passed. The soldiers still had us in their sights.

Then the IRF teams came. They sprayed pepper spray in all the blocks. I shut my eyes and pressed my hands to my face. I heard them running on the gravel. "Hurry, hurry." I heard cage doors being opened. "Get up! Hurry!" The sounds of chains, blows, screams. I spread my fingers and could see Kemal emptying his water bucket on soldiers who were beating up a prisoner in the adjacent cage. The soldiers stormed into Kemal's cage. When he was on the ground, his neighbor poured the content of his toilet bucket on the soldiers.

Then I saw other prisoners emptying their toilet buckets on the IRF teams. The team in Kemal's cage left him on the ground and began beating up his neighbor. When they were through with him, they returned to Kemal, grabbed his feet, and dragged him off. A lot of the prisoners were taken away. Then the soldiers returned and beat up the rest.

The IRF teams had a busy night. It was morning before they stopped. They looked pretty worn out. I was lucky. This time around they didn't visit me. Maybe they were just tired.

***

The following day some of the prisoners refused to take their breakfast. Others accepted the paper plates but didn't eat anything. When the guards came to my cell, I shook my head. Salah wouldn't eat anything either, and even Abdul didn't touch his plate. We weren't acting on a plan. It just happened spontaneously. By noon, no one in Charlie was eating anything. That afternoon we heard from Bravo that all of the blocks were on hunger strike. In the morning, at noon, and in the evening, the guards came with paper plates and Emaries, but we all refused to take them.

Kemal never returned.

On the fourth day of our hunger strike, the general who was in charge of Guantanamo in the early days arrived and talked with one of the English-speaking prisoners. The prisoner refused to stand up in the general's presence. The general took his cap off and sat on the ground in the corridor in front of the cage. At that moment, I realized that we were not utterly powerless. We could bring them to their knees if we all went on hunger strike! They didn't want us to die, But I didn't understand why the general had taken off his cap. Was he trying to signal that he wasn't on the job, that he wanted to speak to the prisoner as a human being?

The general and the prisoner talked.

The general was surrounded by a dozen or so high-ranking officers, They had stopped in their tracks. They didn't seem to like it that the general was sitting on the ground. The general asked why we had stopped eating, The prisoner explained how important the Koran was to us and what it meant. The general said he would punish the soldier who had defiled the Koran. When he got up and started to leave Charlie with the officers, he passed by my cage. He slowed down and looked me over, Probably because of my fair skin, I thought. I spoke to him.

"What happen?" I asked.

The general's answer was long, and I didn't understand very much. After he left, Salah explained:

"He said he'll ensure personally that something like that doesn't happen again."

We talked at length amongst ourselves in the blocks that day, and the guards let us. Some of the prisoners said they didn't believe the Americans. They suggested returning their copies of the Koran because they'd rather not have the book at all than risk it being defiled again. Others thought we should wait and see. In the end, we all agreed that we had to get organized and elect a leader. That evening, the first group of prisoners resumed eating. I decided not to, although I was very hungry. A guard came to me and asked why I still didn't want to eat.

"Look over there," he said, pointing to a man with a cup in his hand. "You'll even get some warm tea if you start eating again."

He had to be joking, I thought. After he left, I found out that they had in fact distributed tea. What an idiot! Did he really think he could bribe us with a cup of tea? I couldn't understand who the American guards thought they were.

A few days later, the general reappeared, he wanted to negotiate. He asked for our conditions. The prisoner who spoke English demanded that the guards no longer be allowed to handle and search through our Korans. We didn't want our private parts searched. And we didn't want to be frisked by female guards. If he agreed to all that, we would start eating again. The general agreed.

That evening I ate some cold rice and crackers. They tasted great.

***

After the incident with the Koran, we went ahead and elected a leader. All of the prisoners were allowed to nominate a candidate. It was a secret vote-the Americans knew nothing about it. It took several weeks because the vote was strictly oral, the preliminary results passed from cage to cage. Out of five hundred prisoners, ten men were chosen, and suggestions were collected and evaluated. Those ten men chose three other men, who in turn elected our leader. We called him the emir. No one but the three men who had elected him knew who he was. Officially this man was not our leader. He chose a spokesperson to deal with the Americans and to appear as our leader. In that way, the real emir could remain in the background, undetected.

We strung the Americans along. We acted as though we had elected an emir, the spokesperson, and let his name be known. Before long the spokesperson disappeared for months. The Americans thought they had broken our resistance, and there wouldn't be any more hunger strikes. But the real emir was still making the decisions behind the scenes. He collected opinions from all the prisoners' representatives and decided what the figurehead emir would tell the Americans.

We wanted to put an end to the defilements of the Koran. We wanted the Americans to respect our faith and stop playing the U.S. national anthem during our prayers. We wanted to restrict the level of torture and get medicine for some of the wounded prisoners. Sometimes the Americans seemed to accede to our demands, for example regarding medicine, but of course we had no way of knowing what exactly it was they were giving the sick prisoners. We wanted them to treat the sick, elderly, and handicapped prisoners more respectfully. We wanted proper food.

Later, each block chose its own emir. Eventually I also became a block emir because I came to speak not only good English but other languages used by the prisoners. In Bremen, I had studied English in school, but the language didn't interest me because I didn't have any use for it. In Kandahar and Guantanamo, I wanted to learn English so that I could understand the Americans and defend myself during interrogations. I wanted to learn Arabic so that I could read the Koran and understand the other prisoners. I learned English from my interrogators and from Salah, Uzbek from Uzbeks, Farsi from the Afghans, Arabic from Salah and the Saudis, and Italian from the Algerian who had lived in Italy. I wasn't fluent in these languages by any means, but I could make myself understood. And that was very useful in Guantanamo.

When it was my turn to be the emir, I was the contact person for the Americans. I mostly served as emir when I wasn't being transferred or spending time in solitary confinement. They transferred us frequently to prevent us from getting organized, but the more often they moved us, the more quickly information spread among the prisoners.

As an emir I was responsible for whether or not prisoners in my block would go on hunger strike. There were some longer hunger strikes and a lot of shorter ones. I had read that if a man doesn't eat for two weeks, or doesn't drink anything for four or five days, he can die. I believe the doctors in Guantanamo didn't know exactly when a man might die. That's why they were careful during the first hunger strikes-until they found out precisely how long we could last without food or water. One of the prisoners refused to eat for more than a hundred days. At some point he was force-fed. There were always small groups of prisoners or individuals on hunger strikes. Soon the Americans understood our tactics. They didn't seem to care any more if someone hadn't eaten for a couple of weeks. They only came after twenty days or more.

I listened to the prisoners' demands and passed them on to the Americans. Negotiations began. They would make us offers to end the hunger strikes. The negotiations were tough. For example, the Americans offered to remove the Korans from our cages-that was one of our demands. But we would also have to give up our T-shirts. Their offers always included punishments. We were given a choice to either keep our overalls or get medicine for someone who was sick. Either keep our soap and flip-flops or be allowed more showers. The Americans called this making "suggestions." If there wasn't a majority among the prisoners, then I had to decide.

I soon realized that we didn't have any real power. It was just an illusion. It was up to the general alone whether or not there would be negotiations. He was the first and last camp commandant with whom we could at least negotiate religious issues. He kept his word. But this general was replaced, and everything changed overnight.

Still, our leadership system worked. The men who were our official emirs were always being put in solitary confinement. The man that we had first elected in Camp X-Ray remained the real emir without the Americans ever catching on. Indeed, very few of the prisoners knew who the real emir was.

I know his name, but I'm not saying anything. As of 2007 he's still in Guantanamo, and he's still the prisoners' true leader.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:16 pm

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 8: GUANTANAMO BAY, CAMP DELTA

CAMP X-RAY WAS CLOSED IN LATE APRIL 2002.

I was there for three months. During this time, the Americans built Camps 1 and 2 and the isolation ward "India." In April 2002, Camp I was opened, and we were transferred there. While we were in Camp 1, they built Camps 3 and 4 and the isolation wards "Romeo," "Quebec," and "Tango." We were then moved to Camp 3, during which time they built Camp 5 and, in 2006, Camp 6. Sometimes we could see the construction sites but we could always hear them since construction work went on around the clock. They had approximately twenty new diesel generators that, when they were on, which was most of the time, made so much noise that we could never sleep for more than a few moments.

The entire facility was called Camp Delta.

***

One day, buses-they looked like American school buses-stopped in front of the chain-link fences. Soldiers inspected our mouths and ears, bound us and put goggles, soundproof headphones, and gas masks on our heads. We were led to the buses and chained to the floor. There were no seats, and they beat us. After two or three hours, we drove off. It wasn't a long ride. When we arrived in Camp Delta, they removed our goggles.

What a surprise.

The blocks looked as through they were made of metal walls welded together to form a giant container. Inside the containers were the cages, but this time their sides were made of metal grille instead of chain-link fence. The prisoners could see through the lattice, and the guards could keep us under observation at all times. The grille was razor sharp.

I was put in Camp 1, Block Alpha, Cell Alpha-2. At first glance, the cage looked more modern than the one I had occupied in Camp X-Ray. The mattress was no longer on the ground but rested on a bunk bed welded to the wall. Although the cage was no smaller than the one in Camp X-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?

This was no dog pound. It was a maximum-security cage. Even Isa wouldn't have been able to break anything in it-the cell could have withstood a charging elephant. There were forty-eight of these cages, in two rows of twenty-four, in every block. They were closely surrounded by the walls of the container. The only windows were along the short walls at both ends of the container so that the first and last cells were the only ones to get any real direct sunlight. In Alpha-2, I hardly saw the sun at all.

They had perfected their prison.

At some point during my time in X-Ray, I had stopped noticing the chain-link fence. I could see the sky, the hills and the cacti. Now I saw nothing but metal lattice and the roof. It felt like being sealed alive in a ship container. The only fresh air came though the windows. It was unbearably sticky and hot.

Compared to the provisional facilities in X-Ray, the toilet and the sink looked like the ones in a proper prison. I knew about jails from American movies and Uncle Ekram's anecdotes. I was going to have a tough time, but I told myself I would survive. In a proper prison, there are rules that the guards have follow, an everyday routine, and a prison yard.

I noticed immediately that the new cage was smaller than the old one, and it was clear they couldn't possibly keep us locked up in there twenty-four hours a day, I was convinced that we would sleep there, and then during the day we'd be let out into the yard. It took a few days for me to realize that there was no prison yard, I'd been kidding myself again.

***

After I was released I read in a newspaper that, according to official sources, the cells in Camp Delta measure six-and-a- half by eight feet. That's not accurate. I measured my cage with my hand and arrived at six-and- a-half by seven feet. The difference may not seem that significant, but it is an example of the constant deception. Nothing in the camp is what it seems, nothing is the way the U.S. Army says it is and as it has been reported, filmed, and photographed by journalists, There are cages and interrogation rooms specially constructed for the media. In media reports, you often see things on the bunks that I never once had in Guantanamo: a backgammon board, for example, or books or a bar of chocolate. In all the photos taken of the inside of Camp Delta, there's a Koran hanging on the wall, covered in white cloth and bound by a ribbon. Sometimes we had Korans in the cages, but that was an exception, not the rule, and there certainly weren't any white cloths with ribbons. The fake cells were their attempt to convince people that they respected our faith.

My neighbor was light-skinned like me and spoke very good English. He was a Muslim from a country that borders Germany-I don't want to say which one. He has since been freed, and he has never spoken to the media. He wants to be left alone, and I want his wishes to be respected. I'm going to call him Mani. His native tongue was French, and he could also speak a few words of German.

Mani was maybe two or three years older than me, He was very helpful and taught me the Koran, Both of us now had a Koran, a bilingual edition in Arabic and English. I had asked for one repeatedly, and one day, to my surprise, a guard brought me one. We sat on the floor of our cells, and through the metal lattice Mani taught me how to read the Koran without making mistakes. It was a lot of fun. But whenever Johnson was in the block, he'd kick the door and tell us we weren't allowed to talk.

Mani and I were neighbors for three months. One day he was taken away, and when he returned from what I figured was an interrogation, I asked, "Well, how was it?"

"Great," he said. "I went for a walk." To my astonishment, he told me there was a prison yard in Camp Delta.

"Don't talk nonsense," I said.

But Mani wasn't talking nonsense. Twice a week, the guards had told him, prisoners were allowed out into the yard for fifteen minutes, as long as they weren't serving out a punishment.

A couple of days later, I saw the yard. It was a caged-in area behind the container block. The Americans called it the "rec area," and I estimated it to be twenty-two by thirty-eight feet. I was allowed to pace back and forth there, alone. Prisoners weren't allowed to touch the chain-link fence, and the ground was made of concrete. I couldn't believe my eyes and looked at the guard. Someone told me I had fifteen minutes.

But what did that mean: fifteen minutes? I didn't have a watch, and after a couple of minutes, as was always the case in the showers, my time was up. And what did twice a week mean? I was only let out into the yard once or twice a month at most. The rest of the time they said there was a danger of lightning or hurricanes. But usually the sun was shining-that much I could see through the windows.

One day I took a small, pointed stone from the yard back into my cage. I used it, as surreptitiously and as far away from the door and the guards as I could, to draw a Nine Men's Morris board on my bunk. I made the pieces from toilet paper, tiny balls and tubes. We played the game, and when the guards came we started talking about the Koran. Mani didn't know Nine Men's Morris, so I won the first few games in a row. Then Mani got better.

