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 10:23 pm

Chapter 12: BREMEN, HEMELINGEN

I WENT DOWN TO THE BASEMENT AND TURNED ON THE LIGHT. I wanted to see my room, which was exactly as I had left it. Nothing had changed. Even the note I'd written a couple of days before my departure reminding myself to buy batteries was still on my desk. My parents hadn't touched anything, and Ali and Alper hadn't been in there playing. It was a strange feeling-seeing my black leather couch, my blue sofa bed, my glass-fronted wardrobe, and my model ship again. I'd decorated my room when I was thirteen and had never changed a thing.

There was a case under my wardrobe. I pulled it out and removed the old slide projector my uncle Ekram had given me. I looked at it for a while and then went into the living room.

My family was sitting around our living-room table, everyone except Alper, who had gone to bed. The television set was on quietly in the background, and I stared at the screen for a while. Ali took out his wallet and showed me euro bills and coins. It looked like play money. The fan in the comer was running, and my mother and Ali complained that the room was too cold. But I found it pleasantly cool.

"Son, you must be hungry," my mother said.

The pots were on the stove. They had prepared Turkish mince-meat burgers, lamb, kebabs, rice, green beans, French fries, potatoes, and a couple of different soups. They must have been cooking for days. I opened the refrigerator. It was like being in paradise. I sat down on the tile floor in front of it and removed everything down to the last jar of mustard. I piled it all up in front of me and tried to decide what I would eat first and what second: spicy peppers-and-rice soup, cheese, meat patties, olives, kebabs, green beans, baklava, pickles ...

I decided to have a Kit-Kat.

I ate a whole package of them.

I ate everything I could.

I didn't know how late it was, and I didn't care. I could always pull the curtains in my room. My father was already asleep, and my mother had made my sofa bed. It was the first time in five years that she had done anything in my room. I folded the bed back up, pushed the desk to one side and lay down on the carpet. It was dark. That was something completely new, I thought, going to sleep in the dark. I lay my head on the soft pillow and smelled the blanket. My mother had dried the laundry, as always, outside on the clothesline.

It was totally still.

Tonight no one would come to search or beat me.

For the first time in almost five years, I got a great night's sleep.

***

The next day Bernhard came with Baher, who wanted to say goodbye.

That was just the beginning of the excitement. My father had disconnected the doorbell and the telephone to keep us from being besieged by reporters, but I took the phone into my room, reconnected it, and called just about everyone I know. It was great fun calling people again. My door was constantly opening to let in relatives who wanted to see me.

Everyone brought me something to eat, and of course I tasted it all. Then my friends came. Some of them stayed deep into the night, and the next day it was more of the same, It took several weeks before I had seen everyone again. In my free moments, I said my prayers.

I didn't talk to my parents about what had happened to me in Guantanamo. I spent a lot of time listening to my relatives and friends. They didn't ask me any questions, although I would have answered them, if they had.

No one wanted to know about Guantanamo, except Bernhard-he was constantly asking me questions.

The photographers and cameramen continued waiting outside our house for around ten days. Then most of them left. I waited for three weeks before daring to sneak out of the house. Two friends from Hemelingen visited me, and we borrowed my father's Mercedes. After all those years, I finally got to drive a car again, and we went to the spot by the river with the wharf and the junkyard where I had played and gone fishing as a child. It was dark by the time we got there. We walked for a while in the yellow glow of the warehouse lights, and I sat on a bollard and stared at the water.

Only then did I feel that I was truly back at home.

***

I still enjoy walking alone by the river. I used to go there on my bicycle -- now I take my motorbike. It's great driving a motorbike along the new streets. There's, an industrial park now along the banks of the Weser River where there once used to be fields of potato and corn. But the lake still smells like coffee. I come here a lot in the evening to regain my peace of mind.

***

Since I've returned to Bremen, I seldom walk anywhere. I prefer taking my father's car or my motorbike. I wouldn't get far on foot. I tried it a few times, but I kept getting stopped by people who wanted to take pictures. Some even asked for my autograph. Most of them are friendly and ask me a couple of questions. But I can't answer all of them, and I don't want to seem arrogant if I say no.

I know that I stick out from the crowd with my long beard and hair. But I like my beard. I think it looks nice, and growing a beard was the only freedom I enjoyed in Guantanamo.

Recently a young man came up to me on the street in Hemelingen, the kid brother of one of my childhood friends. Now in his mid-twenties, he said he'd done three years in a Bremen jail, and while he was there, he collected everything that was written about me. It was almost as if I were a kind of a role model for him. People who have been in prison themselves always seem to be especially interested in my story.

***

One day the mayor of Bremen paid us a visit. He brought a bouquet of flowers and said he had nothing to do with the previous city government, who had tried to revoke my residency permit. He wanted to welcome me back. He was the only authority who did so. No one, other than my lawyer, ever asked me if I needed medical, psychological, or any other kind of help.

Until recently, I had no health insurance because they said I either had to have a job or be on welfare to qualify. I tried to apply for welfare benefits, but no one offered me any assistance. I was always missing this or that piece of paper. In the end, I gave up. Today I have a job-working for the city of Bremen on social projects.

