Murat Kurnaz "I learnt that pain is a part of life"


He spent over four years in Guantánamo Bay, the infamous US detention camp. The tale of Murat Kurnaz, as told by himself, will hit US bookstores this week. In his first interview since his release from Guantánamo Bay in 2006, Kurnaz tells Germany's "Stern"-magazine all about torture, solitary confinement, being humiliated, and his life in fear.

Why do you have this enormous beard?

The sole reason is the Sunna.

The Sunna - that is the Muslim tradition based on the life of Mohammed

Muslims should try to do everything that our prophet did. Many of the prophets had beards, including the prophet Jesus. Doesn't the Pope have a beard as well?

No

No? But I know for certain that orthodox Christians also have beards.

During your time of imprisonment, were your hair and beard cut?

Yes, twice in Kandahar.

What does it mean to a Muslim to be shaved?

The beard is a symbol of faith. I saw an old man in Kandahar, he was 80 and his white beard was being shaved off. He began to cry.

Were the prisoners in Guantánamo allowed to let their beards and hair grow?

Not all of them. Many were shaved as a punishment.

Why not you?

I don't know. The Americans presented us as terrorists. Every single one of us, without trial, without evidence. The military cameramen thought that long beards looked good in pictures. "Look, they are letting their hair grow because they love Osama". Anybody with any knowledge would know that we have grown beards for 1400 years, long before Osama was around.

Did you become more religious during your time in Guantánamo?

I can't really say. I am still the same as I was beforehand. But I can now read the Koran in Arabic.

You learnt Arabic?

And Usbeck. And some more English.

What does Guantánamo mean to you?

It is a place on a Caribbean island. The US base is the problem, the camp. Not Guantánamo, not the nature and not the animals. Iguanas, that is what we called the big geckos, came to visit us. They came at meal times, they learnt to do that straight away, and I sometimes fed them even though it was forbidden. Then I would be punished and put into solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement? For how long?

Ten days.

Just for feeding an iguana?

That is a light punishment. There isn't a punishment that lasts for less than ten days.

What are the severe punishments then?

Once I was put into solitary confinement for three months and five days because my interrogator was not satisfied with my statement. Punishments were often given for no discernable reason whatsoever. Guantánamo is a place without laws, that is what it was created for.

Is it also true that the Rapid Response Force came into your cell once?

Once? When you are being tied up, but you do not offer your hands out immediately, or perhaps when you are asleep, they storm your cell. Up to eight men stand at your door with shields, boots up to their knees, gloves, helmets and stab-proof and bullet-proof vests.

And then, what happens next in that sort of situation?

I was once accused of not handing over my plastic spoon after the meal. I said "come in, have a look, I do not have a spoon". ‘No', they said, ‘you have probably sharpened it and now have a weapon'. I offered my hands and extended them through the food hatch so that they could tie them up, but they refused. Instead, the response force came. Firstly they sprayed pepper spray into the cell. Then the water for the entire block was cut off, so that nobody from a neighbouring cell could give you anything to wash your eyes out with. They wait five or ten minutes until you can no longer see anything, then they come in, jump on you, throw you onto the floor, hit and kick you, your feet are bound, your hands are tied behind your back. Then you go into solitary confinement for 30 days.

How did you feel during this time? Were you scared of dying?

I learnt that pain is a part of life.

What did you do for all of that time, alone in your cell?

There was always something occupying you. In solitary confinement you were punished with the cold. So then you sat in the corner, trying to avoid the current of cold air. You have to keep your body moving, particularly your fingers. But not too much - you only get three slices of toast a day, with a bit of cucumber and tomato. Or you would be punished with heat, and then it was best to be by the door. The worst thing is when the air conditioning is turned off completely. Then you have to lie down to save yourself from fainting.

And what did you think about?

About food, about the next slice of toast. You also think a lot about life, about the things that you had before but had never noticed. Socks for example. Warm socks, how wonderful they are when it is cold. And I thought of the prophet Joseph, whose brothers, consumed with jealousy, threw him into a well and sold him into slavery and who was put in prison because of false accusations made against him. I took him as my role model; he was an innocent man in prison for twelve years.