Though I could now play games and talk about the Koran with Mani, interrogations into the wee hours of the night and the beatings continued. The interrogation rooms in Camp Delta all had mirrors behind which other interrogators sat and cameras recorded the questioning. They kept trying to trick me. Once, one of the interrogators said:

"You know that there were people who were Taliban and are now at home?"

That was true. Word had gotten around that some of the Taliban fighters had already been freed.

"Do you know why?" asked the interrogator. "They're soldiers who fought for their country. We know who they are, and we let them go. But the problem with you is that we don't know who you are. We don't know whether you're Taliban or Al Qaeda. That makes you dangerous. Tell us that you're part of Al Qaeda, and we'll let you go."

Of course it was a trick. Maybe it would have helped if I had confessed to being a Taliban, even if they knew that wasn't true. Then they could have said I was guilty and maybe let me go. But I wasn't giving in to that.

The permanent exhaustion weighed me down like lead in my shoes. It was an iron rule in Camp Delta that all cages were to be searched at least once a day and once at night. They'd kick the door and yell. Stand up and prepare to be shackled.

Although there was nothing to search but the mattress, the ceiling and our flip-flops, they always took their time, shining their flashlights in every corner. They would whistle cheerfully all the while, waking up the other prisoners, and kicking the cage walls and the sink to see if everything was still solid. Searches often lasted a half an hour.

When the guards visited the cages, the fans on the corridor ceiling would be turned on so they wouldn't break a sweat. The fans were as loud as airplane generators. The guards brought chairs along so they could sit down and rest. They talked demonstratively loudly, played cards, and sang songs. When I wasn't being interrogated, I tried to get some sleep, but you can't get any real rest by catnapping. Occasionally they'd return after an hour, wake me up again, and search my cell a second time.

The welded metal plates in the corridor floor were warped from the heat. The guards loved to stomp on the spots where the floor had arched because it made a loud noise. When they lead a prisoner through the corridor, you could hear them from a long way off, and when they came to pick someone up, they'd drop the chains loudly to the floor. With forty-eight prisoners per block, there was always someone coming or going. The fans and diesel generators hummed, and the guards took their keys and scraped them along the metal lattice. In the beginning, I hoped things would change. But after a few months, I knew it would always be like this.

***

I thought about the birds I had kept as a boy. Sometimes, I felt sorry for them in their cages. In Camp X-Ray, there were always birds. I had fed them with breadcrumbs I concealed from the guards under my clothing and my mattress. At first the birds were shy, but gradually they came to trust me. Some of them-especially the zunzuns, a kind of blue, white, and red hummingbird hardly bigger than a locust-could fly through the chain link fence. Some were even small enough to get into our pens in Camp Delta. I was overjoyed when the first zunzun flew through the lattice of my cage, followed by other zunzuns. I used to talk to the birds about how strange the world was. They used to be in a cage, and I would visit them, and now the situation was reversed.

***

For the first few months at Camp Delta I wasn't allowed to shower because I was being punished for something. Finally, I was taken to the shower cells. The water came on; I got under it and started to lather up. The soldier turned the water off.

I had had enough.

"Why didn't you give me my two minutes?" I yelled at the guards.

"Your time is up," he said. "Get dressed."

"You didn't give me two minutes!" I insisted.

"I decide how long you get to shower."

"You have to give me two minutes. If there are rules, why don't you follow them?"

"You don't have any say here."

"Rules are rules, and you have to follow them!"

"Back in your cage. Get going!"

I took the small piece of soap to the lattice and squeezed my hand so that it popped out and hit him in the forehead. He was startled. He disappeared and came back with an officer. I complained about my shower.

"When your time is up, it's up," said the officer, "You'll have to be punished."

"I know your IRF team. Let them come."

They sprayed me with pepper spray, we fought, and they chained me up. They brought me to solitary confinement. I'd heard of it before, the cell was in Block Oscar.

***

I looked around. This was truly nothing more than a ship's container with a door. The walls were reinforced by corrugated metal sheeting like the one in fairground stalls. Every surface-the walls, the floor, the ceiling-was covered with it. There was no mattress or wool blanket. A toilet and a sink were sunk into the floor. If I stared for too long at any one point of the metal sheeting, I got dizzy. This cage was even smaller than the one in Block 1.

The light went off. It was cold. The metal on the floor felt like ice. I stood up. Fortunately, I was still wearing my flip- flops, and I hoped the guards wouldn't notice them. I heard a rumbling. It was an air-conditioning unit mounted above the door. Icy air streamed in. I thought back to how I had worked at a bakery when I was young. There was a cooler there, too. I thought, this isn't all that different. They've put me in a giant refrigerator.

After a while, I couldn't feel my hands or legs. I sat down on the floor in a corner of the cell, pulled my pants above my T-shirt and my arms under it all. That was just about bearable. There was a draft. The motor of the air-conditioner was so strong I could feel cold air being sucked in. But I still had no idea what solitary confinement really meant.

There were two slots in the door, one at knee-height for food, and another for the guards to look in. A red light on the ceiling went on when a guard came to bring food or wanted to see me. I think they used it to check whether I was sitting or standing when they pushed through my food. As soon as I took my food, the light went back off, and I ate in the dark. When the guards opened the peephole, I could tell whether it was night or day from whether the light was white or yellow.

Once I succeeded in breaking something in the cell. I kicked the peephole so hard the metal bent a bit and I could see through the crack into the corridor. I shouldn't have done this. When the guards came with my food, I saw them spit on it before they opened the food slot and pushed the plate in. They spat on all the plates before delivering the food. What bastards, I thought. I always looked forward to meals, no matter how scant they were. Now I wasn't able to eat for days. I cleaned every last crumb before I put it in my mouth, and I still felt nauseous.

Sometimes I had to move to fight the cold, but I tried not to. I needed to save my energy since all I was given to eat was a piece of toast and a bit of apple, three times a day. But I had to move around sometimes, when it got colder. I sat in the corner underneath the bare bunk bed. There was no draft there. After a few days, I heard someone speaking Turkish in the corridor. Someone was speaking to one of the guards. I recognized the voice and waited until the guard has gone away.

"Erhan?"

"Murat?"

Erhan was two or three cells down the line from me, but the food slot was open so we could talk to each other when the guards weren't around.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I don't know. And you?"

''I'm vacationing in Siberia."

***

I got out after a month. For a while, I couldn't see anything. I kept getting terrible headaches. But the sun and the heat were better than the cooler. They brought me to Block Mike in Camp 2. This block, it was said, was completely bugged. Several prisoners had discovered microphones, and we surmised that people were put there so that the soldiers could listen in on their conversations. My neighbor was a man from Saudi Arabia who was married to an American woman. His name was Ebu Ammar.

He was in his mid-thirties and was a taekwondo coach, so I figured I could learn some useful things from him. We talked at night, and he promised to show me a few tricks. From a standing position, he could leap up and touch the ceiling with his foot. We had to be careful because of the guards. Soon I noticed that I was getting increasingly hungry from our secret workouts and the small rations were becoming a problem. But I didn't want to miss the opportunity of having a personal trainer.

***

I was interrogated in various rooms, and in many of them I noticed cameras in the ventilation shafts. The interrogators varied, too. Every once in a while they were women. Some of them said they could speak German, but most of them couldn't. Over time, I could speak English much better than they could speak German. Through countless interrogations, they always asked the same questions. Hour after hour. When I started to fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, they hit me on the head or in the face. They couldn't think of any better way to keep me awake.

One day, I was taken to an interrogation room in which three women were waiting. The guards chained me to a ring in the floor and left. One of the women was in uniform, but the other two had next to nothing on-just scanty tops and shorts. I looked at the ground. I didn't want to see them, half-naked as they were. One of the women walked around me, put her hand under my shirt from behind and began to stroke me. I like you, she said. I'd like us to do something together.

She said she'd noticed me a while ago and had watched me taking showers. She made some indecent remarks, but I knew she was lying. She couldn't have seen me naked because I always showered in boxer shorts. She pressed her body against mine, stroked my chest and began to moan. It was unbearable. They knew I was religious, and she only wanted to humiliate me. I said: Stop! Stop that! But she kept on. I jerked my head back and caught her on the nose. The door burst open, and the IRF team pounced on me. I was put in the cooler, where I was forced to lie in chains for a whole day and didn't get anything to eat for several more.

Some time later, I was taken to a room with carpeted walls covered with Koranic verses. There was even a prayer rug on the floor. There was a sofa, cushions, a television, and a table on which sat a bowl full of fruit, nuts, and sweets. They had constructed a fantasy paradise. Or I was dreaming. I was starved. But I didn't trust the situation. A man in civilian clothing was sitting on the sofa. He stood up and shook my hand.

''I've heard what happened to you," the man said. "I came immediately from Washington to help you. I'm sorry it took me so long, but the military authorities are slow. They're not allowed to treat you this way. I brought you something to eat. Go ahead and take some."

I remained standing there and said nothing.

''I'm going to help you. But before I can help you, I have to ask you some questions ..."

"I don't like your food," I said, "or your face."

"You can take it with you to your cell ..."

"I don't want your food."

"Okay, I can leave you alone. I'll go out, and you can eat. Help yourself ..."

I didn't touch it.

They had starved me for days. Did they really think they could trick me like this? That I would eat it all up and then tell them what they wanted to hear?

***

When the escort team brought me back to the cooler, I didn't eat anything for fifteen days in protest. Then my neighbor said, "Murat, that's crazy. You can't go on a hunger strike alone."

He was a Bosnian named Musa. He was right. I started eating again. I was very weak and freezing cold.

They tried every trick in the book. Other prisoners said that they, too, had been humiliated by women. But not all of the female soldiers were like that. Once a female interrogator wanted to shake my hand. I excused myself, looked down, and said I was sorry, explaining that my faith did not allow me to make physical contact with any woman but my wife.

"If you shake hands with a woman, you can get very close to her, and you might begin to feel something for her. It's the first step."

"Why won't you look at me?" asked the woman.

"For the same reason. We aren't allowed to look women in the eye for very long."

"Do you think I'm ugly?"

"It's not that. All women have something beautiful. Probably you're quite lovely."

"What do you do when you meet women on the street? You can't always lower your eyes ..."

"I'm not responsible for things I can't change," I said. "Only for what I do on purpose."

"If that's the case," she said, "it's okay."

***

At some point, the interrogations had become so absurd that they were asking me what color shoes I had worn in Bremen or which brand of shirt I preferred. They never stopped interrogating me, so one day I decided not to answer any more questions. For weeks I didn't say a thing, not even "hello." Then an interrogator said:

"Okay, I know you're not answering any questions, but tell me why you've stopped talking."

"I've told you many hundred times what I've done and who I am," I said and pointed to one of the cameras in the room. "If you want to hear my story one more time, you only need to rewind the tapes and play them back."

Of course, they put me in solitary confinement for that. They took away my blanket, my flip-flops, and my T-shirt so that I sat in the cooler in my boxer shorts. But I was always being punished and humiliated, regardless of what I did. The interrogations were especially frequent that autumn. But I said nothing. I only spoke again when the Turks came to Guantanamo.

"Get ready," said the soldier from the escort team, when he came to get me in the morning.

"Where are we going?"

We went to a container I hadn't seen before, located off to the side of the camp. I knew that was where the interrogation rooms for foreign visitors were located. I had heard that other prisoners had been questioned by policemen from their home countries there. What I didn't know was whether I was getting a visit from Germany or Turkey.

***

There were three men in the interrogation room, and I noticed immediately that they were Turks.

"What's this?" said one of them. "I can't bear to see a Turk bound like this in front of me. That's not right. Call the guard."

No one is more theatrical than the Turks. I couldn't help but smile at the man with the dark hair, who was holding his hand in front of his eyes.

"He's a Turkish citizen, a brother," the man continued. "No, I can't bear to see this. Take his chains off immediately."

The only thing missing were his tears.

The guard came and removed my handcuffs, but he left the foot restraints chained to the ring in the floor. What nonsense! Great show, I thought, but this is still just one big set-up. The Turk came up to me, shook my hand, and then kissed me on the cheeks.

"How do you feel? How are you doing? I can't believe my eyes."

The man then collected himself and sat down. He didn't introduce himself. He told the other two men to be quiet, although they hadn't said anything, and then said he would have to ask me a few questions. He wanted to know where I had been arrested.

"In Pakistan," I said. "I wasn't exactly arrested. I was asked to get out of the bus and answer some questions, so I got out."

The Turk's tone of voice changed instantaneously.

"What sort of lies are you telling?" he yelled. "We spare no expense and effort to come here, and you start lying? If you don't want us to help you, that's your decision. Why did you decide to become a terrorist?"

''I'm not a terrorist."

"Oh no? Then what are you? If you weren't a terrorist, you wouldn't have ended up here. You're all terrorists in here."

The man stood up and threatened me with his fist. But I wasn't afraid. On the contrary. I was enraged.

"Have you come here to help or shower me with stupid insults?" I asked.

"We don't give a shit if you spend the rest of your life in Guantanamo. We want to ask our questions and leave. America will decide the rest. We don't have any influence on that."

The other two men still hadn't said a word.

From the way the man talked, I got the impression that he didn't know exactly where he was. I told him about the cells and torture in Guantanamo and Kandahar. The three men listened to me for a while, before their leader hastily interrupted.

"What are you thinking? Do you believe you'd be treated any better in a Turkish prison?" I knew then that he truly didn't care.

They asked me a few meaningless questions, which I answered, although I found them a waste of time.