One day there was a fire in our neighborhood. I had just come back from a motorcycle ride and was still wearing my helmet and a face mask underneath. I could smell smoke in the hallway of our house. I ran upstairs, and the smoke got stronger. I shut the windows and went out to see where it was coming from.

The auto-repair garage at the end of our street was on fire, and the pitch-black smoke from burning tires was blowing over to our house. The fire trucks had already arrived on the scene, and a lot of people from our neighborhood were watching them put out the blaze. I was still wearing my motorcycle jacket and kept my face mask on to protect myself from the smoke. When the police arrived, I asked one of the officers if it wouldn't be better to evacuate the surrounding houses.

"Everything's under control," the officer said.

I looked at the fire. Cameramen were showing up.

A little while later, a policeman approached me and asked to see my face. I took off the mask.

"Now I know who you are," the policeman said.

He went to his patrol car and said something into the radio. Then he returned.

"Why are you wearing a mask?"

"Because of the fire. I was riding my motorcycle and I left it on to protect myself from the smoke."

He asked to see my passport, but I only had my driver's license with me.

"Where's your motorcycle?"

"Right outside. Do you want to see it?"

"No. We're taking you in to investigate if you've been involved in an act of arson."

On the way to the station, my mother called me on my cell phone.

"Talk in German, not in Turkish," the policeman hissed.

I told my mother that I was being taken to the police station and explained why. I asked the officer whether they would take me back home or whether I should have my mother come pick me up. He didn't answer. At the station, the officers said I would have to get completely undressed, so they could see whether I had any flammable liquids on me. I told them my religion prohibited me from taking all my clothes off in front of them.

One of the officers said, "Then we'll get one of our colleagues and make you. You won't enjoy it!"

I suggested that they close the windows and I cover my private parts with my jacket.

They agreed.

I don't smoke. I didn't even have a lighter on me.

***

It's not a story I look back on happily. My mother got an unnecessary scare, and I had to ask myself why, out of more than hundred people on the street, I was the only one who had to go to the police station. Did the police still suspect me of being a terrorist? Or a Taliban fighter who sets tires on fire at a garage six hundred feet from his own home?

In late 2006, Bremen's criminal police department took a statement from me about the two German soldiers who had beaten me in Kandahar. I was supposed to identify them from photographs. I went with Bernhard to the police department, where they wanted to search us for weapons at the door. Bernhard protested. I was here as a witness, he said, not as a suspect.

Were they afraid of me?

For a long time I suspected I was being kept under surveillance. Sometimes I heard a strange echo on our phone. Sometimes a delivery van would be parked on the street in front of our house for what I thought was a suspiciously long time. Once a letter concerning this book didn't arrive at my house. But maybe these were all coincidences.

My statements to the media led the German parliament, the Bundestag, to set up two special investigative committees to look into whether the previous German government was complicit in my detention and whether German soldiers had mistreated me. I have since testified before that committee and well as one set up by the EU in Brussels to investigate possible illegal CIA operations in Europe. During a break in the proceedings, an official who had brought me to my family after I landed in Ramstein came up to me and said: "I never knew about all this."

What I didn't know was that the Americans had allegedly decided as early as 2002 that I was innocent and were willing to let me go. That shocked me. Why didn't they just release me, then?

I discovered that the German government apparently didn't want to let me reenter the country, and claimed that my residency permit had expired because I hadn't applied for an extension on time. Of course, I couldn't file for the extension because I was in Guantanamo, and even if I had thought of it, the Americans would have laughed at me and sent me to the cooler.

My lawyer told me that government officials had even tried to get the Americans to send them my passport so that they could void my residency permit. I don't know whether this is true. If it turns out that they allowed me to be tortured, when they could have prevented it, I'm speechless.

Today, I have a permanent residency permit and would like to become a German citizen. I don't know whether I will get citizenship, but I'd like to stay in Germany and live and work in Hemelingen. I was born, grew up, and went to school here like most people I know. We may speak Turkish at home, but I live in Germany and feel like a German. I'm especially grateful to Germany's current Chancellor Angela Merkel for getting personally involved to help secure my release.

The country of which I am a citizen, Turkey, did nothing for me, and now they want me to do military service. They wasted no time trying to get me in the army. The letter asking me to report arrived one day after I got back to Hemelingen from Guantanamo.

***

My friend Selcuk, who was mistaken for a suicide bomber, still lives in Bremen, and I've heard he's become a father. I don't know what he really believed or did back then. I never saw him again. I'm not angry that he never came to Karachi, but I don't want to have any contact with him. I want to start a new life and make new friends.

Things might have turned out differently if Selcuk's brother hadn't told the border police in Frankfurt that we intended to go to Afghanistan and fight with the Taliban. But you can't change the past. I read in a newspaper that Selcuk's brother has since retracted his statement.

With time, I have come to understand how I got caught up in the mill of a major international political conflict, although I still can't grasp how certain things fit together. What I do know is that ever since January 2007, which is when I testified in front of the special investigations committee of the Bundestag in Berlin, I have once again unwillingly become a political figure in Germany.