Which camp were the solitary confinement cells in?

For the prisoners in Camp X-Ray they were on ships on the base. Later, every block in every camp had solitary confinement cells, from Camp 1 to Camp 4. Camp Echo and Camp 5 consist purely of solitary confinement cells. I was in all of the camps, with no exception.

Do you know how many days you were imprisoned for?

No, I never calculated it, although I have been told it was 1663 days in Guantánamo and, before that, 62 days in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Why did you travel to these countries in the autumn of 2001?

I never travelled to Afghanistan, only to Pakistan.

And why?

I wanted to go there to learn more about my faith - that had been my plan for a long time.

Were you aware of the attacks on September 11th?

Of course. I was at school and I heard that two aeroplanes had crashed in New York. At home my mother said to me, ‘look at the television, there is an earthquake in America'. After ten minutes I realised that this was an attack. My first thought was that it was the Japanese, out of revenge or something. Before then, I had never heard of Al Qaeda.

Did you feel a kind of clandestine joy, that such a spectacular blow had been successfully dealt to the Americans who were so detested?

I saw it as a huge catastrophe. I did not know that the World Trade Centre was supposed to be a symbol; I thought, the families who lived there were killed. Up until the age of 19 I had nothing to do with the news or politics.

But you wanted to go to Pakistan?

I was, how should I put it, becoming reflective. In my youth I had wild times with lots of parties and such. I exercised a lot. Firstly judo, then karate, kickboxing and boxing. At the weekends I earnt good money to supplement my boat building apprenticeship, working as a bouncer or bodyguard at discos and concerts. There are lots of women at those kinds of things. But I only ever saw them for a few weeks or months, never to marry, that never worked out. And my friends from my childhood became far fewer as they took drugs, went into crime and were deported.

And then an Imam came along and put you on the straight and narrow?

No, I had already come to realise for myself, that my faith offered me everything that I was looking for. But there was so much that I did not know, not even the correct way to pray.

You went to the mosque.

Yes, but you can only pray along there. You do not learn anything.

Why did you go to the Bremer Abu-Bakr-Mosque, which is monitored by the National Intelligence Service?

I knew nothing about that. I could go there for Friday prayer on the way home from school.

And there you got to know members of Tabligh-i-Jamaat?

They were friendly and helpful.

What did they preach?

They explained a lot about the school in Pakistan, the Mansura Centre in Lahore, in the countryside, without cars, where you can study Islam without distraction and not like in your seminars in Germany only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. A perfect school. Then I got it into my head that I wanted to go there.

And that must have been shortly after 9/11?

I did not think that there would be a war, rather that, at the most, the Americans would send a special task force to Afghanistan. Furthermore, I had got married in Turkey that summer. In December my wife should have received her Visa for Germany. She would have been new here and I could not have left her alone. A course in Islam at the school in Pakistan lasts for two months and I wanted to have completed it by the time my wife came to Germany.

Did you parents know about it?

No, they would have tried to hold me back. The night before the flight I woke my mother up. I said I had backache and asked her to give me a massage. Then I would have been able to embrace her to thank her; that is how I wanted to say goodbye. But she said "it is the middle of the night, let's do it tomorrow morning".

And by then you had already gone?

Yes, but I phoned from Frankfurt, before I got onto the plane.

And how was Pakistan?

I knew that it is warm there. I thought it would be like Turkey. I had a thick jacket on, and a jumper. But it was hot, even in the middle of the night. And when I arrived at Karachi, I saw that I was by the sea. Then I thought that I could postpone going to the school for a little bit longer and I went around the town in a taxi, which is extremely cheap there. And the driver then helped to find me some accommodation.

When did you arrive at the Islamic school?

I do not know exactly when anymore. I travelled around Pakistan. I really liked it, there were jugglers and snake-charmers in the marketplaces. Kung Fu is very popular there, the schools put on shows outside with somersaults and sword-throwing. When I got to the Tablighi school in Lahore I was led into a room to relax. In the night, Afghanistan was bombed. When I went into the school office the next day, they no longer wanted any foreign students. Perhaps they feared for my safety, as at that time there were many demonstrations in Pakistan against the Americans and with my short hair and bright skin I looked very Western. I was extremely disappointed.

