As tiresome and cliche as it may seem, it still frustrating and makes one angry to hear of such injustices by a supposed ‘freedom fighter’ & a military that claims to ‘liberate the oppressed’
FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE An Innocent Man in Guantanamo By Murat Kurnaz with Helmut Kuhn Translated from the German by Jefferson Chase.
Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen and resident of Germany, had been traveling in Pakistan in December 2001 when he was detained on his way to the airport and handed over to the U.S. military. He was 19 years old. After a couple of agonizing months in Kandahar, he was sent, shackled and hooded, to Guantanamo and imprisoned there for almost five years, despite the fact that both U.S. and German intelligence had concluded as early as 2002 that there was no evidence linking him to terrorism.
Kurnaz’s account of his imprisonment is almost unbearably painful to read, precisely because his tone is so measured and low-key. He endured beatings, waterboarding, electric shock, isolation and the disruption of all sense of time and space. He was asked the same meaningless questions again and again. There were also petty, gratuitous cruelties: In Kandahar, prisoners were fed military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) but with part of the food removed so that they were perpetually hungry. On one occasion, Kurnaz’s MRE contained pork, which he, as a Muslim, could not eat. When a fellow prisoner, a boy of about 16, offered to share his own meager ration of chicken, soldiers rushed in to hit him.
There was little apparent concern in Kandahar over whether prisoners lived or died. One night Kurnaz saw a man being kicked and beaten to death by seven guards. Kurnaz himself was hoisted by a chain from the ceiling and left there for about five days, during which he observed another man hanging like himself and concluded, after some time, that this man was dead: “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.”
The circumstances in Guantanamo were not much better. At one point, Kurnaz was joined in his cage by Abdul, a young man whose legs had been amputated in Bagram because of frostbite, and whose stumps still oozed blood and pus. Despite his constant pain, Abdul was treated as brutally as the other prisoners; when he clutched the fence in an attempt to hoist himself onto the bucket that served as a latrine, a guard hit his hands with a club.
Perhaps the worst part of the tortures Kurnaz describes is that there was no respite from them, no time to recuperate between beatings and interrogations, no uninterrupted sleep. For years he saw neither stars nor sunlight.
It is tempting to think of Kurnaz’s story as exaggerated, but almost everything he describes jibes with the reports of other detainees and of human rights groups. This is a book politicians should read, and it should inspire anguished soul-searching among the rest of us.
Juliet Wittman teaches writing at the University of Colorado.
SOURCE: Washington Post