All I did was tell people what happened to me, and I was happy that someone listened. But since then, it seems as though I constantly have to defend myself against accusations of being a terrorist-even though both the Americans and Germans who interrogated me in Guantanamo, as well as the prosecutors in Bremen, all concluded that I was clearly innocent. I hope that some day no one will doubt my innocence any more. But there's something else that's even more important to me.

The moderator of a Turkish television news show once asked me whether I'd seen the movie The Road to Guantanamo. He wanted to know how realistic it was. I said that it was a good movie, but that it only depicted some of the truth.

It's important that our stories are told. We need to counter the endless reports written in Guantanamo itself. We have to speak up and say: I tried to hand back my blanket and got four weeks in solitary confinement. We have to tell the world how Abdul lost his legs and how the Moroccan captain lost his fingers. The world needs to know about the prisoners who died in Kandahar. We have to describe how the doctors came only to check whether we were dead or could stand to be tortured for a little longer.

***

Did Guantanamo change me? I don't think so. I believe I've remained the same person I always was, with the same name, living in the same house. At the end of the interview with the Turkish TV show, the moderator asked me what I wanted to do when this book was finished. I said I wanted to get married, if God was willing, and start a family.

On the other hand, maybe Guantanamo did change me. I now know what people are capable of doing to their fellow human beings, and how politicians speak and act. I have a new appreciation for the value of simple things like sleeping and eating. Of being free.

Maybe you can picture my situation like this. Right now I'm sitting in my room with everything I need: Internet access, television, a phone, and enough to eat. I have my weights, and I can do sports. But what would happen if someone locked the door and imprisoned me? How long would someone last in this room? Twenty-four hours wouldn't be a problem, and maybe a week wouldn't be too bad either. But months? Perhaps you can imagine then how difficult it is for the prisoners still being held in Guantanamo.

I think a lot about their suffering. While I sit here eating chocolate bars and peeling mandarin oranges, they are being beaten and starved. I think less about my own time there than about the people who were only fourteen years old when they were captured, and have spent their youth being tortured. I can eat, drink, and sleep much the same as I did five years ago, but I never forget that people are being abused in Cuba. It makes me sad when I think of them.

I pray that they will be released and that the camp will be shut down.

***

I've never talked with my mother and father about Guantanamo, and they've never asked me about it. Maybe that's just a question of time.

***

Once I was looking out the window at the snow falling. My mother came up to me and asked whether it had ever snowed in Cuba.

No, mother, I said. Of course not.

It never snows in Cuba.
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Re: FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO

Postby admin » Fri Nov 20, 2015 10:24 pm

EPILOGUE
by Baher Azmy

UNTIL THE SUMMER OF 2004, WHEN THE GUANTANAMO camps were opened up to law and lawyers and, therefore, to minimal scrutiny, Bush Administration officials repeatedly claimed that Guantanamo held only the "worst of the worst" or "the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth" or, in one particularly colorful phrasing, men who "would gnaw the hydraulic lines of a C-17 to bring it down." Along with other central assertions made in support of Guantanamo -- that the "terrorist" detainees were not entitled to recognition of any legal rights whatsoever but that they were nevertheless treated humanely by American personnel -- this confident boast perhaps would assuage an otherwise reluctant public to accept the administration's deeply anomalous experiment in Guantanamo.

At the time of this writing, however, the administration's Guantanamo project is doomed to fail not just because of the accumulating weight of international pressure, but also largely because once Guantanamo's cloak of secrecy was pierced, the truth about detainees and the administration's often brutal treatment and incompetent decisions on whom to imprison has slowly emerged. As demonstrated by this powerful memoir, Murat's case lays to shameful waste the administration's defense of Guantanamo. Indeed, not only is Murat innocent of any connections with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or any other terrorist groups, it is now clear that the U.S. government knew of his innocence as early as 2002 -- just six months into his detention), even as it continued, cynically, to argue that Murat was an "enemy combatant." The Schroeder government in Germany also, it turns out, had collaborated with the Americans for years in preventing Murat's release to Germany, at the same time that German government officials were self-righteously criticizing the prison camp and protesting that there was nothing they could do to help free Murat. Like a malignant cancer, the corruption of Guantanamo spreads deep and wide. No one has yet assumed responsibility for this hypocrisy and for the egregiously unjust five-year term of abuse and imprisonment for Murat. A genuine remedy for Murat's suffering may never come, but the telling of his remarkable story might represent an important start.

***

I didn't know Murat was innocent when I agreed to represent him in the summer of 2004. At that early stage in our long struggle together, who Murat was, or what he did, seemed largely irrelevant. As a lawyer, professor of constitutional law, and concerned citizen, I had been deeply troubled with the Bush Administration's astonishing assertion of executive power -- a power that would authorize the arrest of any person, anywhere in the world, for alleged acts of terrorism or association with terrorists, on nothing more than the president's say-so. And, in denying the applicability of any law -- domestic, international or military -- to Guantanamo, the president was asserting the power to do anything he or his commanders wanted at any time, in total darkness, regardless of the consequences. So, in agreeing to represent Murat, I hoped, like many other lawyers involved in defending Guantanamo detainees, to vindicate a principle: that there should be no prison beyond the law.