So you had to decide whether to take a holiday or to leave?

There are also groups that go from mosque to mosque, with whom you can learn almost as much as in the school. I got to know somebody, Mohammed, who spoke English, who knew such groups. I went with him.

Where to? To Afghanistan?

No. I do not know exactly which towns we went to. But we definitely did not pass through any borders.

How did you end up being arrested on 1st December 2001?

We were in Peshawar. I had already bought souvenirs to take home with me. On the way to the airport we went through a checkpoint and I was taken off the bus. I did not think that I was going to be arrested; I thought that the situation would resolve itself. I was taken to the police station, then to a villa and then to a prison. They kept asking me stupid questions: whether I was a cameraman, whether I was from the police. And then they would always say "no problem, we will take you to the airport tomorrow".

And instead of that?

The next morning, a sack was put over my head and I was handcuffed. We travelled for a few hours to a very quiet place, you could not hear any cars, any voices. Many metal doors were opened one after another. When I could see again I was in a room without a window, without a toilet, just a hole right above me through which the light came in from a lamp that you could not see.

What were you feeling? Fear?

It was more anger, overwhelming anger. After many hours, a Pakistani came in, asked a few questions, promised I could use the telephone and said that I would be sent to Turkey. I protested - I wanted to go to Germany.

You were obviously sold - the Americans paid a bounty for terror suspects. Did you know about that?

Only much later. A guard at Guantánamo once complained that I had not given them any new information and had just continued to say the same thing. "You would have surely expected more for your 5000 dollars" I said to him, "3000" he replied. "We only paid 3000 for you."

What happened next in Pakistan?

Of course I was not able to use the telephone. I was in the cell for around ten days. Then they came back with the potato sack. After a long car journey I was taken down many stairs to cells full of bugs. I was there for about ten days too. Prisoners from Kuwait and Bahrain who spoke English said to me that the Americans were interrogating them as terror suspects.

Was there no more talk of Turkey?

We had to wear blue overalls for "the journey home", received ear protectors and eye masks and were tied to the floor of the aeroplane. As soon as we were up in the air, the guards started to kick and beat us again.

You were taken to a US camp in Kandahar in Afghanistan. What did that look like?

A site at the airport. Split into groups of 10 or 20 men, we laid out in the open behind lengths of barbed wire.

That must have been just before Christmas.

It was very cold. On the first night we were naked - they had taken our overalls away from us and we were not wearing anything underneath. The guards had German and Belgian shepherd dogs, which they would let loose on us every once in a while. In the morning we received new overalls, again with nothing underneath, nothing over the top. We only had blankets for a very short amount of time. And we continued to lie out in the open, my breath froze onto my clothing.

Was there nobody who stood up for you?

After a few days somebody came from the Red Cross. He was from Germany, he had long hair, a moustache, glasses. He wrote a letter to my family for me. Then, in the night I was thrown out of my cell. A guard held a shotgun to my head. "You are a terrorist, what kind of dumb stuff did you write about your treatment here?", he screamed. My hands and feet were bound, someone kicked me from behind, I fell, the interrogator pulled me up again by my hair.

Did you often receive such interrogations?

They said "You are from Al Qaeda" and when I said "no" they struck me on the head, with a hand in my face, and kicked me in the back. But in Kandahar I at least found out what I was being accused of; having a fake visa and being a friend of Mohammed Atta, the terror pilot. They asked where Osama was, where I had seen him. They claimed that they knew everything already and that I should give evidence to improve my situation.

Did they really have information on you?

They knew a lot, for example the fact that I had bought my digital camera and my mobile phone before my journey and from whom I had bought them. I was in no doubt that they were working alongside German authorities.

Did any Germans come into the camp?

I had been there for less than two weeks when, one evening, I was led behind two trucks. It was two German soldiers who wanted to see me. They wore camouflage uniforms - the pattern was composed of little dots, as if it were designed on the computer - and they wore the German flag on their sleeves. I had to lie down with my hands tied behind my back. One of them pulled me up by my hair "Do you know who we are?" He wanted to boast. "We are the German Kraft."