The next morning I was brought into a room where the Americans usually interrogated me. It was one of the spaces with a one-way mirror behind the lectern. The three Turks were there again. This time they didn't say hello, and there wasn't any show. They asked me some questions about my German friends in Bremen. They seemed especially interested in two of my friends who worked for the Bremen police department.

"How come you had friends who worked for the police?"

"I don't understand the question," I said. "They're my friends. They just happen to work for the police. One of them is Turkish, the other German ... I don't know. That's just the way it turned out ..."

"You're lying. We're convinced that you're a spy. That's the evidence. You're a German spy."

That was absurd. What sort of a spy was I supposed to be? One who spied on Guantanamo? Who would voluntarily let himself be imprisoned here to spy for Germany? Or a spy in Bremen who kept the Turks in Hemelingen under surveillance? What was the point of this? I was fed up.

"Okay, if you think I'm a spy, then that's it. I don't know what you're talking about, but if you want to think I'm a spy, go ahead."

"We have some more questions ..."

"I'm not answering any more questions."

For a while they kept trying to get answers, but I was fed up. I knew these kind of people, and the Turkish government wasn't going to help me. Not in a million years.

"Well, that's all." said the leader of the three men. "You deserve to be here."

The Turk and his two subordinates left.

I'd already regretted talking to them during the first interrogation, and I had given up hope they would believe me. Even the Americans didn't think I was a spy. They probably had a good laugh behind the mirror when they heard that.

A little while later, the Germans came. It was September 23, 2002.

Strangely enough, the night before, I got a new neighbor in Block Mike, the one that was bugged. He was a large man. They put him in the cage opposite mine. I talked to him. His name was Abid-I can't remember his last name, although I could see the band around his wrist.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Germany," he said.

"Germany?"

I was amazed. I thought I was the only prisoner from Germany. Abid was over 40. He was originally Algerian, and he said that he had lived in Hamburg for a number of years and was married to a German woman. He'd worked there as a bouncer in a club. Abid had been in prison a number of times before. He told me about jails in Algeria, France, and Italy, and he said that when he was bouncer he had done some time in a Hamburg prison after a fight. But he'd never experienced anything like Guantanamo, he said. His German was very good, and when he stood up, I saw that he had a limp.

The next day when I entered the room where the three Turks had interrogated me, there was a man sitting at the table. They chained my foot restraints to the ring on the floor. Then three other men came in. They must be Germans, I thought. They didn't look like Turks. Two of them were wearing suits, while the other two wore casual shirts and pants. One of them was blond and had a moustache and a goatee. He was big and strong. One of them was thin and also had a moustache, while the third had a receding hairline. The fourth left the room after a while without having said anything. I couldn't tell whether he was German or American.

One of the men put a cassette recorder on the table. It was pleasantly cool-there had to be an air conditioner on somewhere. The big guy, who had already been sitting in the room when I entered, seemed younger than the other two.

"We're from Germany, and we want to ask you some questions."

There was no greeting and none of the men introduced himself, but I said that I was glad to finally speak to someone from the German government. They asked me how I was doing. I said that I was always hungry, that it was very hot, that the cells were too small, and that we were hardly ever let out in the yard. They didn't seem too interested.

"If you answer the questions truthfully, you'll help yourself. Start with your life story."

"Have you brought me anything from Germany?" I asked. "A letter or a message from my family?"

They looked at one another and shrugged.

"We've come here to ask questions, not to deliver letters."

I notice that the blond one stayed in the background. The other two seemed to be in charge.

"Why don't you begin ..."

I told them about everything. About the discos, my body-building, my friends in Hemelingen, and my visits to the mosques. They seemed especially interested in how and why I had become religious. They kept interrupting my answers with other questions.

"How important is that to you?"

"Do feel superior to other people?"

"Do you hate non-religious Muslims?"

"Do you hate Germans because they're not religious?"

"Which people, if any, mean anything to you?"

They took turns. After a while they called to a guard who took off my handcuffs. The fourth man entered the room every once in a while and whispered to the others.

I told them about my family, my friends, and Selcuk. They wanted to know what plans Selcuk had, whether I thought he was dangerous, and whether I could imagine him as a criminal. No, I said, I couldn't. I told them about the tablighis, and they named some people from the group in Bremen. They asked if these were common names. They showed me some photos that I hadn't seen before in the interrogations with the Americans. Pictures of friends and colleagues from work, from my apprenticeship, and the trade school. They also showed me photos of girls, but I didn't know any of them. They showed me pictures of men in mosques and on the street, but I didn't know most of them either. Then they showed me pictures of Selcuk. One of them showed him laughing.

"Why is he laughing?" I asked.

"Yes, he's doing well," said the blond man. "Unlike you."

The other two left the room. As they shut the door, the clock fell off the wall and revealed a camera pepping out a hole. The big blonde guy picked up the clock and hung it back up. I could see the camera lens above the number 3. The other two men returned.

"If you answer our questions truthfully, it may speed up your release."

That was the same thing the Americans said, but the Germans seemed more professional. They knew everything about me, and suddenly they read out a sentence that left me amazed.

"Selcuk went with a friend to Afghanistan to fight there. He was stirred up to do so in a mosque ..."

Allegedly Selcuk's brother had told a customs official this on the telephone at Frankfurt Airport. Selcuk, the Germans said, had received a fine because his dog had bitten someone. He hadn't paid it, and when he went with the officials into their office and called his brother, the brother had refused to help him and told the officials not to let him leave under any circumstances. I don't know whether this was true. But I could imagine it was.

Now I knew why Selcuk hadn't come to Pakistan and why the Americans in Kandahar already knew so much about me. The customs official must have passed on the information, and it had gotten to the Americans. I told the Germans I didn't know anything about this phone call because at that point I was already on the plane.

"I think he probably didn't want to let Selcuk go, just as my mother or brother wouldn't have let me go. I don't know why he said that, but I imagine he made it up. He wanted to prevent Selcuk and me from flying to Pakistan. He probably didn't know I was already on the plane at that point and that he could get me in trouble. My parents or my brother might have made up something similar to keep me from going."

The Germans said two students at my trade school had testified that I ran around the school with a big turban and had said I wanted to become a Taliban fighter. They showed me pictures of two students. They were both Turks.

Those were the same two people, I said, who used to accuse me of being a pimp. When I was eighteen, I used to drive my father's Mercedes to the trade school on Thursdays and Fridays. Back then, I worked in discos, had short hair, shaved, and wore stylish suits. The two Turks had always tried to get me into trouble. Where did he get the Mercedes? they'd ask. He's definitely dealing drugs. That was a lie, and now they were telling more lies about me. I never said I wanted to become a Taliban fighter or go to war in any form. And I never wore a turban.

"You bought combat boots, fatigues, and field glasses before you flew to Pakistan ..."

Combat boots? Did they mean the pair of KangaROOS that the police in Pakistan had taken from me? Fatigues? In Bremen, I had bought a pair of pants with side pockets and removable legs that you can get in any camping store.

"And as far as the field glasses were concerned," I said, "I did have a simple pair of binoculars with me, but they were small enough to fit in my shirt pocket. My parents gave them to me. Now they're gone."

I had a pain in my elbow and kept massaging that spot. One of the Germans asked why I kept doing that. I told him about the IRF teams, and explained that one of the soldiers had twisted my arm.

"But that's nothing," I said, and told them about being tortured in Kandahar, about the electric shocks and chains, the water-boarding and solitary confinement cells in Guantanamo, even about the incident with the women.

None of that seemed to interest them.

"Let's get back to the point," they said every time I told them about being tortured.


***

That evening I was back in Block Mike.

"How was it?" asked Ebu Ammar.

"I had visitors."

"Germans?"

"Yes."

"Germans are known to be just. You've got no worries. If they've come all the way over here to interrogate you, they'll bring you back to Germany soon."

"The Germans will probably interrogate me as well," said Abid.

Definitely, I thought, he was from Germany, too.

***

That night I thought about what the visit might mean. The Germans hadn't exactly been helpful and had tried to trick me, and when I'd asked them whether I had been given a lawyer in Germany and whether people there had any information about me, they had just said they weren't able to answer those questions.

Like the Americans, they had only been after evidence they could use to accuse me of some crime.

Whenever I spoke about being tortured, they changed the subject. But the truth was I had been tortured! I had to tell them! As interrogators, they were duty-bound to carefully record everything I said and to make it known to my family, the German government, and the public. Weren't they supposed to have asked me about my treatment as well? But at least, I thought, our conversation had been taped.

I was convinced that my family and the German public knew that government representatives had come to see me. Surely it was an official visit.

***

The next day I told them about Abid from Hamburg, my neighbor in Block Mike. Who was that, they wanted to know, and I told them what I knew about him.

They asked whether I knew him from Germany.

"No," I said. "The Americans call him the 'Big German Guy.'"

But my German interrogators didn't seem interested in Abid.

They came and went from the room again, as they had the day before. Maybe they wanted to talk something over in private, or perhaps they had just smoked a cigarette.

"We have a number of questions we want you to answer only with a simple yes or no. You should answer immediately without taking time to think. Just yes or no. Is that clear?"

"Okay."

"Have you ever worn black shoes?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever seen children's films?"

"Yes."

"Are you from Al Qaeda?"

"No."

Trick questions, I thought.

"Faster," they said. "You have to answer faster. Do you drink water?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever had a toothache?"

"Yes."

"Do you love your mother?"

"Yes."

"Did you want to join the Taliban?"

"No,.

"Do you like your father?"

"Yes."

"Did Selcuk pay for your ticket?

"No."

"Have you ever had a pet?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever experimented with explosives?"

"No."

"Do you approve of Osama bin Laden?"

"No."

"Do you like your brother?"

"Yes."

"Do you like Osama?"

This went on for at least an hour.

The big blond guy didn't say much during this, and then the other two left the room, leaving him behind alone. When they came back, they wanted to know what I intended to do after I was released. Did I want to get a job?

"Of course, I want to work," I said. "How else am I going to earn money?"

"Would you like to work for us when you return to Germany?"

I thought it over. "What would I do for you?"

"Find out interesting things. You would get into certain circles to which others don't have access."

"What kind of circles? The Hell's Angels?"

I had to laugh. Of course I knew they were talking about mosques and the tablighis.

"You could be a big help to us ..."

They wanted me to spy for them. I would never do that, I thought. I'd rather starve to death. But it might help me to feign interest.

"What would it be like?"

"We'll tell you as things progress. But we have a V-man who would meet you daily at prearranged times and places."

I nodded. At the time, I didn't know that a V-man was the German term for an undercover informant, so I would have nodded just the same if he had said X-man or T-man.

"Okay," I said. "Good idea. Let's do it. Will I contact you?"

"No. You can meet the V-man whenever you want. He'll pass on everything you have to us."

Then all three of them left the room. After a while they came back.

"Mr. Kurnaz," they said. "We believe you've lied to us. There are some things we want to check to get concrete evidence against you. You'll see. It looks very bad for you."

"But why?" I cried. "I told you everything. You know that. You know everything about me."

"We have our own evidence. We'll base our actions on that."

"You know all too well that I have nothing to do with any terrorists."

"That's it then. We're going back to Germany."

They left the room, and the escort team came and brought me back to Block Mike.

***

"You see," said Abid, "they only came because of you. If they were interested in holding interrogations, they would have questioned me, too. But they only wanted to talk to you. You'll be home soon."

Home soon? Before I was captured, I never could have imagined a government like Germany's covering up the fact that it had sent intelligence agents to visit someone like me, but now I wasn't so sure. After all, they had suggested that I become a spy for them in Bremen.

The Germans interrogated me for around twelve hours those two days, and afterward Abid was transferred, and the Americans intensified their questioning. I was interrogated two or three times a day. They desperately wanted to know what the Germans had asked me and what I had told them. Why did you tell them about being tortured? they asked, pulling my hair. You're only making things worse for yourself. For days, they asked nothing but questions about what I'd told the Germans, even though they already knew what I'd said. What lies did I tell them, the Americans asked. They also asked me about the "Big German Guy." But what was I supposed to tell them about him?

Later I found out there were another two prisoners from Germany. One was a Tunisian, the other an Algerian. The Algerian, whose brother lives in Frankfurt, gave me his address in case I was ever released. But I don't have the address any more. It was taken away from me during the next cell search.

***
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:16 pm

Part 2 of 2

In late 2002, General Geoffrey Miller took over command of Guantanamo, and our situation dramatically worsened. The interrogations got more brutal, more frequent, and longer. The first order General Miller issued was to commence Operation Sandman, which meant we were moved to new cells everyone or two hours. The general's goal was to completely deprive us of sleep, and he achieved it.

I was moved from one block to the next. The escort team would storm in, put me in chains, run with me through the corridors, push me to my knees, and leave me there. The whole procedure would be repeated an hour later. I was transferred from Camp 1, Block Alpha, to Camp 2, Block Echo or from Camp 1, Block Alpha, to Camp 2, Block Bravo. The chains were put on and removed. I had to stand and kneel-twenty-four hours a day. I had barely arrived in a new cell and lay down on the bunk, before they came again to move me.

My neighbors were perplexed because not all the prisoners were treated this way. Later I found out that the operation was carried out on five specially selected prisoners. I was among the first-perhaps because I had refused to confess.

When the escort team had finally left the cell, I'd say hello to my neighbors, sit or lie on the bunk, and try to sleep. But as soon as the guards saw me close my eyes, sitting or lying on the bunk, they'd kick the door and yell at me, until I got up again. Soon I didn't bother greeting my neighbors. I just fell down on the bunk and tried to get a moment's sleep, before the guards woke me with a kick at the door or a punch in the face. There were maybe ten or fifteen minutes a day when I wasn't being watched.