Following the Supreme Court's decision in 2004 that entitled the detainees to challenge the legality of their detentions, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and I filed a bare bones legal petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. court in Washington, D.C., naming George Bush and others as defendants. This ancient legal device, one the United States inherited from old English common law, requires the executive to justify the legal and factual basis of the prisoner's detention before a neutral judge; and has long been considered the bulwark of liberty and the best check against arbitrary executive power and imprisonments. One remarkable aspect of our habeas filing -- utterly unique in my experience as a lawyer -- was that my client didn't authorize me to file it, nor did he even know a case or a lawyer existed. Because he couldn't file the petition on his own behalf, it was filed in his mother's name, Rabiye Kurnaz, who was called Murat's "Next Friend." This maneuver was the first of a number of procedures or arguments we would employ that seemed more to resemble ancient English practice -- for example, when a king would imprison a political enemy in a remote tower -- than routine American legal practice.

Soon thereafter, I completed the process to get a "secret" security clearance from the government, which they required before I could talk to my client or see the classified evidence against him. According to the government, every detainee in Guantanamo was an "enemy combatant"; therefore, everything out of a detainee's mouth -- a statement about the weather, his health, how he was treated -- was presumptively deemed classified information and could not therefore be disclosed without first being cleared by government officials. This was an incredibly burdensome process, and it was only one of many. We were not allowed to speak to the detainees on the phone, and our letters, also subject to inspection by the government, routinely took weeks to reach clients. One time I asked the government to investigate why I hadn't received a letter I had expected from Murat and learned that it was sitting in a bag with dozens of other detainee letters, accidentally sent to the Department of Homeland Security mailroom.

Also, Continental does not fly to Guantanamo. Getting there, even after receiving government clearance to visit, is exhausting and expensive. For my first visit in October 2004, I was accompanied by a German translator, Belinda, and we flew to Fort Lauderdale and then took a government-cleared charter propeller plane by a service called, absurdly, Air Sunshine, around forbidden Cuban airspace and into the Guantanamo airfield. Once on the base, we were driven around in a small school bus by an affable marine escort nicknamed "Gunny."

I was the third civilian lawyer to enter the Guantanamo prison camps. I won't ever forget the incredible anxiety I felt in the moments before my first meeting with Murat. Though I had thought hard about what I would say to him, in fact, no amount of preparation or experience could fully comfort me in this bizarre, intimidating place. As I walked through several fifteen-foot high locked gates and into Camp Echo's inner sanctum, across gravel made bright white by the blazing Caribbean sun, my status as a civilian and a lawyer -- formal shoes and tie -- was reinforced by the sounds of practice machine-gun fire in the distance. Inside, the Camp was impossibly spare, quiet, and hot. You could hear nothing from the self-contained cells holding the prisoners; they couldn't be seen from the courtyard either. The only perceptible noise came from overworked air conditioners and the crunch of military boots against the white gravel.

After a few minutes of waiting in this courtyard, the impossibly young military guard who had been preparing Murat for my visit came up to inform me that Murat claimed he didn't want the German translator I had flown down with me in our meeting.

"He speaks English?" I asked, incredulously.

"Yeah, it ain't so good, but you can basically understand him," the guard replied.

"What? Since when?" I insisted

The guard didn't know, and obviously neither did Murat's family, who hadn't been allowed to communicate with him in the three years since his detention began.

Belinda went back to our dormitory-style barracks on the other side of the island until she could get a flight home, while I prepared myself to meet Murat alone. When the door to the tiny meeting room opened, Murat was seated, squinting at the incoming sunlight. Dressed in a short, tan shirt and cotton pants, with a flowing beard and red-brown mane of hair, he looked like someone who had been shipwrecked on a desert island, which, in a sense, he was. He shook my hand and motioned for me to sit across from him on the flimsy plastic chair, as if he were welcoming me to tea in his home. With my first words, I tried to sound confident.

"Murat, my name is Baher Azmy. I am a lawyer. I do not work for the U.S. government. Your family in Germany asked me to help you."

I handed him the handwritten note from his worried mother that I had cleared by the military at the last minute, to help convince him I was on his side. This was a considerable concern, since in three years he had not talked to anyone who was not military personnel or an interrogator, had no knowledge of any legal proceedings, and had no reason to trust anyone who approached him. As I watched his pained expression while reading the loving note from his mother -- his first taste of humanity in three years -- I felt as though I was delivering a crumb of bread to Robinson Crusoe.

I then explained that his mother and a German lawyer, Bernhard Docke, had been fighting for years for him back home, and that, following a recent Supreme Court decision, I had filed a case for him in U.S. court in an attempt to challenge his detention. I also told him I was born in Egypt, that I was a Muslim, and a law professor with great faith in the American legal system. He was unfailingly polite, disarmingly warm, but understandably skeptical, it seemed. After more discussion, he asked: "You have sued President Bush?"

"Yes," I answered, "you and I have sued him. And, I will do everything I can to help you."

