America’s Gulag

If you saw 60 Minutes this past Sunday, you will know who Murat Kurnaz is. For those who don’t, Kurnaz is a German citizen of Turkish extraction who in 2001, shortly after 9/11, was disappeared into the nightmare world of secret prisons run by the C.I.A., where he stayed for five years. He had no connection to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist activities, and he was ultimately never charged with any crime — but nevertheless he was kept in a legal black hole and, even worse, subjected to systematic torture.

Kurnaz told 60 Minutes his story using the English that he learned from his American guards. If he seems a little distant, reserved, you’ll understand why as his story unfolds. It begins in 2001, when he was at the end of that trip to Pakistan. He was headed to the airport to fly home to Germany when his bus was stopped at a routine checkpoint.

“They stopped the bus and because of my color, I’m much more different than Pakistani guys,” says Kurnaz, who is lighter-skinned. “He looked into the bus and he knocked on my window.”

“He” was a Pakistani cop who pulled Kurnaz off the bus. The reason Kurnaz was singled out may always be a mystery. But at the time, the U.S. was paying bounties for suspicious foreigners. Kurnaz, who’d been rambling across Pakistan with Islamic pilgrims, seemed to fit the bill. Kurnaz says that he was told that U.S. intelligence paid $3,000 for him. He ended up bound and shackled on an American military plane.

“I was sure soon as they would find out I’m not a terrorist, they will apologize for it and let me go back home,” he says.

But the plane flew him out of Pakistan and to a U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was mixed with prisoners fresh off the battlefield. His new identity was “number 53.” He was kept in an outdoor pen, in sub-freezing weather and interrogated daily.

“They asked me, ‘Where is Osama bin Laden,’ and if I am from al Qaeda or from Taliban. Questions like that. I told them, ‘I don’t know where is Osama bin Laden, I never saw him and I don’t know anything about al Qaeda. I don’t know what it is.’ And I spent all my time in Pakistan,” he says.

Asked what happened next, Kurnaz says, “I told them just they can call Germany to ask who I am and they can ask anybody in Germany who I am.”

Back in Germany, Bremen police were investigating, and what they were hearing made matters worse: Kurnaz’s worried mother told them her son had recently become more religious, had grown a beard and was attending a new mosque; schoolmates said that Kurnaz might have been headed to Afghanistan.

“It was just guessing, just fear, no more. But the fear turns into a fact,” says attorney Bernhard Docke, who was hired by Kurnaz’s mother.

He says there was no reason to suspect Kurnaz knew anything about al Qaeda. But this was weeks after 9/11 and some of the hijackers had been living in Hamburg. “And so close after 9/11, and close after Germany realized that 9/11 started with the Hamburg cell in Germany, everybody in the secret services got crazy,” Docke says.

That initial reaction was, perhaps, understandable. But what happened next was not:

Docke says the police report was sent to the Americans. And Kurnaz claims his interrogations at Kandahar turned to torture. He told 60 Minutes that American troops held his head underwater.

“They used to beat me when my head is underwater. They beat me into my stomach and everything,” he says.

“They were hitting you in the stomach while you’re head was underwater so that you’d have to take a breath?” Pelley asks,

“Right. I had to drink. I had to…how you say it?” Kurnaz replies.

“Inhale. Inhale the water,” Pelley says.

“I had to inhale the water. Right,” Kurnaz says.

Kurnaz says the Americans used a device to shock him with electricity that made his body go numb. And he says he was hoisted up on chains suspended by his arms from the ceiling of an aircraft hangar for five days.

“Every five or six hours they came and pulled me back down. And the doctor came to watch if I can still survive to not. He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart. And when he said okay, then they pulled me back up,” Kurnaz says.

“The point of the doctor’s visit was not to treat you. It was to see if you could take another six hours hanging from the ceiling?” Pelley asks.

“Right,” Kurnaz says.

“I suspect you know that the U.S. military will deny this happened. The U.S. military will deny that you were shocked. It will deny your head was held in a bucket of water. It will deny that you hung from a ceiling for days at a time,” Pelley remarks.

“Doesn’t matter whatever they will say. The truth will not change,” Kurnaz says.

“And you’re telling me in this interview that this is the truth?” Pelley asks.

“This is the truth,” Kurnaz insists.

Jon Henke, guest-posting at Megan McArdle’s place, writes:

Mistakes happen, particularly in war, but this was not a mistake. It was policy. Or the lack of policy.
[…]
If charges won’t be filed against him, when will charges be filed against the person or people who caused or allowed this to occur? As Alex Knapp writes, this was “a citizen of one of our most valued allies [who] was tortured, denied counsel for three years, and kept in inhumane conditions, this despite the fact that shortly after he was detained his innocence was already determined. Not that it would have been justified to treat a guilty man this way, either. Due process is one of the cornerstones of America’s founding principles?—?one that is degrading every year.”

See also BuzzFlash, Crooks and Liars, Mother Jones, Outside the Beltway, Matthew Yglesias.

60 Minutes link via Memeorandum.

2 Responses to “America’s Gulag”

  1. Dustin says:

    It’s instances like this that make me fear what will happen when the children of all of these “disappeared” men grow up. We’ve bred an entire generation of people with good reason to hate us.

  2. Chief says:

    And not only the children of the ‘disappeared’ , who of necessity will take a decade or more to actively fight us, but the brothers, fathers and others who can take up arms against us now. And wives, mothers, sisters who can support and hide the insurgents.

    The next POTUS needs to do some rapid re-deployment.

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