KSK? Kommando Spezialkräfte were the only German soldiers in Kandahar at the time.

Could have been. In any case, he hit my head on the floor and the Americans found it funny.

Were you tortured in any other ways?

They called it "showering". You had to pour cold water over your head. They took me out to do that every day. They prepared me for interrogations by putting electric shocks through my feet. For hours upon end they would hang me up by my hands, which were bound behind my back. In different positions and then a break, and then you would be hung up again. A doctor looked in to see if you were still alive. The interrogator came at midday every day, and then you would be taken down for a short while.

Did you have any hopes of being released?

Sometimes, yes. After a couple of months in Kandahar, people were being called up every few days. It had been said they were being flown home. Finally it was my turn, along with four Turks and five Algerians. I genuinely thought that we were going to Turkey. In the night we were made ready.

What does that mean?

We were shaved, bound, given eye masks and everything.

Were you also examined?

Maximum security.

Rectally as well?

Everybody had to endure through that. Let's talk about something else.

Did you receive any food? Were you allowed to go to the toilet during the long flight?

Of course, once they had chained us to the floor of the plane I knew immediately that it would be a first-class flight... Seriously, how would that have been possible - with the ties?

Other prisoners have said that they wet themselves.

Many did, some had diarrhoea as well.

Your impressions upon arrival?

It was warm. I thought it was a US military base in Turkey. They were already beating us a lot on the way to the camp, as a welcoming greeting. During the examination a woman put a little stick in my mouth

A cotton stick for a saliva sample.

"Relax", she said, "look around, there are lots of trees here, you've got it good here". But there were no trees there.

When did you know that you were on Cuba?

Some prisoners had guessed immediately, but I only believed it after ten days when I saw a Cuban humming bird. I had previously read something about them.

What was Camp X-Ray like?

The cages were so small that I initially thought they were only for getting changed in. You were exposed to everything: sun, rain, snakes, scorpions. I once saw with my own eyes, one of the prisoners being stung on the finger by a scorpion. Fat rats walked all over your arms and legs.

And how was the treatment there?

Bad. We were beaten a lot, tormented. And then came the incident with the Koran. A military policeman who was searching a cell threw the book on the floor. The prisoners screamed. When I looked he was also kicking the Koran with his foot. Everybody began kicking against the doors and spitting at the guards. Then the Rapid Reaction Force came in. During the night we felt disconcerted; in the morning some people refused food and after that almost everybody else did the same.

The first hunger strike.

It lasted for four days and then the Americans promised us that nothing like that with the Koran would ever happen again.

Were you abused sexually as well?

Once there were three women there at an interrogation, one in uniform, two in civilian clothing, if you could call it that - they hardly had anything on. Only knickers made of very thin material and a scanty top. One of them said ‘I want you, I have seen you in the shower'. But that was a lie because I always wore shorts in the shower. She then pressed up against me from behind, put her hand under my clothing and touched my chest. I was still tied up, but I threw my head back and hit her nose. The guards had been waiting behind the door and they pounced on me immediately.

You went into solitary confinement?

They left me lying there, tied up. I received no food for four or five days. Then they took me to a very nice room. Tapestries with verses from the Koran hung on the wall, there was a television, a sofa, a table with fruits, nuts, muffins. "I heard what happened to you" said the interrogator. "That should not have happened. I have brought you food". I said "I do not like your food, or your face". To that he said "Take it back to your cell." I said "I do not want your food". I did not eat for a further 15 days until a neighbour said to me "You cannot pull through a hunger strike alone."

At the end of April 2002 there was a new camp at Guantánamo, Camp Delta. What was that like?

They said to us that because of human rights issues we were to be taken to better cells. But they were even worse. Camp Delta consisted of container blocks, every block had 48 cells and the cages were made of chicken wire with a bed, toilet and wash basin at knee height. We had even less room to move around. The air was stifling. In the heat it stank of paint and of 48 people being housed in the tiniest room in great humidity. The neon light was always on - even at night, and the generators droned.

How did you endure it?