He paused, stroked the ends of his beard resting at his hips and replied in a heavy German accent -- to my considerable relief -- "This is goot." We spent eight hours a day for the next four days talking -- about everything -- and on four subsequent visits I spent dozens of hours with him.

He told me about Selcuk, his trip to the Frankfurt Airport, the Tablighis, his arrest in Pakistan. On the second day, I pressed and pushed him on his story: who did you meet, where did you go, did you even have any interest in Afghanistan? Though it is not a lawyer's role to assure himself of a client's innocence, I was becoming quite convinced that his story, punctuated with precise details, held together very well. I didn't ask about his treatment by military personnel; that traumatic discussion would have to come in the future. He asked me about my family, told me about summers in Turkey and engaged in sarcastic and often dark humor that I had thought I could only find in certain cynical corridors in New York. Murat dealt with his horrible situation -- the endless boredom, the brutal injustice, the aura of forever that hangs over the whole of Guantanamo -- through a rooted and hopeful faith in Islam; this he would express to me in meaningful but not proselytizing manner. But, to be sure, his eye for noticing the absurd was also a good tonic.

As afternoons wore on, on this first trip and subsequent ones, we laughed hilariously about his depiction of the incompetence of the Pakistani police, the absurd redundancy of his interrogations (obsessed as they seemed to be with confirming his birth date or the correct spelling of his name) and the sad state of the Gitmo detainee menu. Once, after Murat wounded a fly hovering around our table with a coffee stirrer, we joked that this act of hostility was sure to get him designated as an enemy combatant. We toyed for a while with the image of him being forced to answer to another military tribunal or interrogator for either "associating with" such a known and sometimes mortal enemy of the United States, or for otherwise revealing an obvious propensity for violence and terrorism.

As Murat describes, I brought him McDonald's coffee and an apple pie -- which he ate with wondrous nostalgia for his mother's version. On subsequent visits, I became more adventurous in what I would bring to our meetings: dolmas, baklava, cheese, pita bread, Turkish figs, fresh garlic (his request), subs, pizza, filet o'fish sandwiches, fries, hot peppers (also his request), Jolly Ranchers, cookies, fresh fruit, canned fruit, dried fruit, melting McFlurries, and even a packaged shrimp cocktail. I was shopping for a starving man. I also brought him Starbucks but, to my surprise, he preferred McDonald's coffee. It's an interesting bit of consumerist trivia, an absurdly dark one really, when one considers that just about a mile from the strip mall housing those and other fronts of innocent Americana, there existed a camp housing a fully constructed project of dehumanization.

On this first trip we did some legal work as well. We needed an affidavit for his German immigration case, demonstrating the otherwise self-evident proposition that while held in Guantanamo, he did not have much of an opportunity to renew his German residency status. A translator would certainly have been helpful, with tenses and declensions to negotiate, but we managed. This was an important document -- his first statement to the outside world. But, like a lawyer for a client on a desert island, I had to handwrite the affidavit on ruled paper for his signature there -- no computers or typewriters or easy revisions.

Our first good-bye was deeply affecting for me. We embraced for a long time with promises to write and visit together again. These were moments of intense optimism; perhaps by being there, I and other lawyers would be shining a small light in a dark and depressing place. By the time of my evening flight over the Caribbean, however, I was a wreck -- physically exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving Murat behind to endure for more months inside a cage fit for animals at best. This case, of course, became for me far more than an effort to vindicate an abstract principle. Murat was not a pawn in some epic constitutional struggle; he was a living, caring, and profoundly human being, who I was convinced should be comfortably at home in the company of his mother, brothers, and friends.

Soon after I returned to the United States, I met Bernhard, my German co-counsel, who was visiting New York with his son. We hit it off immediately, a happy development considering the hundreds of hours we spent together in Bremen, Berlin, Bavaria (to pick up Murat when he was released), and even Istanbul working on his case. Bernhard was with me when we received the government's answer to our habeas corpus petition -- the supposed reasons for his detention, which came out of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal process Murat describes in this book. The charges were, as Murat notes here, preposterous.

First, there was no allegation that Murat entered Afghanistan, met any terrorists, or held a weapon. The government actually contended that Murat Kurnaz was an "enemy combatant" because his friend Selcuk Bilgin "engaged" in a suicide bombing and was possibly responsible for a suicide bombing in an Istanbul synagogue in November 2003. Leaving aside the astonishing legal proposition that one could spend the rest of one's life in prison because of the unknown acts of a friend (Murat had already been in Guantanamo for eighteen months by the time of this alleged suicide bombing), it was factually absurd. As a five-minute call to the appropriate German authorities would have revealed, Selcuk was alive and well in Bremen. Bernhard knew this and had the awkward duty of securing an affidavit from Selcuk stating that, "um, I am alive." My mischievous side still regrets not taking a picture next to Selcuk during our meeting in 2005, perhaps holding up a dated copy of a newspaper, and sending it to the government or filing it in court in order to rebut the suicide bomber charge.