In between transfers, I was interrogated. During this period, my interrogator was always the same man and the questioning went on a lot longer; I estimated the sessions lasted up to fifteen hours. During the sessions, the man would simply disappear for hours. 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. Once I spent more than two days in the interrogation room before the man returned.

The man told me to call him Jack (not his real name). He asked whether I wanted to change my story.

"If you change your story," Jack said, I'll be able to help you."

Cage door open, cage door closed. Standing, kneeling, standing, kneeling. The escort team came, the escort team went.

"Do you want to tell me something interesting?" asked Jack. "If you do, I can get you a nice place to sleep. Nice and warm with a mattress and a blanket."

Days and nights without sleep. Blows and new cages. Again, the stabbing sensation of a thousand needles throughout my entire body. I would have loved to step outside my body, but I couldn't.

"If you work with me," Jack said, "you can sleep for as long as you want."

I no longer knew what block I was in. Sometimes, I would start quivering for no reason. The movement of my hands, arms, and legs seemed to be taking place in a dream.

"I've gotten used to the metal bunks," I told Jack.

Sometimes I heard ringing sounds that weren't there. Other times I heard a low hum in my ear that refused to go away.

"You can keep your bed, Jack!"

"Okay," said Jack. "If you think this is fun, keep it up."

When I could no longer get up, they sent the IRF team, who said they would hit me for as long as it took for me to get up and go with them to the next cell. But I was too weak. All I could feel was a buzzing in my head like a siren. They picked me up, and my knees buckled. During the last days of this treatment, they had to carry me around. They'd take me from one cage to the next, then to Jack, and then to another cage. I can only remember bits and pieces of this.

In the end they gave up-probably because it was simply too much work for the guards to carry me around all the time. Over time, it was as if they were the ones getting punished. I was allowed to sleep, and when I woke up, the other prisoners helped me calculate how long this treatment had lasted. Three weeks. I went three weeks without sleep. At this point, I weighed less than 130 pounds.

***

The air-conditioning units in the solitary confinement cells varied between cold and hot, so when they brought me to solitary confinement, I didn't know whether I would freeze or sweat. In the next few years, I was transferred back and forth between Camps 1 and 2 within Camp Delta. In total, I estimate I spent around eighteen months in Camp 1 and maybe two years in Camp 2. The rest of the time I spent in the isolation blocks Oscar, November, and India as well as Romeo and Quebec, whose walls were covered in Plexiglas.

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.

The rules for solitary confinement changed every few, months. Sometimes I was allowed a blanket at night and then would have to hand it over in the morning. Sometimes I didn't get a blanket at all. Sometimes there was a mattress, sometimes not. During one stint I got food, and none the next.

The procedure with blankets worked like this. The guard would appear in the morning, and I would shove it, folded, through the slot. One time the guard called the IRF team and told them I had refused to hand over my blanket so they stormed into the cell and beat me up. They especially liked doing this to me after I had broiled in an oven and froze in a cooler for a month. They'd then say I had broken the rules and extend my term of solitary confinement for another four weeks.

I couldn't see any point to what they were doing. They could have just locked me up in solitary confinement for months on end if they wanted to. Why the pretense? It was up to individual interrogators anyway to determine how long they kept me and other prisoners in isolation. When an interrogator told the guards after questioning that I would have to stay in solitary confinement for another four weeks, that's what happened. I would be put back in the hole, and every time I was due to be released, they'd say I refused to hand over my blanket or spit on the ground or insulted a guard, and I'd get four more weeks of solitary confinement. The only law was my captors themselves, regardless of what they wrote in the forms they were constantly filling out.

At some point, it occurred to me that they were probably just writing down excuses in their reports. That I had gotten a blanket and refused to give it back. That a punishment had been ordered because I had dearly violated the rules. That the IRF team had to be called to bring the prisoner to reason. That I would have to spend a further month in solitary confinement in accordance with the rules. Everything was crystal dear. What could they do about it? The prisoner should have handed over his blanket. That's the way it would look to an outsider, I thought as I sat in the dark and the heat or the cold, should an outsider ever read these documents. That hypothetical someone would never imagine the guards were lying.

That just about drove me crazy, and the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I didn't think the guards were acting on their own accord, just to be evil. People higher up had drawn up regulations so that they could one day say that there had been rules, dear and fair, but no one would ever find out about the one overarching, unspoken rule that mandated that the rest of the regulations were to be constantly broken. On paper, I would always be the one who had broken the rules. I thought a lot about this in the darkness.

They had robbed me of my freedom. They had taken away part of my youth, valuable time, probably the most important time in my life. They had taken my family, my passport, and my rights. They had robbed me of sun and sleep and put me in coolers and ovens. If we had been able to survive without food, they would have taken that away, too. They only gave us enough to survive. The only thing I still had was the air I breathed. At least they couldn't take that away, I thought, this air, which stank of rust and diesel fuel.

But once again, I was mistaken.

***

It was my time to go into the rec area for a walk, and two soldiers, one black and one white, escorted me there. I had just walked into the yard, but after I had taken only four or five steps, the white soldier shouted:

"Come back out of there! Come on, out! Back in your cage!"

"Why? I just got here!"

"Time's up," said the white soldier smiling. ''I'm the one making the decisions around here, and I say you're going back into your cage now."

"OK," I said.

Then they chained me up. Once I was back in the cell, it wasn't long before the white soldier reappeared.

"Do you want to take a shower?" he asked.

Maybe he wants to make it up to me, I thought.

"OK, you can shower," he said.

They led me to the shower cell and unchained me, but it was just the same harassment. The white soldier turned on the water as I was getting undressed, and as soon as I wanted to get into the shower, he turned it off again.

"Time's up," he said.

The guards both laughed.

"You're going back home."

"OK. I'm going back to the cage. But this cage is nothing. What do you think your cage will look like in hell?"

"I don't believe in that kind of nonsense," said the white guard. "Shut up!"

They chained me up again and we walked along the corridor. The other prisoners were praying, so the guard began to whistle and stomped with his boots on the arched parts of the metal flooring, making it bang. Then he started to run very quickly, pulling me behind him on the chain like a mule and jerking me back and forth on the shackles. The black guard was behind me. Finally, I lost my temper.

I stopped.

"Keep moving!"

"Stop jerking me back and forward like that."

"Move!"

He wrenched me back and forward again.

That was it.

Although my hands were chained together in front of my stomach, I managed to grab his hand, then his sleeve, and his shoulder. My wrists were bleeding, but I didn't care. I wanted to show him that I could get the better of him-with or without handcuffs. I already had him by the collar, and he tried a judo move, shoving his leg in front of my hip to throw me. But I leapt over his leg with my chained feet and threw him over my hip so that he landed on his back. I had taken him down with his own trick. I jumped on top of him and brought my forehead crashing down on his nose. It started bleeding immediately, and the soldier groaned. I kneed him in the ribs.

It had all happened very quickly. The black guard tore at my hair, but he couldn't pull me off the soldier. He kicked my head and my back, but I didn't stop. The guard ran off.

When he came back, I heard the voice of the block sergeant.

"Stop! Stop it! Let go of him!"

"OK," I said, "But first you have to promise he'll keep his mouth shut. Then I'll let him go."

"I promise," said the sergeant.

I let the soldier go.

No sooner was he back on his feet then he pulled me to the ground and sat on top of me. The sergeant and the other soldiers restrained my feet and hands and pressed my shoulders and my head to the floor.

Someone shouted, "They're finishing off Murat!"

The prisoners shouted and kicked their doors.

"It's alright," I shouted. ''I'm alright."

The prisoners in the block calmed down again. The guards stuck me in my cell. The soldier whose nose was bleeding locked the door.

"You're not a man!" I said. "You're just a load of hot air. I beat you up when I was in handcuffs and shackles."

"You didn't beat me up. There's no way you could beat me up!"

"So what did I just do?"

I washed my hands and feet and tried to clean the blood off my T-shirt and pants. Then I got ready for prayers. I bowed down and began, although I knew what was coming.

The IRF team pulled me out of the cell, down the corridor, and out into the open. There they waited for the papers that would permit them to take me to solitary confinement. They threw me to the ground, surrounding me.

"This is how we do it here," said the soldier whose nose was still red.

"That still doesn't make you a man," I replied.

I didn't feel much after that. They dragged me semiconscious to block India.

It was the first day of fasting the month of Ramadan, Winter 2003.

***

I was put in a solitary confinement cell like any other, fitted out with corrugated metal sheeting. I had never been to India, and I was surprised that it wasn't cold. I immediately realized that something was wrong. There wasn't any air! The air conditioning unit over the door wasn't humming, and that was the only supply of air in here. They had turned off the air conditioning.

I kicked the peephole to move it a bit. I kicked it again and again but nothing happened. Had I become too weak, or was the peephole just built better than in the other cells? After several attempts I gave up. The effort was costing me too much oxygen. The walls were covered in condensation. It was hot.

I kicked the side of the cell to see if I had a neighbor. I held my ear close to one place where the welding looked weak. I already knew that we would have to speak quietly, or else they would spray pepper gas into the cell. I had been completely alone in solitary confinement often enough without any neighbors to talk to.

"Salaam alaikum," I said.

There was no answer. I kicked the wall again.

"Salaam alaikum?"

"Alaikum salam! Who is it?"

"It's me, Murat!"

"Which Murat?"

"Turkish Murat! From Germany ..."

"Long time no hear! How are you?"

I recognized the voice. It was the man I had seen in X-Ray. The man who weighed less than ninety pounds and was waiting to die.

"Is it you, Daoud? Abu Daoud?"

"Yes ..."

Suddenly the peephole opened. Tear gas streamed into my cell.

"Quiet! You're not allowed to talk!"

The gas stung my eyes, but I was curious. I was happy he was still alive, and wanted to know if he had put on weight, although I couldn't speak because I had to cough and couldn't catch my breath. I couldn't say anything for several hours. Whenever I tried, I started coughing and gasping for air. I drank some water, water that stank of chlorine-but it didn't help. The gas didn't disperse. The cell must have been completely insulated. I heard Daoud knocking every half an hour and saying:

"Murat! Murat? Are you still there?"

The peephole opened again. Nothing happened. They just wanted to see what I was doing. Some fresh air came in that way and I felt better afterward. After a while I tried to speak to Daoud again. Very quietly. I knew I couldn't survive another round of tear gas. I would have suffocated. I knocked on the wall.

"Murat? Are you there?"

Abu Daoud had in fact put on weight. I was pleased to hear that he was feeling better, but I couldn't talk any more. I had to cough again, and I didn't have the energy to stay on my feet or to speak. I lay down on the bunk, but after a while I was hardly getting any air so I moved to the floor. Maybe it would be better there. But I was too tired to even sit up straight. I lay down on my back and pressed my nose up close to the crack between the floor and the wall, thinking that some air must have been coming through there since the crack wasn't sealed with rubber. I breathed very slowly, but it was becoming tortuous, as if whatever air I did manage to catch was becoming heavier and heavier. I felt dizzy.

I don't know if I blacked out at some point. Maybe I fell asleep. Maybe I lost consciousness. A number of times I could sense myself waking back up, and then the guards kicked the door and opened the peephole.

That let some air in. I opened my eyes.

"Yes, he's still alive," one of the soldiers said.

"OK, then close up again," said the other.

I lay back down on the cell floor until they returned-it took hours. This time I had decided not to open my eyes so that some more air could come into the cell through the peephole. It opened.

"India 2! Wake up!"

They kicked the door, and then I heard the guards close the flap and disappear. Footsteps from several guards followed. The flap opened again, but I kept my eyes closed.

"Wakeup!"

They sprayed me with water from a high-pressure hose, which felt like a slap in the face, the water getting into my nose and mouth. I jumped up. I no longer cared about air. The hose was stuck through the peephole, and I heard the guards laughing as I fell over. The stream of water forced me back against the wall. Then it was over and the guards moved off, laughing. The floor was covered with water. I lay down on the bunk, but I couldn't get any air so I layback down on the wet floor. I could breathe a bit better there. The water slowly drained away.

***

It was Ramadan, and I was given a slice of white bread and a few small carrots or a quarter of an apple in the evening. Once I was given a quarter of a pear. That made me think about how we used to stuff ourselves in the evenings at home during Ramadan. I was getting less and less air. I blacked out.

I woke up when the guards came. The flap opened, the red light went on, and some air came in. Sometimes I got up to pray, but I didn't know whether the time was right. Thoughts whirred through my head, most of them about food. I remembered eating whole packets of sliced bread with cold cuts and cheese for breakfast. Now I was getting one slice three times a day. I thought about my family who were celebrating Ramadan right now in Hemelingen. What would my mother be serving for breakfast?

I blacked out. The flap opened. I opened my eyes and realized that I needed air more desperately than food or water to survive.

Air, just air.

On the third day of Eid, after Ramadan, they finally opened the door and let me out.

It was evening. The prisoners in Camp 1 were singing Islamic songs. The guards kicked the doors and ordered them to stop, but they kept on singing. I met the guard whom I had beaten up in the corridor. He was wearing sunglasses and pretended not to pay me any attention. On my way to the cage, the prisoners greeted me.

"Where were you?"

"Solitary confinement."

"Which block?"

"India."

"The whole of Ramadan?"

I had been in India 2 for thirty-three days.