A guard, who sometimes slipped us things in secret, said "I know that God gives you patience." I asked him if he was a Muslim. He said "I know that without being a Muslim. I can see it. In your position I would have gone stir crazy."

What was your daily routine like?

Mostly it began with a call to prayer, which they played into the camp over a loudspeaker, and which they sometimes desecrated by playing rock music or American hymns almost simultaneously. Then breakfast through the food hatch, you had to take the tray with your back to the cell door, so that you could not attack the guard. Then sleep, interrogation, talking to your cell neighbours through the bars, reading the Koran, praying.

Did you receive any other books?

Hardly. Once they gave me a book about Picasso but I did not read it. You were able to shower twice a week, for fifteen minutes. We mostly did our laundry ourselves and then we would roll our sleeping mats around our hips for privacy. Whenever new laundry came, they would give the biggest men the trousers marked Size S. At midday there was always something to eat and again in the evenings between seven and eight. And then you tried to sleep under the glaring neon light, or you would be interrogated again.

How often were you interrogated?

On average, four times a week, the whole year round. Always the same: "What is your name. How old are you? Where do you come from?" And then they would present you with the stack of photographs: "Do you know this person? Who is that?" Relentless. If I had known one of them I would have said and told them what I knew about them. The interrogators were military or CIA or FBI, they wore civilian clothing. There were only a few exceptions - once I had no interrogations for three months, once for two weeks. In Autumn 2002 I was suddenly interrogated a lot, up to three times a day, seven days a week. I thought to myself that something was about to happen.

And what happened?

Three German interrogators arrived.

In the mean time, the German federal government had acknowledged that you had been "informally questioned" on the 23rd and 24th September 2002 by two employees of the German Intelligence Service and a representative of the National Intelligence Service. How did that go?

I had been waiting for them. I wanted to go home. But how does it help when people come and then just ask you more questions? I do not know who they were and they did not say "Hello" or "How are you?" They just said, "We are from Germany and we would like to ask you a few questions." I was then interrogated for two days, for more than ten hours in total.

Can you describe the situation?

Interrogators from abroad would interrogate prisoners in a small container. Military police took me from my cage in Camp Delta 2, Block Mike, into the interrogation room. They chained my foot ties to an iron ring on the floor, my handcuffs were later removed. When I came in, one of the Germans was sitting at the table and the others came in later. They put down a cassette recorder. In the room there was an air-conditioning unit, table and chairs and two cameras - one of them was hidden in a wall clock, next to the number three. At one point, the clock fell off the wall and the camera protruded out of the wall. In the next room there were several monitors, which I once saw from the corridor, through an open door. The FBI, CIA or whoever else, would watch the interrogations from there.

What did the Germans want to know?

They said that if I answered their questions correctly, it could accelerate my release. The U.S. interrogators said that all the time as well. But the Germans were much more professional. They knew everything about me, they knew from which account I had withdrawn how much money, how I had paid for my airline ticket, which of the Tablighi I had met in Bremen and Pakistan. They also asked a lot about my friend Selçuk.

The man who wanted to travel to Pakistan with you?

Exactly.

The Germans would not let him travel in 2001 because he had not paid a fine. According to confidential records, his brother then phoned the police and said that Selçuk, "followed a friend to Afghanistan in order to fight there. He had been incited in a mosque."

The German interrogators read that quotation out to me as well. Selçuk wanted to go with me to Pakistan and become a student of the Koran. His family were probably frightened after the attacks on September 11th and said to the police: ‘Do not let him travel.' Selçuk's brother visited me in Bremen recently and at that time I had every right to spit in his face for that sentence. But I didn't.

Do you understand why people could see you as an Islamic terrorist?

For me Pakistan was and always will be Pakistan and Afghanistan was and always will be Afghanistan. Just because there is a war in Afghanistan, it does not mean that people cannot travel to China, which also borders Afghanistan.

According to German government documents, you "strenuously" and "credibly" denied to the Americans and the Germans, any contact with the Taliban or al Qaeda.

I have now found out that I was accused of being the "Taliban from, Bremen". Before September 11th , I had absolutely no idea what the Taliban was. I wanted to study the Koran before I brought my wife to Germany. Everything else is nonsense.