The government also claimed that Murat was an enemy combatant, not because he undertook any hostile actions or even thoughts, but because he associated with the Tablighis, a group that apparently has some members who at some point in time have supported groups hostile to the United States. We obtained letters from three prominent experts on this group and submitted them to the U.S. government, demonstrating the consensus view that the Tablighis are an avowedly peaceful and apolitical group. But, things should never even have gotten that far; at the outset, the government's theory of guilt by association would justify the imprisonment of the several million followers of this group and others, because of what a few members might have at some time done. The government has actually admitted as much. In a hearing in federal court in late 2004, government lawyers conceded in response to a question from a skeptical judge that, under their conception, a "little old lady from Switzerland" who gives money to what she believes is an Afghan orphanage but which, unbeknownst to her, turns out to be a front for the Taliban could be detained in Guantanamo as an enemy combatant. [1] Legally, if obviously not physically, Murat was not very different from the little old lady from Switzerland.

Still, I thought perhaps the government might have some other troubling evidence in the classified portion of Murat's file, which I was permitted to review in government "secure facility" near Washington. When I did review it, I was stunned. There was nothing. Indeed, as has been reported, there are a number of statements from military intelligence that actually concluded that he had no connections to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or any other terrorist threat. The government has continued to try to keep this embarrassing set of revelations secret, even after the Washington Post published them on its front page in March 2005. We recently sued the Department of Defense in federal court in an attempt to declassify all of the substantial exculpatory material in Murat's file. In January 2005, three months after the government provided the records of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals upon which the government "enemy combatant" decisions were based, a federal Judge, Joyce Hens Green, ruled on the legality of the government's detention scheme. Judge Green held that, contrary to the government's position, the detainees were entitled to fundamental due process rights to challenge their detention, and that the CSRT hearing system instituted by the government -- with its many grotesque procedural defects -- fell far short of what was minimally constitutionally required. What was particularly remarkable about the decision is that Judge Green singled out Murat's case, among the sixty-five she reviewed, as one that "highlights" the inadequacy of the CSRT system. She concluded that the basis for the government's enemy combatant determination -- mere associations either with an alleged suicide bomber and a large missionary Islamic group -- was insufficient, even if true, to justify his detention. She noted that Murat had no knowledge or hand in wrongdoing committed by either of these parties and that the evidence suggested that Murat was in Pakistan only to study the Koran.

Most important, Judge Green cited numerous statements in Murat's file that demonstrated that he was in fact innocent of any connections with terrorism but which were apparently ignored by the Tribunal, which determined Murat to be an "enemy combatant." In sum, Judge Green concluded Murat's detention was unlawful. The decision, which came out January 31, 2005, was a tremendous development in his case. However, while we were in the early stages of preparing a motion, based on this ruling, requesting the court to order his release, the government appealed Judge Green's decision and successfully obtained an order freezing the impact of her momentous ruling until it could be reviewed by the appellate court. (Judge Green's ruling, and the appellate court's decision to reverse it, will have been considered by the United States Supreme Court at the time of this book's publication).

The appeal of Judge Green's decision meant legal proceedings were at a standstill. We therefore resorted to other forms of advocacy to draw attention to Murat's case. I met with German consular officials in Washington and traveled to Germany to join Bernhard in publicizing Murat's plight. Bernhard and I reasoned that, because no detainees had yet been released as a result of any court ruling, we had to pressure -- or more likely shame -- the German government to negotiate for his release.

During this visit to Germany, in March 2005, I met Rabiye, Murat's mother, and Ali, Murat's fifteen-year-old brother, in Bernhard's office. [2] Rabiye was warm and gracious toward me, if a little hesitant to talk. Through Bernhard's translation, she thanked me for helping "my Murat" and thanked me again and again when I reported that he was in relatively good spirits and health, as if I had anything to do with the content of this message. Rabiye and Ali were especially delighted to hear my amazement over the resemblance between Ali -- especially his smile, voice, and manner -- and Murat. I suppose we all marvel when we notice human likenesses; but the scene was intensely discordant for me as I recognized in one brother before me, the essential characteristics of another I had only seen locked in a cage on the other side of the world.

The next day, in front of a packed press corps, I disclosed Murat's allegations of the torture he suffered in Kandahar and Guantanamo as well as the evidence of his innocence, all of it new to the German media. As I listed the brutality committed against Murat, which we believed necessary to mobilize German public opinion, I could hear nearby on the dais the quiet, pained weeping of Rabiye. During this conference, Rabiye also spoke -- simply and eloquently, while holding up a picture of Murat at age eighteen, so that all could understand the human suffering his disappearance inflicted. She explained that she had always thought America was a democracy, so she could not understand how this kind of secrecy and injustice could happen there. Many months later she would tell me that she finally appreciated that Americans were not all bad people, despite what happened to Murat, because of all of the enormous kindness, support, and help she received from Americans concerned about her and Murat's case. Rabiye's perspective reveals what impression foreigners, who never have access to the kindness of ordinary Americans, have of our country and the prison Thomas Friedman aptly suggested represents the "anti Statue of Liberty." [3]