***

They had fine-tuned the Guantanamo system. I understood now that prisoners were intended to feel as miserable and desperate as possible every single moment of their lives-this, as the Americans would say, was "maximum discomfort." They were constantly depriving me of anything that would have helped me get used to my situation: sleep, a blanket, time, exercise, food, air.

I would only just start to get adjusted to my new neighbors when I was taken to another cage or put into solitary confinement. They put us under maximum pressure around the clock, separating us from anything that could have given us strength or confidence. That's why we were continually moved and questioned. They ridiculed our faith and tried to separate us from Allah to make us give up any hope of ever getting out of hat hell. We were to be made as weak and as small as possible so they could get something out of us in interrogation or at least break us. I didn't give up hope. It is part of my faith never to give up hope. If Allah was willing, I could be released at any moment.

***

One day I was taken back to the container that was reserved for use by foreign interrogators. The big, blond German guy was sitting at the table. The other two hadn't come. An American was sitting next to the German, who had put his feet up on the table and was staring at the screen of a laptop. There were motorbike magazines lying next to it. I was happy. He'd brought them, I thought, because last time I had told him that I liked motorcycles. I was shackled to the chair. The German didn't acknowledge my presence but just showed the American something on the screen. They whispered to each other.

That lasted about two hours. I sat in the chair and waited. They didn't say a word to me, and the magazines were too far away for me to see them. Suddenly the German lifted his head and stared at me.

"It's been almost two years, Mr. Kurnaz, and today you had another chance to prove to me that you are innocent. But you messed it up. Unfortunately, you didn't use your time."

"I thought you were going to ask me questions?"

"That was very clever of you. Today your time is up, but tomorrow you'll get one last chance. I don't have much time, so think hard about what you are going to say."

Then he disappeared.

The next morning I was brought back into the room, where the big, blond German guy was sitting at the desk. He pushed a CD into his laptop without saying a word. Photos of Selcuk, obviously taken surreptitiously, appeared on the screen. In one of them, Selcuk was praying in a mosque. The picture was taken from the floor. Maybe with a watch or a mobile phone, I thought. In another picture, Selcuk was sitting in front of his balcony door in his undershirt, yawning. In a third, he was talking to young people, and in others, he was entering or leaving a mosque.

"Do you still think you want to work with us?"

"Yes," I said.

"OK. We will let you know. It will probably work out. But you will have to cooperate and tell all."

He pressed a button and shut down the computer. Then he put his feet on the table and leaned back, his hands clasped behind his head.

"You have nothing to worry about. After all, you're on a Caribbean island. Relax."

He closed the laptop, stood up, and went to the door. Then he turned around.

"Have a look at the biker magazines, if you want."

I glanced at them. They were from April 2004.

***

Sometimes iguanas carne into the blocks. One of them crawled up the lattice of my cage, and I fed it breadcrumbs. It ate out of my hand and slept in a pipe above my cage. I saw it crawling out of it in the morning. Sometimes land crabs carne out of the pipe, tiny ones. They also liked bread. Once, a guard caught me feeding the iguana. That meant ten days in solitary confinement -- the most lenient punishment there was.

***

When I heard wild screams again, I knew it could only be something involving the Koran. One of the guards had taken a Koran, thrown it onto the floor, and trampled it. We could only hear the wailing from a far-off block, but we knew what had happened. That same evening, a prisoner ripped up his T-shirt and tried to hang himself.

I could hear the IRF teams and the guards nervously walking back and forth. There was tear gas in the air. The prisoner was immediately discovered and taken away. Several people had threatened to commit suicide if the Koran was desecrated again, and that's how the new hunger strike began. The news was passed on from block to block. We knew almost everyone would take part.

I didn't eat anything for twenty days. The last two or three days I didn't drink any water either. It simply became too strenuous for me to use the tap. You had to press it down really hard. I tried to walk the few paces that were possible in the cell, but at some point, I didn't have enough strength. Starving myself was becoming increasingly difficult because some of my neighbors in the blocks had started eating again. I could smell the food, even when it was cold or lukewarm. I battled with myself, but decided to see my hunger strike through. My faith didn't prescribe it, I just wanted the desecration of the Holy Book to stop. Meanwhile, the interrogations continued.

I was getting weaker and weaker, and at some point they came, put me on a stretcher, and took me to a medical ward. I dung to the stretcher. My whole body cramped up-I was afraid they would amputate one of my limbs. Two men appeared, in uniform, and one had a badge on his chest with the word Doctor. That really frightened me.

"Do you want to eat now, or not?" asked the doctor.

"No."

They gagged me and shoved a tube up my nose, stopping several times because the tube filled with blood. Then I was taken to interrogation. An IRF team beat me, while I was still lying on the stretcher.

Eventually, I was taken back to the block, where I was told that one of the emirs had arranged with the general for all copies of the Koran to be taken out of the cells. Some of the prisoners were already in critical condition because of the hunger strike. The Americans probably thought it would be too much work keeping us alive with those tubes. The emir had negotiated the deal, and the general's suggestions were discussed in each block. All except three or four of the prisoners started eating again after that. The second condition of the deal was that they would no longer play the American national anthem during our prayers. A third condition was that we would receive hot meals. After the hunger strike was over, they presented us with a menu that listed very exotic dishes: Thai chicken, lamb curry, or Turkish pasha rolls. But when we got our first platefuls, we saw the same things as always: vegetables and bread, mashed together, or half-cooked rice with pieces of fruit. If "Mediterranean chicken breast" was written on the menu, then there would be a couple of hard potatoes and two tough strips of dried-out chicken on our plates.

I started eating again for two days, but then I couldn't stomach anything. Whenever I went to the bathroom, I had blood in my urine. My whole body ached and I was running a high fever. I could hardly move -- even talking was too tiring. My neighbor told the guards that I wasn't well. It was Nuri, the electrician from Izmir, who I hadn't seen for years.

"Nuri, I don't want to go to the infirmary. Don't tell them to take me there."

"Murat, you have to let them treat you."

"So they can amputate something? No! Don't tell them anything. I'm staying here'"

When the guards came, Nuri told them that I was still weak after the hunger strike and was asleep. On the second or third day of fever, I didn't get up at all. I tried to say something to Nuri, but I couldn't. I couldn't even turn my head.

I sensed that I was going to die.

"Murat? Can you still hear me?"

Late at night he called out to me again.

"Murat ..."

I didn't have the strength to say very much

"Listen. There's no point any more. If you get out, tell my family how I died."

Nuri beat his fist against the mesh. He was crying.

Then it went quiet.

I still don't know what was wrong with me. Perhaps, because of my hunger strike, my body couldn't get rid of waste. I had hardly gone to the toilet during that whole time, and maybe my body had been poisoned. Or perhaps it simply couldn't take food any longer. I must have laid in my cell for several days. I remember occasionally opening my eyes and looking at the ceiling. I couldn't tell if it was day or night. I don't remember anymore.

I woke up on a stretcher in a medical ward.

A bottle of transparent liquid was hanging above me, and there was a needle in my arm. I was weak and in pain. I couldn't see anyone, only a machine that beeped. My hands and feet were in chains, but they were still there. I was relieved. At some point they removed the tubes. Someone asked me some questions. Whether I had been sick as a child. What illnesses I'd had.

I could sit up. I could eat. I had survived.

I could even hear music.

The guards were listening to rock music.

***

Every prisoner knew who General Miller was and what we had to thank him for when Operation Sandman commenced and harsher interrogations and confinements were introduced. The general often strode through the blocks together with a group of officers, grinning as if he was very pleased. He was an older man, tall and a bit paunchy. He walked around in a uniform with lots of stars on his shoulders, handing out coins to the guards and block sergeants. One of the sergeants was so happy that he even showed the coin to some of the prisoners. I called out and asked him whether I could see it, too.

"A coin from the general!" he said. "He gave me it because I'm good."

"Really? From General Miller?"

"Yes," he said and opened the flap.

He pressed the coin into my hand. The name of the general, Geoffrey Miller, was written on it. Underneath: Guantanamo. There were stars on it and a motto, something like: "General Miller is helping make the world a better place."

I took the coin, threw it in the toilet, and flushed.

"What are you doing?" shouted the sergeant.

He ran straight out and came back with an IRF team. After they were finished with me, they reached into the toilet U- bend and tried to fish out the coin. It was gone. Of course, I was sent to solitary confinement.

I had been sitting on my bunk for several days before I noticed that the guards had left the peepholes open so that they could simply look in as they passed by. I heard steps in the corridor and pressing my eye to my peephole. I saw that they were all open. I heard one of the prisoners shouting in Arabic: "Listen up, Miller's coming! If you want to give him a gift, then get ready and do it now!" The flaps were open because of Miller's visit.

This was an order, and I knew what was going to happen. General Miller had come to inspect Oscar Block. Another general or high-ranking officer and several captains were walking by his side.

When they reached the middle of the corridor, the first prisoner threw a mixture of water and feces, collected in a bowl or in an Emarie packet, at the general. He hit his target. The general let out a cry, held up his arms to shield his face and turned away. At that moment, he got another load from the cell opposite. He ran down the corridor to the end of the block, and everyone else hurled the contents of his bowl. The officers tried to shield the general. The captain, who placed himself between us and the general, was spared.


Our punishment turned out to be relatively mild. We were not given any bread for several days, and our spell in solitary confinement was extended by a month. There was nothing else they could have done short of killing us.

A few weeks, later I saw Miller in a Camp 1 block. He was strutting through the corridor as usual.

"Why are you walking about so arrogantly? Everyone knows that you ate shit in Oscar," one prisoner said in perfect English.

Miller turned red and started walking more quickly.

"Your name is Miller? We've got a better name for you: Mr. Toilet!"

The prisoners laughed. That day there was no food for the whole block and rations were halved for about forty days.

But from then on, General Miller was known by his new name among the prisoners.

***

Over the course of time I did meet some soldiers who treated us like human beings, Once a guard came to me with toilet paper, He looked at me and said:

"I know that your God gives you strength."

"Are you a Muslim?" I asked.

"No," he said. "But I can see it. You've been living for so long in these small cages. No one can stand that, Sometimes we talk about it. You pray and God helps you. Otherwise you'd go crazy. If I had to live in this cage, I'd be sick within a few days."

That really surprised me.

There was also an older guard I had been observing for some time. Whenever anyone was being hit, he stood back and didn't take part, Even when he was assigned to an IRF team, he stayed outside the cage and refused to hit the prisoner. The other soldiers cursed him. But he just shook his head.

I spoke to him that day.

"I would like to ask you something."

Go ahead ..."

"Why didn't you take part just then?"

''I'm a human being just like you. What is happening here, is inhuman," he said.

That struck me.

The guard told me that he had a friend who had been in Vietnam and ended up in captivity there. After he was released, he had told him about his imprisonment and torture.

"I know what my friend went through. That must not happen again, It is incomprehensible that our government is doing the same to you as the Vietnamese did to the American prisoners. It's terrible!"

I occasionally ran into him in other cellblocks, but I never got the chance to speak to him again.

There was another guard who was in his mid-thirties. Whenever he was distributing food, he always asked me if I wanted another plateful. I also spoke to him a few times. He quite openly said that he didn't agree with what was happening in Guantanamo but that he signed up a long time ago. If he had known what it would be like at the time, he would have never joined the army, he said.

"When I arrived here," he said, "our superiors said you were killers and dangerous terrorists. They showed us movies about September 11 and gave us several weeks of training. Over and over again, they drove home how dangerous you were. I believed them at first. But then I saw you praying and reading the Koran. I found out that many of you are very friendly. I can even trust you. You don't take drugs, you don't steal and you don't commit adultery. I didn't know any of that before. You share your food even though you are all very hungry."

"MP" was written on the badge on his arm. All of the guards wore this badge, but this guard was different. He said that President Bush had ruined America's reputation in the world.

"Now I know the truth," he said. "I have seen it with my own eyes. I only have a few days left to serve. Then I'm finished with the Army." He was working in my block on his last day. He came to me and said:

"Murat, I've only got two hours to go." He was very excited.

Then he came back and said: "Only one hour to go."

When his time was almost up, he reappeared, parked himself in front of the door of my cage and looked at his watch. There were a few guards standing a bit off to the side. He called them over.

"Hey, come and watch what I'm doing!"

The guards came closer. He looked at his watch and started to count.

If Five, four, three, two ..."

When he counted to zero, he took off his armband. To the outrage of the other guards, he motioned as if he was about to wipe his butt with it. Then he threw the armband on the floor and stamped on it.

''I'm not an MP any more!"

He trampled on it in the way the guards had trampled on the Koran.

"You see that? That's it!"

I don't know whether he was punished for his actions. That evening he came back to my cage. I was sitting on the floor and he squatted down in front of my door.

"I'm sorry. I really hoped you would get out. I wanted to say goodbye."

He had tears in his eyes.

''I'll try to help you when I get back to the States."

He pushed his fingers through the wire mesh. We said goodbye. I thanked him for his friendship and the many extra helpings that he gave me.

Unfortunately, I never asked him his name.

***

In September 2004, a guard brought a letter for me into my cage. It said that I was going to be brought in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo. I was going to court? After all this time and all those interrogations? The tribunal was called the Combatant Status Review Tribunal. The tribunal would determine whether I was an enemy combatant. But I had never fought! Maybe the court would come to this very conclusion-and acquit me. The letter contained the words: "George W. Bush, President of the United States of America v. Murat Kurnaz, plaintiff."