When the Germans came to Guantánamo did they ask you how you were treated there?

At the time I had a pain in my elbow and I kept massaging it, and one of them asked me what I was doing. I explained how the Rapid Reaction Force in the camp had thrashed me and twisted my arm up. In the course of the conversation, I also told them about being tortured in Kandahar, about the beatings and solitary confinement in Guantánamo and also about the incident with the women. But they were not interested.

Did the German intelligence services want to sign you up as an informant to enable your release?

Yes. And of course I agreed. All I could think about was getting home.

At the time, the Germans came to the conclusion that you "slid into" the situation as a result of your "distinct naivety/immaturity" and were simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time". That is what it says in the private reports of your interrogation in Guantánamo.

Naive, inexperienced? I am no longer 19, instead I am 24 and today I would no longer travel to Pakistan if there was a war in the neighbouring country. But it was the Pakistanis and the Americans who made the mistake. They committed a criminal offence and abducted me. I did not break any laws. I am innocent.

At the time, the Americans said to the Germans that there was the possibility of you being released in November 2002.

Is that true? They really said that?

That emerged from German Government reports. They were considering whether or not you could be used as an informant within the Islamic community. Conclusion: probably not. And when the U.S. government asked whether Murat Kurnaz should be deported to Turkey or Germany, the then head of the German intelligence service, August Hanning, appealed for an entry barrier to Germany.

An entry barrier? Why?

They wanted to be certain that you could not return to Germany after your release. Those responsible in the Federal Chancellery agreed to this proposal.

What kind of people decided this? Although the German government knew that I had never broken any laws, although they had no evidence against me, although they knew that I had been tortured, they left me in Guantánamo for over three more years. And now that I have already been in Germany for over a month, I still do not have a health insurance card. I do not have the necessary papers and I am still waiting to hear from the job centre. I deeply regret having answered them during the interrogation. I made the same mistake again when the Germans made their second visit.

What second visit? Were the Germans in Guantánamo again?

Yes but it was only one of them. He was there the first time, but this time he only came with one American interrogator.

When was that?

He brought me a new motorbike magazine, which was from April 2004.

How did this questioning go?

When I went into the interrogation room I was not greeted. The German had put his feet on the table, opened his laptop and was whispering to the American. It was like that for about two hours. Then the German said "Herr Kunaz, much time has passed since my first visit." He said that I had screwed it up. "You have not used this time to prove your innocence. Today your time is up. Tomorrow you have one last chance. But I do not have much time. Think carefully about what you are going to say."

How did you react?

Military police officers escorted me to my cell. I had explained everything to them, they knew that I was innocent, I did not have to prove anything. The next day, the man showed me spy photographs of my friend Selçuk.

You mean surveillance photos?

Yes, taken secretly in a mosque or when he was standing with people on the street. The interrogator wanted to know what I thought of him. Then he asked me what I would do when I came back to Germany. Whether I would shave my beard, whether I would make new friends. I said that I did not know yet. I complained about the conditions in Guantánamo. He said "you are on a Caribbean island. Just relax. You just really need to relax."

What were the conditions like in the prison at the time?

Typical all-inclusive. Shortly after the first visit from the Germans new rules were put in place. For almost seven weeks I was relocated every two hours. They did that so that you could not sleep.

One ex-military chaplain said that the guards called it "Operation Sandman".

As soon as they saw that you were asleep they shook the cell doors. On top of that, came interrogations which lasted for over 50 hours. I hardly ate anything at this point either and lost about 60 kilos.

How do you endure that?

You are close to blacking out and you move around in a semi-conscious state. I cannot say any more about it - it is difficult to remember.

Did you ever consider suicide?

That is not in keeping with our faith.

However, according to information provided by the Pentagon, there were many suicide attempts at that time. A young Saudi was found hanging from a sheet. He lay in a coma for three and a half months and suffered brain damage because of it.