On the following days, in Berlin, we attended meetings with high-level officials in the Schroeder government, who basically repeated to us what I had heard from the consular official in Washington. The official Berlin line was that because Murat was not technically a German citizen (or, in the revealing words of one German judge who was part of an audience listening to my depiction of Murat's ordeal, "he is not German!") there was nothing the Foreign Ministry could do on his behalf. Bernhard and I did our best in the press to cast this as a morally bankrupt position that forsook international law and that implicated Germany in the illegality and hypocrisy of Guantanamo. I believe Bernhard's typically eloquent mantra was, "they have imported Guantanamo into German law." The press took great interest in Murat's case; in addition to hundreds of articles in German papers, accounts of his plight appeared repeatedly in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, The New Yorker magazine, and in many other publications. [4]

On the last day of this exhausting, but seemingly productive trip, Bernhard and I planned to relax and have a celebratory dinner. That mid-afternoon, however, Rabiye alerted Bernhard that the Turkish media was reporting that Murat had been released and was soon to arrive in the American Air Force base in southern Turkey. Was it true? Who knew? I tried desperately to contact government lawyers, to see if they could tell us anything, but it was Saturday. Also, U.S. government lawyers took the position that detainee lawyers had no right to know in advance of a client's release (this would change after we obtained a court order requiring the government to give us thirty days advance notice of his transfer from Guantanamo, in case the government would try to ship him to a country out of the court's jurisdiction); so, in general, when detainees were released, lawyers only learned about it from the media or family members. It was enough to cause me to cancel my flight home and arrange to fly with Bernhard, Rabiye, and Murat's brothers Ali and Alper the next day to Istanbul to, hopefully, greet Murat when he arrived.

On the flight to Istanbul, the family was ecstatic, exchanging loving glances and hugs in jubilant expectation of this long- waited moment. They arranged to stay one month in Turkey, to give Murat enough time to get acclimated and to get reacquainted, while we would figure out how to get him home to Germany. Alas, as the evening wore on into morning, their joyful anticipation slowly melted into confused and painful disappointment and finally again into despair: Murat was not coming home. He had never left Guantanamo. This was all an excited Turkish press rumor chasing after itself and fed to a desperate mother who wanted nothing more in the world to believe -- and reaffirm -- its truth.

It would be another 15 months before the family received word of his return. This time, it was true. In the intervening period, more questions were raised about the German responsibility for Murat's continued detention, in particular regarding the charges -- reported by Murat to me and relayed to Bernhard -- that Germans had visited Murat in Guantanamo to interrogate him. This certainly undermined the German position that they had no role in his detention and were unable to even approach the Americans to discuss his release. Soon after this revelation, and other urgent questions about Germany's role in the American support of the war on terror, the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced publicly in Germany that she would broach the issue of the repatriation of Murat in an upcoming meeting with President Bush. Perhaps the Bush Administration was more willing now to reduce the population of the increasingly criticized prison camp, or perhaps it needed to do the new, conservative Chancellor Merkel a diplomatic favor; in any event, the Bush Administration finally agreed to negotiate for Murat's release. The negotiations took over eight months, apparently because the American side was insisting on conditions to which the German government, happily, would not accede -- such as confiscation of Murat's passport, preventative detention, and other surveillance measures presumably prohibited by German law.

By December 2005 Bernhard and I felt confident that his release would occur. I was eager to report these developments to Murat in person, but my trips were repeatedly delayed. When I attempted to visit with him in January 2006, the military told me on two consecutive days that Murat "refuses his attorney visit." I was struck by the earnestness with which the commander delivered this message; lawyers had long joked that the only right the military guards respect is the detainees' right to refuse counsel.

Nevertheless, it seemed incomprehensible that Murat would refuse to see me; we had such a good relationship; he trusted me; I always brought him food. While on the island, I wrote Murat notes enticing him with important news, which the military promised to deliver for me in person that day so that he might reconsider his decision. Apparently, those didn't work either; the military repeated that he refused to see me. I was still immensely confused and alarmed. It had been a long time since I had seen him; perhaps he had, like so many other detainees, lost hope or developed an intense resentment towards this endless, unproductive legal process. Or, perhaps he had simply lost his wits. That same day, there was a huge rally for Murat in Bremen, where Bernhard was to announce that I was visiting Murat that same day, and that he was still in good spirits. How dreadfully ironic.

When I returned home, dejected and concerned, I immediately scheduled another visit. I was not going to give up after all this time. If he didn't want to see me, if he had lost faith in me or this process, he'd have to tell me in person; he owed me at least that much. In May, I returned to Guantanamo. When I entered the meeting room, he was sitting there as usual, apparently happy to see me. I wanted to handle this potentially awkward moment delicately.

"Murat, why did you refuse my visit in January?"

Murat smiled broadly, as if to say, "Don't you know better by now than to believe what they tell you?" As it turned out, the military had never told him in January, as they had represented, that he had a lawyer visit. And, what about the handwritten notes I asked to be delivered to him on those days? He received them in February -- three weeks after I left -- along with a letter I had sent through the legal mail system, after it was obviously too late to have any effect.