They came to get me two weeks later. The hearing took place in an interrogation room. Was this another trick? No. There were no interrogators there, just three high-ranking officers sitting at a long table. I saw their epaulettes and their ribbons. A man sitting at a table at a right angle to the judges with a tape recorder in front of him read out that two colonels and a lieutenant were present. Sitting opposite him at another table was a man who could speak Turkish.

He said one of the three military personnel was my attorney. The others were the judge and the prosecutor.

The man in the middle, the judge, read something aloud, but I couldn't understand half of it. When the translator repeated it, I noticed two mistakes. For one thing, the judge said that police in Pakistan had questioned me about Selcuk. That was wrong. For another, it was stated that I had been taken to the military camp at Bagram from Pakistan even though I had been in Kandahar. How could a court make a mistake like that?

The translator said that I would be allowed to ask questions later.

He asked me whether I understood what the court was saying.

"Yes."

The judge continued to read aloud and then he said something that I could understand even in English:

"The prisoner had links with a person who was later involved in a suicide bomb attack. Selcuk Bilgin is the suicide bomber."

"Suicide? Bombings?"

"You can respond in a minute," the translator said.

"Would you like to make a statement?" the judge asked.

I was shocked. Selcuk? A suicide bomber? I asked the court when and where it allegedly happened. They weren't allowed to tell me that, the judge answered.

My whole world suddenly didn't make any sense. But these people didn't lie. It was a court after all. Was Selcuk dead? And had he killed a lot of people?

'I am here because Selcuk blew himself up?" I asked. "I didn't know. I didn't know that he was a terrorist. We worked out together and prayed in the mosque. We both had dogs. That's why we were friends. He was like a big brother to me. I didn't know he would do something like that. If he changed, I didn't notice. He never talked to me about anything like that. I don't need friends like that! My religion is peaceful."

The judge carried on.

Then they asked me what I was doing in Pakistan.

I explained.

***

After I had waited in vain for Selcuk at Karachi airport, I bought myself a telephone card, but the card didn't work. Someone had swindled me. But the second card worked. I called SeIcuk's wife, but she hung up. Twice. Then I flew to Islamabad to meet a guy named Hassan I had met on the plane, But I couldn't find him because he had given me a false address, So I traveled alone to Lahore to the Mansura Center, I was told the head of the center wasn't there, but that I should spend the night there and talk to him the next morning, In the morning I was given breakfast, but the center's director still had not arrived, Then in the office I was told that hey wouldn't enroll me, I was a foreigner, It was too dangerous, I should go home. What was I supposed to do?

That morning -- it was October 7, 2001 -- war had broken out in Afghanistan.

I was disappointed, I didn't want to go back home immediately and was determined to stay. The tablighis in Bremen had told me that tablighis in Pakistan traveled in small groups from mosque to mosque, studying there. So I would just join them, In any case, I didn't want to give up.

I caught a bus to Islamabad, where I went to a mosque and met a group of tablighis, At first they didn't trust me because I came from Germany. Maybe they thought I was a journalist, Then I got to know Mohammed. He was curious and spoke English well and he even knew a little Turkish. We joined the tablighis and slept in various mosques. New tablighis kept on joining us, while others would leave, Sometimes there were ten of us, sometimes thirty. The teaching lasted almost all day. In between, I walked through the city and explored the markets, the Kung Fu schools, and the snake charmers.

***

The court asked me if the tablighis gave me food, and I said yes. Every evening a few people would set off to the market to buy food for everyone, It was incredibly cheap. And every evening we argued about who would be allowed to go to the market. That was tradition, Mohammed said.

The judge wanted to know when and where I was arrested and what the Pakistani police had asked me.

I was amazed. Didn't they know?

***

Two weeks after the hearing I was taken by an escort team and brought before the tribunal again. The judge read out the ruling. I was an enemy combatant, categorized as dangerous.

The judge justified the ruling by saying that I was a member of the Al Qaeda organization. The evidence that he cited was that I was a close friend of a suicide bomber and that I belonged to the Jama'at al-Tablighi because I had received support and food from this group.

"I would like to know whether I have to stay here or whether I can go home ..." I said.

"Mr. Attorney, do you have any questions on the prisoner's behalf?"

"No."

He had hardly said a single word throughout.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:17 pm

Chapter 9: GUANTANAMO BAY, CAMP ECHO

IN OCTOBER 2004, I WAS TRANSFERRED FROM CAMP 1 TO CAMP Echo -- I had been told it consisted entirely of solitary-confinement cells.

For all I knew, when the guards came and blindfolded me, they could have been about to fly me back to Germany or Turkey. I believe I was transported in a small, completely sealed bus. It felt as though I was in an air-raid shelter on wheels. Everything I touched was made of metal. I remember hoping that I wasn't being taken to Turkey.

After a ten-minute drive, the bus stopped and we got out. I couldn't hear any sounds coming from other prisoners, just the noise of a wooden door opening, then several metal ones. When they took off the blindfold, I saw I was in a cage just like the ones in Camps 1 and 2, only smaller and more solidly built, with a single toilet-sink unit like the ones found on ships. A camera was mounted behind Plexiglas on the ceiling. The walls were made of several layers of small chain-link fence, welded together so that not even a spider would be able to slip through and visit me. I could hardly see anything of the outside world. Directly in front of the cage were a table and a chair. An iron ring was in the floor. I saw a wall with an open door and then, a little way off, a second cage with a table and chair. I was totally isolated.

Later I found out that the Camp Echo contained a dozen small wooden houses with two cages each. I had no idea why I was there. Was this a new form of punishment? I had heard that several prisoners had disappeared after being taken to Camp Echo and no one knew whether they were still alive. The camp was designed so that the prisoners would never have to leave their own private cell-block. They could be interrogated directly in front of their cages, and each cell had its own tiny shower. Was this where I was going to have to spend the next few years?

The guards came three times a day to bring me my food-otherwise they were nowhere to be seen. Sometimes they skipped a meal. At night they no longer woke me up so frequently.

***

"Get up!"

"Why?"

"You've got a visit."

"A visit? Who would want to visit me?"

My curiosity was piqued. Surely, I thought, it was an interrogator who had been sent specially from Washington to "help" me. I couldn't wait to see what trick they'd try this time.

A portly man in his mid-thirties wearing a suit and glasses walked through the door. The guards shackled me to the iron ring and left us sitting alone at the table in front of my cage. The man was sweating profusely. His shirt was already soaked, and he fished a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped beads of the sweat from his brow.

"Hello."

The man removed his glasses and fiddled with them. He seemed nervous.

''I'm your attorney," he said in English.

"My attorney?" I had to laugh. "Is that a joke? You? An attorney?"

"I have a letter from your mother ..."

They must have lost their minds, I thought. But I wanted to find out what they were up to.

"Let me see ..."

It was indeed a letter from my mother. I recognized her handwriting immediately.

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.


I couldn't believe my eyes. My first letter in three years! The first words I had had from my mother! She obviously hadn't been allowed to write any more than those few lines-otherwise the letter wouldn't have passed the military censors.

"Where did you get this?"

"I met your mother," the man said.

"Where?"

He told me that I had had a German attorney for years. He was my lawyer in the United States and would go to Germany to meet my family. He told me my mother had been to Turkey and Washington to help with my case.

In Washington?

That made me suspicious. Perhaps this man was an interrogator after all and was just using my mother's letter to gain my trust.

"How do I know that you're the lawyer in the letter?"

He removed a number of ID cards and documents from his pockets and briefcase and showed them to me. The name was the same on all of them.

"I am here to help you," he said.

"That's what they all say."

"Unfortunately the rules here are extremely strict. I have to write down everything you tell me and show it to them. And I can't come whenever I want. It's very difficult."

"Okay," I said. "Maybe you're a lawyer, maybe you're not. Documents can be faked. But I've got nothing to hide. I'll tell you whatever you want."

"I understand your skepticism," the man said.

The man who claimed to be my attorney showed me a brochure from a Turkish human-rights organization. In it were pictures of me, including a passport photo taken when I was seventeen or eighteen and still had short hair and no beard. There was also a picture of my mother in front of a big white building. The caption read: "Rabiye Kurnaz speaks to the American media in front of the Supreme Court Building in Washington." Another picture showed her crying. Underneath it were the words: ''Any of us could be in the hell of Guantanamo."

The brochure filled me with sadness, but my curiosity was stronger. I read how people were getting involved in my case. I studied the words on the brochure until I had learned them by heart. It said that the Turkish government had violated its own laws by refusing to get me out of here. I thought back about the two Turkish agents who had visited me and the charade they had put on. Further down in the brochure, it said that I was innocent. I could hardly believe it. There were people who thought I was innocent.

I realized that my mother had done everything in her power to save me. Even if she hadn't had any success yet, she knew where I was and that I was alive. That was the most important thing. I was gradually coming to believe that the man sitting across the table from me really was an attorney. They couldn't possibly have faked these pictures. But I was still going to have to watch what I said. He'd warned me, and the Americans were possibly listening in on our conversation. So I didn't tell him about being tortured. There was nothing he could do about that anyway.

"I only expect help from Allah," I told him. "But if Allah is willing, you will be the sebeb."

"The what?"

"The reason, the cause. The herald of my release."

Baher Azmy nodded, looking relieved.

"I have a suggestion," I said. "If you want to help me you can start right now."

"How?"

"The next time, bring some coffee. I haven't had any coffee in years. If you can do that, then we'll see. If you can't, you won't be able to get me freed anyway."

"I don't know if I can get you any coffee, but I'll try ..."

"With lots of sugar," I said.

This was my first private visit since I had been taken prisoner.

I grabbed the letter from my mother and balled it up in my hand. Back in my cage I hid it under my clothes so that it would be hidden from the camera. But they took it away from me that night when they searched my cell.

That night, my head was full of thoughts. Could I really trust this man? Could a brochure like that be faked? Had the pictures of my mother been manipulated? But I didn't have anything to hide. They should have come to see that after all these years.

***

The next morning my attorney brought me a paper cup of coffee and a hot apple tart. The packaging said McDonald's. I was amazed. Did the guards have their own McDonald's outside the camp? The lawyer fished several sugar packets out of his pants pocket. This guy has already earned his keep, I thought.

During later visits, he brought some newspaper clippings for me from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the German news magazines Spiegel and Stern. They were all writing about my case. He also mentioned that there were floods in Asia and that Germany had a new currency, the euro.

I read every article greedily. Some of the news was already old, but for me everything was new. In Guantanamo we didn't get any information from the outside world. Suddenly I came across an article that mentioned me. There was my picture, the same one from the Turkish brochure, with the caption: "The Taliban from Bremen." The Taliban from Bremen? That made my blood boil. Did people in Germany really think I was a Taliban? I had told the German agents my whole story when they interrogated me. Had they not confirmed it and reported it? Azmy shrugged. He said he was surprised to hear that people from the German government had visited me. I decided not to get angry about what people wrote about me. I wanted to be free any more. That was the only thing that mattered.

"Where's the part about Selcuk?" I asked.

"Selcuk?"

"My friend from Bremen who wanted to come to Pakistan with me. Where's the part about him blowing himself up. I can't find that ..."

"Selcuk Bilgin blew himself up? Where did you get that idea?"

"He was a suicide bomber. I don't know where or why. The Americans told me during my hearing."

Again, Baher seemed amazed. He said there was no way Selcuk could be a suicide bomber. If a German or a Turkish resident of Germany had blown himself up, he would have known about it. The German and American press would have surely reported it.

I felt shattered. Why had the court claimed something like that?

Baher said that they might have confused Selcuk with someone else. It had to be a mistake.

"And Selcuk is the reason you're here?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "And because I took food from the tablighis."

Baher shook his head and took some notes. For a while, neither of us spoke.

"Where is the prison courtyard?" he asked.

"Outside, in the cage."

"I didn't see it."

"What did you see?"

"Two camps. Metal containers. And then there was a small cage with a prisoner, in the middle of the camp."

"That is the prison courtyard," I said.

Baher got up, went to my cell and discreetly started examining it.

"This is how you've been living?"

I nodded.

"For all these years? I can't believe people would do this to their fellow human beings. How can you stand it? What did you do the whole time?"

"I waited."

***

Every day, for several days in a row, Baher Azmy visited me. Every time he came he brought newspaper clippings, which I read eagerly. One day he failed to arrive, and when he showed up the following day he was wearing different shoes. The guards had told him they couldn't let him in with his sandals because I might stomp on his feet and injure him. So he bought new shoes, sneakers. We had a good laugh about that. We got along well. Baher was born in Egypt and grew up in the United States. Only thirty-five years old, he was already teaching in law school. I told him everything he wanted to know, and he jotted down almost every word. Baher said he would write to me. He was going back and would try to get me released.· He couldn't promise anything, but by now I trusted him. He asked if he could relay a message to my family on my behalf. I dictated a few sentences for my mother, to the effect that I was doing fine. Then I signed a document, giving him power of attorney. Then he said goodbye and left.

Later I discovered that I was one of the first three Guantanamo prisoners who were allowed to be visited by an attorney. The other two prisoners were from England. I saw Azmy three more times in the camp. After my release, he told me that he actually tried to visit me four times but on one occasion he had been told by the guards that I had refused to see him.

***

Several days after Azmy had left, I was taken back to Camp 2.

"Hey, Murat, where have you been?" asked Salah.

"I had a visitor, my lawyer in America."

Several prisoners laughed.

"Nonsense," said Salah. "They're pulling wool over your eyes."