Yes but that is the Americans' version. Two days before that, the man became my cell neighbour. There was another incident with the Koran, everybody became very angry and Mashaal was put into solitary confinement. There is no way that you can secure a sheet to a ceiling fan which is in a duct, behind a bar, with an another bar welded on the top, and which has particularly small holes in. Neighbours from his block told me that the Rapid Reaction Force were in his cell. They heard sounds of struggle before his alleged suicide attempt.

At the end of 2002, General Miller became the Commando at Guantánamo and made the prison conditions even worse. Did you know him?

Nobody in Cuba knew General Miller, but everybody knew "Mister Toilet". Every now and again he would walk through the blocks. In 2003 he went with another General to see Camp Delta 2, Isolation block Oscar. The prisoner there had prepared a Number 2, so from then on we called him that.

Faeces?

Brown nature shampoo. As the General stood in front of the cell, an Arabic prisoner threw it through the food hatch and splashed it into his face. And as Miller took flight, the showers along the corridor were turned on again.

In October 2004, after almost 3 years in US custody, you saw a lawyer for the first time, the American Baher Azmy.

I was dubious as to whether he was on my side. He said "Everything that I write down I have to show to the Americans" But he had brought a note from my mother with him. "My dear son, this is a lawyer, whom you can trust". He showed me photographs of my family. One of them was supposed to be my brother. I thought the little one was my big brother, but because he had grown up I mistook him for an uncle.

How did you hear that you were going to be released?

When, for the first time in almost five years, I was allowed to use a telephone. A military policeman said "Prisoner 061, there is a telephone call for you." I was escorted to a telephone. My lawyer told me that I would soon be released.

What did you think at that moment?

I had heard similar things so many times before that I did not believe it. However he said that it was official. I just said "Inschallah". In fact, a few days beforehand I had been moved to Camp Delta 4. There you live together in groups and there is better food. The prisoners wear white clothes. When the military police bring white clothes, the prisoners say goodbye, "so, you are going to Camp 4 now, and then home".

So at that point, was the worst over?

Three days before my release I had to go to an interrogation. There were many high-ranking military officers there. They had many papers. I still had to sign something, just for security, just like all the others had had to sign. "What, then?" I asked, "To say that you will no longer fight alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda". I said "But I never did that in the first place", to which they replied, "You want to stay here another five years just because of a signature?" I did not sign it. They said, OK, then you are staying here.

Were you not afraid of risking too much?

A prisoner from Uganda had said to me two days before his release that he had not signed. He was still allowed to leave. And they actually came that evening, threw a pair of jeans and a jacket on the floor and said, "Put these on!" Everything took a fairly long time - the journey to the plane, and I was examined again. The rest was also very familiar to me, my hands and feet were chained to a leather belt around my stomach. I was strapped down to a plastic seat and wore blacked-out glasses and headphones. Later I found out that I was the only passenger alongside 15 members of the military.

On the evening of 24th August 2006 you landed at the US air base at Ramstein.

Two German policemen were waiting for me there along with a driver. Ties, glasses and ear protectors were taken off me. The Germans said "Hello, Herr Kurnaz! We want to take you to your family." My father was very thin and had white hair. I embraced my mother. She was crying and I embraced her until she stopped.

Did you cry as well?

Everybody cried. I did not. I do not know if I can still cry. Perhaps I forgot how to cry on Cuba.

So how do you carry on with your life from here?

I have been back in Bremen for over a month. Perhaps I will take this time to look around Germany. I want to see nature. Then I have to consider how I can earn money, perhaps in boat building, as that is what I am trained in. Later I would like to be a farmer. Like my uncle who had a large farmyard, always fresh air, always fresh fruit and vegetables. I also want to get married. During the journey home on the motorway, I said to my father that it was time to bring my wife from Turkey to Bremen. He said "she will not come. She has divorced you. But she displayed good character. She waited more than three years for you. If she had known that you were going to be released at some point, then she would have waited for ten years for you."

You look so composed, as if the whole thing has not affected you.

On the journey to Bremen we stopped at a car park. I got out to breathe in the air. And I looked up above. I realised that in five years it was the first time I could look up at the sky and see the stars. Then it became clear to me what had been taken away from me.

Interview: Peter Meroth and Uli Rauss print

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