There was nothing really to do about this -- it was one of dozens of inconveniences and obstacles habeas counsel dealt with, and there was no point obsessing over it. Murat was seemingly healthy, in reasonably good spirits, and there was something he could look forward to. Mindful of the previous disastrous false alarm, I was somewhat reluctant to get his hopes up. Nevertheless, I explained that there was very good reason to believe he'd be released within a few months. He was cautious, trying to conceal any emotions. Perhaps he didn't want to be disappointed. By the second day of that visit however, we broached this possibility, discussing what he would want to eat first ("have my father prepare a lamb"), what he would buy (a motorcycle; he'd take me on the Autobahn at 150 kph), and the immense amounts of attention he'd receive upon his return. He laughed at my suggestion that the press would be everywhere, including in the trees and under cars, to get a picture of him, as if he were a prized Hollywood celebrity. "I will be like Tom Cruise?" he joked.

In August 2006, German officials told Bernhard and me the date that Murat would likely be released, which gave me enough time to fly to Germany for the occasion. On August 24, 2006, Bernhard and I met the whole Kurnaz family at a gas station outside of Bremen for the six-hour drive south toward Ramstein Air Force base, where we were told he would be arriving in the early evening. The day was full of intrigue -- secret meetings with German officials to find out the location of the meeting place for the Kurnaz family reunion -- constant, intrusive calls from German and American reporters demanding confirmation of a spreading rumor of his release, and almost overwhelming anxiety. While we awaited Murat's arrival in a Red Cross senior citizens' facility, we saw through the window a huge C-17 military plane descending from the sky. It was Murat.

From the window, Bernhard saw Murat enter the building along with the affable German foreign ministry officials who earlier told us where the dropoff and reunion would be. Rabiye, Murat's father, Ali, Alper, Bernhard, and I all assembled in the hallway on the fourth floor to greet Murat. Despite all my prior descriptions, Bernhard still seemed stunned when he caught a quick glimpse of Murat's beard through the window. Rabiye stood in front of the creaky elevator doors; her anticipation built to an almost unbearable level as the elevator repeatedly started and stopped, huffed and creaked. Finally when the doors opened, Rabiye latched onto her son as if he might be taken away from her again at any moment; with Murat in her arms, she wept helplessly for a long time.

In the incredible excitement of that very long day, including a 3 AM rush into the Kurnaz home past a swarm of waiting journalists, I remember one thing more clearly than any other. During the many hours that Murat and I had spent together in Guantanamo, his ankle had always been chained to the floor. That day, for the first time, I saw Murat walk.

***

I am now relieved and gratified that Murat has claimed back much of his prior life -- at least his family, his friends, and his hobbies. Murat's written account of his horrible odyssey, however, is, in my mind, the most powerful and enduring reclamation of his dignity. Milan Kundera, the absurdist critic of soviet totalitarianism wrote that "the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." [5] Because Kundera believed that the great tool of undemocratic regimes is to use their power to alter or reconstruct reality, he thought it essential that artists, journalists, and dissidents make a record of their memory as a form of resistance and of truth. Murat's memoir, along with other accounts of U.S. government actions in Guantanamo -- which would otherwise remain secret or deeply distorted -- provide vital testimony to a profound injustice; this book represents one small but important strike against unchecked power.

***

Baher Azmy is a professor of law at Seton Hall Law School in Newark, New Jersey, where he teaches constitutional law and litigates in the area of civil rights. He remains involved in the litigation related to the Guantanamo Bay detentions. He lives in New York City with his wife Margo, and their two-year-old daughter, Laila.

_______________

Notes:

1. See In re Guantanamo Bay Detainee Cases, 355 F. Supp. 2d 443 (D.D. C. 2005).

2. I had spoken to Murat's family by phone and received his mother's handwritten note I presented to him, by fax, before I met with Murat. I first met the Kurnaz family in March, after my second trip to visit Murat.

3. Thomas Friedman, "Just Shut it Down," New York Times, May 27, 2005, Op-Ed.

4. For just a few examples, see Carol Leonnig, "Panel Ignored Evidence on Detainee: U.S. Intelligence, German Authorities, Found No Tie to Terrorists," Washington Post, March 27, 2005; Carol Leannig and Dana Priest, "Pentagon Inquiry Is Said to Confirm Muslims' Accounts of Sexual Tactics at Guantanamo," Washington Post, February 9, 2005; Shannon Smiley and Craig Whitlock, "Turk Was Abused at Guantanamo, Lawyers Say," Washington Post, August 26, 2006; "U.S. Frees Longtime Detainee," Washington Post, August 25, 2006; Richard Bernstein, "One Muslim's Odyssey to Guantanamo," New York Times, June 5, 2005; Mark Landler and Saoud Mekhennet, "German Detainee Questions His Country's Role," New York Times, November 4, 2006; Charlie Savage, "U.S. Orders 38 Freed from Guantanamo," Boston Globe, March 30, 2005; Jane Mayer, "The Experiment," New Yorker, July 11, 2005; Stacy Sullivan, "Minutes of the Guantanamo Bay Bar Association," New York Magazine, June 26, 2006; Jess Sravin, "U.S. Discloses Some Details on Gitmo Captives," Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2004.

5. Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (New York: HarperPerennial, 1999).
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