Monday, March 10, 2008

Unbelievable story of a Guantanamo detainee: Murat Kurnaz's story

A great, long, Mother Jones article via title link. Kurnaz is a Turkish German, someone born and raised in Germany but who because of their archaic laws is somehow not a citizen (because his parents were from Turkey). Here are some excerpts:

"MURAT KURNAZ, the son of Turkish immigrants, was born and raised in Bremen, a rainy north German port city, where he lived with his family in a simple brick row house. His father, Metin, worked the assembly line at a Mercedes Benz plant, while his mother, Rabiye, stayed home with him and his two younger brothers. On Fridays he and his father attended the neighborhood Kuba Mosque, a storefront sanctuary with a barbershop, bookstore, and cavernous teahouse where old men in crocheted skullcaps huddle around plastic tables.

Mosque-goers remember Kurnaz as a shy, quiet boy who didn't take much interest in religion. "He was a normal Muslim Turk, who prayed once in a while, but was not very observant," says Nurtekin Tepe, a local bus driver, who has known Kurnaz since he was a child. Instead, Kurnaz spent his time watching Bruce Lee movies, dreaming about motorbikes (he hoped to get one and drive it 110 miles per hour on the autobahn), and lifting weights, often with his neighbor, Selcuk Bilgin, who had many of the same interests, though he was six years older.

This began to change in the fall of 2000. Kurnaz, then 18, was working as a nightclub bouncer; Bilgin had a dead-end job at a supermarket. Some of their friends had started getting in trouble with the law. Feeling there must be something more to life, both men began to take a deeper interest in Islam. Before long, they had cut pork from their diets, grown their beards long, and started attending a new mosque, Abu Bakr, which was located in a dingy, fluorescent-lit office building near Bremen's main train station and preached a strict brand of Sunni Islam.

Around this time, Kurnaz also started searching for a Muslim bride, and in the summer of 2001 he married Fatima, a young woman who hails from a rural Turkish village. The union was arranged by relatives, and the couple met only once before the ceremony. The idea was to bring her to Germany as soon as her paperwork was sorted out. Meanwhile, Kurnaz and Bilgin made plans to travel to Pakistan. The reason for the trip has been a matter of much debate, but Kurnaz claims he was worried that he didn't know enough about Islam to be a good Muslim husband and wanted to study the Koran before Fatima's arrival. "


...

"ON DECEMBER 1, 2001, Kurnaz boarded a bus to the airport in Peshawar, a smoggy city on the country's northwest border, where he says he planned to catch a plane back to Germany. Along the way, the vehicle was stopped at a routine checkpoint. One of the officers manning it knocked on the window and asked Kurnaz something in Urdu, then ordered him to step off the bus.

Kurnaz expected to show his passport and answer a few questions before being sent on his way. Instead, he was thrown in jail. A few days later, Pakistani police turned him over to U.S. forces, who transported him to Kandahar Air Base, a military installation in the southern reaches of Afghanistan. The Taliban had recently been driven from the region, and the base, built on the rubble of a bombed-out airport, was little more than a cluster of bullet-pocked hangars and decrepit runways. Despite the subzero temperatures, prisoners were kept in large outdoor pens, and a number of them later claimed they were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics. Kurnaz says he was routinely beaten, chained up for days in painful positions, and given electric shocks on the soles of his feet. He also says he was subjected to a crude form of waterboarding, which involved having his head plunged into a water-filled plastic bucket. (The Pentagon, contacted more than a dozen times by email and telephone, would not comment on Kurnaz's treatment or any other aspect of his case.) "


...

"IN LATE SEPTEMBER 2002, the three German agents arrived at Guantanamo to interrogate detainee 061. During the trip, they were assigned a CIA liaison, identified only as Steve H., who briefed them on their mission and kept tabs on the interrogations.

Much of the questioning the first day focused on why Kurnaz would choose to travel to Pakistan when war was brewing in the region. The detainee explained that a group of Muslim missionaries had visited his mosque and told him about a school in Lahore where he could study the Koran. But when he arrived there, he found people were suspicious of him because of his light skin and the fact that he spoke no Arabic. Taking him for a foreign journalist, the school turned him away. So he wandered around, staying in mosques and guesthouses, until he was detained near Peshawar (something he also attributed to his light skin and the fact that he spoke German but carried a Turkish passport).

The German agents came away with mixed opinions, according to testimony they later gave before a closed session of German Parliament. (Many other details of their trip were also revealed through that hearing, transcripts of which were obtained by Mother Jones.) The leader of the delegation, who worked for the foreign intelligence service, the BND, saw Kurnaz as a harmless and somewhat naive young man who simply picked a bad time to travel. One of his colleagues, a domestic intelligence specialist, argued it was possible that Kurnaz was on the path to radicalization. But everyone agreed it was highly improbable that he had links to terrorist networks or was involved in any kind of terrorist plot, and none of the agents voiced any objections to letting him go. "

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