"He brought me some newspaper clippings," I said.

That got everyone's attention and I promised to tell them what had been going on in the world after our evening prayers.

When the generators were briefly shut off that night, important news was passed from camp to camp. The last prisoner in a block would yell as loudly as possible in the direction of the next man. If the last prisoner in Block Alpha shouted, the first one in Block Bravo could hear what he was saying. The news was then relayed within the block, and the next night it would be yelled over to the next block. It was a time-consuming process since the guards and the IRF team came immediately to punish the prisoner who had done the yelling. But news did get through.

One thing was clear. When I was finished telling my news, others would have to take over the job. I knew that in a few minutes I would be heading for solitary confinement.

I split the news into two categories: world news and news that directly concerned the camp. I had a lot to tell. There had been a war in Iraq, and the Americans had won, but people were dying every day there in a civil war. There was a new government in Afghanistan. Concerning Guantanamo, a U.S. judge had declared the military tribunals unconstitutional, and George Bush had responded by saying that we detainees were all dangerous murderers and could not be compared to other prisoners. I recalled an absurd image from one of Baher's newspaper clippings. It was a picture of an American politician posing with a meal: half a chicken, potatoes, salad, soup, a soft drink, and some ice cream. He looked very satisfied. In the accompanying article, he claimed that that was what we were being given to eat in Guantanamo every day. The caption read: "Is chicken torture?"

I could only shake my head. In all those years, I didn't see anything like chicken, even in my dreams. Goddamn lies! Some newspaper reports said we were being treated with the same respect for human rights as the prisoners in ordinary American jails. But other articles had reported that some people in America were taking up our cause and beginning to speculate about torture in Guantanamo.

To ensure that all my news would get passed on, I spoke English as fast as I could. Salah translated it into Arabic. It wasn't long before the guards were spraying me with tear gas. I covered my face with my hands, crawled into the corner of my cell and kept talking.

I was taken to Block India, where they turned off the air conditioner. It was the harshest punishment there was. I immediately lay on the floor to minimize the amount of air I needed. I knew that for the next month I would hardly be able to breathe. I can't remember much from that time, but from one interrogation, when at least I got some air, I do recall the following exchange.

"Do you know where you made your mistake?" the interrogator asked me.

"You tell me."

"You talked to the others about Jihad and tried to get them stirred up. We didn't know you were such a good speaker. About Jihad."

Utter nonsense.

"You know exactly what I was talking about," I said. "The blocks are all bugged."

"I heard you had a visit from your attorney."

"That's none of your business."

"You should be on your guard. Are you sure he's an attorney? I hope you didn't sign anything."

"I did."

"That's your decision. Do you know what you signed?"

"What?"

"You'll see."

***

Six weeks later I was taken back to Camp 2. The news I had given Salah had been relayed through all the blocks -- along with more information from the two prisoners from England who had been granted attorneys. We were connected with the world again! We knew what was happening outside Guantanamo! I have no idea how many prisoners had to pay for this achievement with time in the cooler.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:18 pm

Chapter 10: GUANTANAMO BAY, CAMP 4

IT WAS A REAL PRIVILEGE. I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT I HAD DONE to deserve a transfer to Camp 4, but I had long since stopped asking about the whys and wherefores of Guantanamo. In Camp 4, or so we had heard, there were no cages. The prisoners lived together, and the food rations were bigger. The guards used to say you had to be on your best behavior to get to Camp 4. It was considered the best camp in Guantanamo.

Many prisoners, whole groups of them, had been released in the meantime-the Pakistanis, for example, and some of the Afghans. Almost all of them had been transferred to Camp 4 before they were set free. But there was no standard procedure. Sometimes in Camps 1 and 2, I had seen guards bringing civilian clothing-jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt and denim jacket-to prisoners in their cages. A short time later, those prisoners were always gone. There was, we discovered, a way out of here after all. Baher Azmy had confirmed that the prisoners had been released and were living in their home countries.

Many of them were put straight back into prison by their own governments. The Americans had made this a condition for their release, our lawyers told us. In early 2006, a group of Saudis was allowed to go, but the Red Cross had warned them while they were still in Guantanamo that they were going straight to jail in Saudi Arabia. Our lawyers informed us about who had really been freed and who hadn't. Maybe some day, I thought, I would be sent to a German or Turkish prison.

Camp 4 was a dump. The cells were empty metal ship containers with only a metal slot in the door for sunlight and air. Space was cramped since each cell housed up to ten prisoners. The air was stale, and the ceiling light stayed on through the night. The generators hummed constantly just like Camps 1 and 2. It was like being in a ten-man oven.

During the day, the concrete floor got so hot you had to wear flip-flops to avoid burning the soles of your feet. I couldn't believe this was the best camp in Guantanamo. 1£ there had been an air-conditioning unit, you could have made yourself somewhat comfortable there, but comfort wasn't the point. Without some sort of cooling system, we could have died in there so they installed a large rotating ceiling fan. But during the day, when the space was hottest, they turned the thing off. At night, when things began to cool down, they switched it back on-to make it more difficult for us to go to sleep. They only turned on the fan during the day when a helicopter arrived with a camera team. Camp 4 was the one journalists and photographers were allowed to visit.

We were allowed out more often for exercise. The prison "courtyard" was a corridor three feet wide by sixty feet long, running between the barbed-wire-protected containers. Several times a day, two cells -- twenty prisoners in total -- were allowed out for an hour. We spent the rest of the time in our cells under the never-blinking eyes of the surveillance cameras.

Once a week we were searched. We were herded into the cell and several IRF teams, perhaps two dozen soldiers in all, would arrive with machine guns and take up position outside the fencing. Two by two, we would be led to the washroom, where they frisked us. The other prisoners were kept confined within one of Camp 4's five containers while this was going on.

We were also inspected twice a week by groups of journalists. They never visited our containers, of course. Instead, we were led to a kind of playground with soccer goals, basketball hoops, and a volleyball net. Sometimes there were brand- new soccer balls, volleyballs, and basketballs lying around. Normally we weren't allowed on the grounds, only when journalists were visiting. As soon as the reporters left, the guards collected the balls. "Hurricane warning," they'd say, and take us back to the containers.

One time, I got up close enough to a group of journalists to make out what their guide was telling them. "Every block and every prisoner," he said, "is allowed two hours of soccer, volleyball or basketball per day."

***

We did get more to eat in Camp 4 than in either Camp 1 or 2. We even got a glass of milk every morning. Because I was taking in more calories, I was able to work out more often. It was the same kind of food as before -- a couple of bitter- tasting potatoes, cold vegetables, undercooked rice -- but there was more of it. And we were allowed to share it amongst ourselves, which happened all the time because prisoners were constantly coming down with stomach ailments and couldn't eat.

Often, when we were let out for exercise, there was a cat at the fence. I called it 007 because it was so clever. As soon as it saw one of the guards, it ran away. It could tell the difference between the prisoners' clothing and the soldiers' uniforms. I used to save half of my milk for the cat.

I already knew several people in Camp 4. Abid, the Algerian from Germany, was there, as well as Musa, one of five Bosnians in Guantanamo. r had met Musa in Camp 1, and he had been my neighbor in solitary confinement during my one-man hunger strike.

Musa told me how the Bosnians had wound up in Guantanamo. Three of them were Arabs who had lived for years in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they had all been arrested after September 11. The investigations had dragged on, before the case went to trial. At the hearing, the judge said that there was no evidence against them and that they were free to go. But when they tried to leave, a policeman told them to use the back door, where a masked commando of Americans was waiting for them. They were dragged into a car, taken to the airport, and flown to Cuba. Their families were waiting for them in front of the courthouse.

Secretly, I would work out with Musa and arm-wrestle with the Afghans in Camp 4. I usually won, but they were really good. They had all grown up in the mountains so they were used to carrying things around on their backs, and hiking up and down hills had made them very strong. In the washroom, I would practice karate moves or do sit-ups with Musa sitting on my shoulders. In the beginning, two cameras scanned the room, but we'd broken one of them and we could work out in a comer of the room out of view of the other. Once I lost my balance while doing a karate kick and slid into view.

I was sent to Romeo for a month. It was very hot because by then all the cell walls had been replaced with Plexiglas.

When I was caught working out a second time, I was sent to Romeo again and then transferred, as further punishment, back to Camp 1. I actually felt lucky about this after learning that there had been another incident involving the Koran in Camp 4. Some of the prisoners said a Koran had been torn up and thrown to the ground during a weekly search. There'd been a fight between the prisoners and the IRF teams in the container, and the prisoners in the other containers had heard what was going on.

Several hundred soldiers stormed the camp, firing rubber bullets from M-16s at the prisoners. Anyone outside the container got seriously injured. Once everyone outside had been shackled up, the soldiers opened a container containing a group of Afghan prisoners. The IRF teams sprayed tear gas and the soldiers fired rubber bullets, waiting for a moment before storming in.

That was a mistake.

The Afghans had torn the fan from the ceiling and had sharpened the rotor blades, using one blade to hone the next. The blades were like swords, and many of the soldiers suffered serious gashes. Prisoners had also tried to strangle their captors with cables from the ceiling-fan unit. The prisoners in Camp 1 said the Afghans had fought until they could no longer stand from exhaustion. None of the soldiers were killed, but one prisoner said he saw a lot of blood on the floor.

Camp 4 was completely evacuated, and a short time later there were casualties.

I was sleeping in my block in Camp 1 when, suddenly, a large group of soldiers came and woke us up, telling us to hand over our blankets, mattresses, and all our clothes. We knew something big had happened.

This next night news came from Bravo. Three people died, a prisoner yelled.

The following night we got their names. One of them was Yasser Talal al Zahrani from Saudi Arabia.

In late 2003, I had been in the same block as Yasser. He was the same age as me, a good-looking, friendly guy. Yasser had a nice voice and knew the Koran by heart so for a while he led our prayers. He was always optimistic, constantly repeating that we would be released in the near future. Sometimes, when he knew I was nearby, he would send his greetings.

He usually wanted to know if I was still secretly working out or whether I had given up.

Tell him I'm never giving up, I would answer.

I was very sad to hear Yasser was dead. I didn't know the other two people; one was a Saudi and the other was from Yemen. The guards said all three of them had committed suicide. Hung themselves.

***

Several weeks later I got some new neighbors, who had been in Block Alpha the night Yasser and the other two men died. They had spoken to Yasser that day. They said that dinner had come early that evening and that everyone in the block suddenly got tired and had fallen asleep -- even though it was never quiet in the block at that hour, even when the guards left us in peace. There was always someone who couldn't fall asleep, who wanted to pray or who kept waking up throughout the night. The metal shutters in front of the windows had also been closed from the outside, Yasser's last neighbor told us, as if a storm were approaching.

He said he had been woken up in the middle of the night by a loud bang and had seen the IRF team enter Yasser's cage. He didn't think twice about this and went back to sleep. A short time later, everyone was woken up by the guards, who made them hand over their mattresses, sheets, and clothes. Medics were already carrying Yasser out of his cage on a stretcher. The prisoners saw a piece of sheet in Yasser's mouth, and other pieces of sheet binding his arms and legs. There was more sheet around his neck, like a noose.

The Americans said he had hung himself. But we didn't think that could be true. He would have had to attach the noose to the sharp metal lattices with his hands and feet tied and with no chair to stand on. That was nearly impossible. There had been suicide attempts after the other incidents involving the Koran, but none of them had been successful, and the attempts were discovered immediately. Once I talked to Yasser about the idea of attempting suicide, but he had rejected it. He said our faith prohibited suicide.

It seemed highly unlikely that the guards would have failed to catch him in time. They barely let us out of their sight for a minute. Yasser would have needed several minutes to tie himself up like that and several more to actually die. It seemed suspicious when the Americans said that when they cut him down he had already been dead for a considerable time.

The guards claimed he had covered the walls of his cage so that he hadn't seen him do it. But what was he supposed to have used to cover the cage? The same sheets with which he had allegedly hung himself? And what about the rule prohibiting us from hanging anything on the walls of our cells?

It seemed too much of a coincidence that the other two dead men had hung themselves at exactly the same time in exactly the same way in the same block, while all the other inmates had been sleeping like babies.

When the guards were patrolling the corridors, it never took long before other guards came to ensure we were following the rules. The guards never took a break since they, too, were kept under surveillance to ensure they were carrying out their duties. Where had they been that night? And what about the sharpshooters in the watchtowers? Hadn't they noticed anything?

The other Saudi who had allegedly hung himself had been told a few days earlier that he was going to be released. Overjoyed, he had told everyone about it. In fact, a short time after the alleged suicides, a group of Saudis was sent home. This man didn't seem to have much of a reason for killing himself.

No, we prisoners unanimously agreed, the men had been killed. Maybe they had been beaten to death and then strung up, or perhaps they had been strangled. The question was: Why?

I had a theory. It could have been that the soldiers in Guantanamo were afraid of being sent to Iraq. Some of them spoke openly about not wanting to go over there. Maybe some of the guards and other soldiers thought that if prisoners died in Guantanamo, it would create trouble for the Bush government, and they wouldn't have to take part in the war.

A lot of Guantanamo prisoners believed in this theory. The generals paid very close attention to make sure that no prisoners died. The soldiers were allowed to torment us, put us in the coolers, deprive us of air, and chop off our fingers -- as long as they didn't kill us. That was the big difference between Kandahar and Guantanamo, as we'd learned during the first hunger strikes in Camp X-Ray. They didn't want us to die.

Perhaps, the deaths of prisoners were being used against President Bush. It seemed like a suspicious coincidence that several weeks before, three prisoners had been poisoned. One evening, out of the blue, the guards had brought us baklava. They told us that the unusual gift was to celebrate the imminent release of a number of prisoners. Almost everyone ate it, but I was suspicious. The next morning one of the prisoners couldn't get up.

I had seen him fall sleep right after dinner, and when we knelt down for our morning prayers, he was lying in his cage, not moving. We noticed that there was white froth around his mouth and saw the medics take him away. A short time later we heard that two others had also been removed from their cells in a similar state.

A few days later, rumors began to circulate that all three had been poisoned. When the prisoners returned to their cells, they tried to tell us they had attempted suicide by taking pills. We didn't believe them. What sort of pills would they have taken, and how would they have gotten them? No one had any pills, and we were searched, orally as well, three times a day in Camp 1. When prisoners got sick and received medicine from the Americans, they were always searched with special care. We were convinced that during the interrogations the Americans had forced the prisoners to tell lies.

But who had poisoned the men? The guards prepared our food, and they were the ones who had given us the baklava. In retrospect, we figured that they had tried to poison the three men for the same reasons that they had killed the other three prisoners a few weeks later. The poison didn't work so they made sure the job was done right the second time around. That was my theory anyway. Other prisoners had different ideas. But we all agreed that the suicide story was fake.

After the prisoners' deaths, Camp 1 was evacuated and completely sealed off. A short while later, Camp 4 was reopened. I was one of the first prisoners transferred back there. After the riots earlier that year, only two f the containers were in use; each one housed six or seven of us. In my container I met the old Afghan man and his son from Camp X-Ray again. The father's name was Haji Zad. He was ninety-six years old, and he had just been reunited with his son for the first time in four years. Our cells were searched daily, and our food rations were reduced. It was hard for me to look at the old man because I felt so sorry for him.

***

On two occasions in 2005 and 2006, the so-called Administrative Review Board took another look at my case. I refused to take part in the hearings, and there was nothing they could do about it. If they had beaten me or used pepper spray, I wouldn't have able to talk anyway. The tribunal went ahead in my absence. On both occasions, the escort team took me to the courtroom to hear the verdict being read out.

"The defendant was captured in Tora Bora in Afghanistan where he was leading a group of Taliban guerillas. He is considered an enemy combatant and will be kept in Guantanamo."

There were no more appeals.

"For five years," I protested, "you've known that I was arrested in Pakistan. What's this about?"

"That's what we've concluded from the evidence," said the head of the tribunal.

All my protests were in vain.

Soon after the verdict, I was brought to an interrogation room and chained to the floor. But no one came to ask me any questions. Hours later, two soldiers appeared and placed a telephone on the table.

"You'll be getting a call," they told me.

That made me curious. I didn't know who the caller would be. An interrogator? My lawyer? Maybe the judge?

More hours passed. What was going on here? Suddenly the phone rang. But no one came to help me.

I couldn't pick up the receiver with my hands and feet shackled, but the telephone kept ringing. I threw myself to the floor and tried to drag the table toward me with my feet. Kicking one of the table legs, I managed to dislodge the receiver and knock it down to the floor. I squirmed to get my head as close as possible to the handset. I could just hear a voice on the other end of the line.

"Hello? Hello?"

"Yes ..."

"It's me, Baher. You're going to be released!"

"I know. How are you doing?"

"Murat, are you listening? You're going to be released."

"I know," I said. "They're playing a nasty trick on you. How is your daughter doing?"

"No, it's true. You're really going to be set free."

"Fine, if you say so. Remember how they called you a year ago and said I was already on my way to Turkey? You and my whole family flew over there to meet me. What did they say this time? Did they tell you when I was flying out?"

''I'm not allowed to say ... just hold on!"

We said good-bye. Baher hung up, and I lay there on the floor listening to the dial tone.

I'd witnessed this trick once before. Prisoners would be brought to a plane, and they'd get in, having been told they were being flown home. Then they would be taken back to their cages. It was a way of breaking them psychologically.

About a week after the phone call, the escort team called my number in Camp 4. I was out alone in the yard getting some exercise when they threw a package of clothes over the fence. It landed on the gravel.

"Put these things on!"

I opened the package and examined what was inside: jeans, sneakers, a white T-shirt, and a denim jacket. I put them on. Was I really going to be released?

I went back to the container and said goodbye to the Afghans. I said that, if Allah was willing, I was now going to be set free. I told them to say goodbye to everyone for me. Then I took my leave.

I wished the old man was being released instead of me.

I didn't know where I was being taken. It could be Germany, Turkey, or back to Camp 1. Most likely, I was heading for a German or Turkish jail.

It was difficult to say goodbye to the other prisoners. They were staying behind and would continue to be tortured.

Just before I was supposed to be released, an officer held a document and a pen under my nose.

"Sign this piece of paper," he said, "saying that you were detained in Guantanamo Bay because you are linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Or you are never going home."

After five years of imprisonment I was supposed to admit being a member of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Otherwise I wouldn't be sent home. After all the years, the interrogations, the torments, and the deaths, I was supposed to sign something affirming my guilt and exonerating them. Was this another one of their tricks?

I didn't sign anything.

***

They shackled me, put on the goggles, the soundproof headphones, and the gas mask, and led me into a hermetically sealed bus. We drove on board a ship and then back onto land. The door opened, and they briefly removed the goggles and the mask to inspect my hair and my beard. It was dark. Airplane motors were already running. The soldiers formed a semicircle around me before leading me up the loading ramp into the belly of the plane and shackling me to a seat in the middle of the cargo hold. I counted fifteen guards on board. Then they put my goggles and mask back on.

I was the only prisoner on the plane.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:23 pm

Chapter 11: RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, GERMANY

THEY LED ME DOWN A RAMP, AND THEN THE AMERICANS finally took off the goggles, the soundproof headphones and the gas mask. I was blinded by a harsh light. A large black vehicle was sitting on the runway, but the glare didn't come from the headlights because they weren't on. I saw three men in dark suits. They looked German.

The glare came from a watchtower-even though it was still day time. One of the men pressed a note into my hand. They exchanged nervous glances.

"Mr. Kurnaz," they said, "we've come to pick you up. You can trust us. Here's a letter from your mother."

Squinting, I tried to read the note. It was my mother's handwriting.

My dear son, Murat, these men are German officials. They're going to bring you to us. Your father, Ali, Alper and I are waiting outside together with your German and American lawyers.

Love, Mother.


The letter was dated August 24, 2006.

I had no idea it was August.

***

We got into a car, it was a Japanese brand, and one of the officials took the seat beside me. We were on an American army base-I could see military aircraft and hangars. The man next to me took out a small device, flipped it open, and typed something into it. Then he closed it and used it to make a telephone call.

"What is that?" I asked.

"A cell phone that also works as a miniature computer with a word processor."

My wrists and ankles still ached from the cuffs on the plane, which had been far too tight.

The other man, who was sitting up front, was talking into a radio. It crackled with static.

"Suspicious vehicle ahead, change direction. Drive ..."

The driver braked, swerving to take a different route. I looked at the man next to me.

"It's the media," he said. "We're trying to avoid the media. We sent another car on ahead to distract them, but we're playing it safe."

I first truly realized then that I was in Germany, and perhaps, I thought, I'm really free now. At least they hadn't put me in handcuffs. The thing I most wanted to do was go to sleep-as soon as possible. But I also wanted to see my family. I didn't know what to say to the officials, so I said nothing.

The radio kept crackling, and each time it did we changed course.

We drove into a city. I didn't recognize the license plates and was overwhelmed by the Sight of so many people and such bright colors. I hadn't seen anything like it for a long time. Where are we going? I asked.

"We're taking you to the Red Cross."

The car pulled into a parking lot in front of a large building that looked like a hotel. My first steps back on German soil, I thought. The building was an old people's home-at least that's what it said on the sign. A porter opened the door.

"Welcome, Mr. Kurnaz," a woman said, smiling at me. ''I'm from the Red Cross."

Those were the first pleasant words I had heard in five years.

In the foyer, I saw signs, a dining room, a ballroom, and a toilet. The porter, the woman from the Red Cross, and the German officials led me into an elevator.

When the elevator doors opened, my family was standing in front of me. The first one I saw was my mother. She had lost a lot of weight. My brother Ali and my uncle were also there, but I didn't see Alper. And where is my father, I asked myself.

My mother took me in her arms and refused to let me go. She was crying. I was happy, but I didn't feel quite right with my mother crying like that. Afterward, the others hugged me too.

There was a whole table full of food in the adjoining room, but strangely enough I wasn't hungry. I should at least try a bit of food, I thought. The nice lady from the Red Cross had probably arranged all of it especially for me. Everything was so pleasant, and my family took out their cell phones to show me pictures of my aunts, nieces, and nephews. We took some pictures of ourselves and admired them on the screen. Everything seemed so unreal.

Why didn't my uncle say anything? I wondered.

Quietly, I asked my mother where my father was.

Then I realized I hadn't recognized my own father. Before I was captured, he was a powerful man who weighed more than two hundred pounds. Now he was as thin and gray as his older brother. I had also mistaken Alper for Ali. At the time I was captured, Alper had been only five-now he was ten. Ali had meanwhile grown up into a strapping young adult of eighteen years. It was as if I no longer knew him.

Alper sat on my lap. Everyone else crowded around me: Baher, my German lawyer, Bernhard Docke, the women from the Red Cross, the officials, and the doctor. My mother needed medical attention more than I did. The doctor gave her some pills to calm her nerves.

The lawyers wanted to know about my trip to Germany, about whether I had been shackled on board the plane and whether I'd been given something to eat and drink. The police then conferred with my attorneys. My mother was still crying softly, so I put my arm around her and pressed her close to me. As I did so, I became aware of the plastic band around my wrist, the green armband with my photo, the number 061 and the name "KUNN, MURAT."

Using two fingers, I tore it off before my family's eyes. They had interrogated, tormented, and tortured me nearly every day for five years, but they never learned how to spell my name correctly. Once, when I pointed this out, they beat me and accused me of giving them false information. They had repeatedly asked me what my name was over the years, and I'd even spelled it out for them.

I threw the arm band on the ground.

Ali picked it up and pocketed it.

***

That evening we drove away in my father's Mercedes. It was more than 300 miles to Bremen. We traveled through the unfamiliar city where I'd landed, with Baher and my German attorney leading the way in another car. It was like traveling through time.

Five years may not seem like such a long time. But if you spend five years in caged isolation, without television, newspapers, and radio, and cages and people in uniform are all you ever see, then it's as though you've returned from the Stone Age.

My mother, Ali, and Alper were sitting in the back seat. I thought about my wife and my uncle Ekram, who was like a friend and a brother to me. My uncle had told me about being sent to prison after getting in a knife fight, and I had thought about him a lot in Guantanamo. He was the only one who could have understood what it was like there.

We drove up an on-ramp to get on the highway, and I asked my father about my grandmother.

She died, he said, adding, "And there's someone else you loved who's dead."

I knew immediately who he was talking about, but I asked anyway.

"Is it Uncle Ekram?"

"Yes."

My heart sank.

I couldn't even bring myself to ask how he had died, but I knew then that the life I had left behind in Germany was no longer going to be as I had imagined it all those years in Guantanamo. My uncle Ekram would have been in his mid- thirties.

We drove for a while and Alper fell asleep. It had gotten dark. No one spoke.

My father was smoking cigarettes.

"As soon as I can," I said, "I'm going to bring Fatima to Germany."

My father looked at me.

"She won't come."

I was flabbergasted. We hadn't seen each other in five years, and we were man and wife. Of course she'd come!

"No, she won't be coming."

"Why not? I'll call her. She must know I've been released."

"She divorced you."

I didn't ask any more questions. My father drove on.

May Allah grant us whatever is good for us, I kept saying to myself.

***

What could I do? Fatima had waited for years without any sign that I was even alive. She had a right to get divorced. She was still young and didn't know whether I was ever coming back. She was a good woman, my father said later. She waited three years and hadn't heard a single word from me. If she had known you would be released, my father said, she would have waited-even if it had been ten years.

Today I'm happy for Fatima. I hope she has remarried and has a good life. I wish her happiness. But I have no contact with her. I don't want to remind her of the past.

***

The car in front of us signaled, and we turned into a rest stop. I got out of my father's Mercedes.

"I have coffee in the trunk," my mother said. "Do you want some?"

I love coffee.

My mother poured me a cup, and I looked up at the stars. It was the first time I'd seen a starry sky in five years. The nighttime sky was more beautiful than ever, and I realized at that moment precisely what they had taken from me in Guantanamo.

It was dark, and I was looking at the stars, a free man.

I forgot to drink the coffee.

***

When we arrived in Bremen, dozens of vehicles were parked in our tiny street. There were floodlights, catering vans, and buses with satellite dishes on their roofs. Photographers and cameramen were crowded in front of our house. I couldn't look. I didn't want to speak to any of them or let them take my picture.

The lawyers stopped their car, and Baher got out. I saw the journalists immediately surround him. Flashbulbs blazed like lightning. Baher and Bernhard walked a short distance past our house, and the pack of reporters followed them. My mother and I got out. Quickly, she put a blanket over my head. The next thing I knew I was in our front hall.

***

Photos of Baher were published in a number of newspapers. Some of the captions read: "The Taliban from Bremen returns home with a short beard and glasses."

That was how Baher also got to be a Taliban. Well, at least he was born in Egypt.
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