Saturday, July 4, 2015

Murat Kurnaz (born March 1, 1982 Bremen, Germany) is a Turkish citizen and legal resident of Germany who was held in extrajudicial detention by the United States at its military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan and in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba for five years. Although born in Germany, as a child of guest workers Kurnaz was required by German law to apply for citizenship after becoming 18, which he had in process when he was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001. He was 19 years old at that time.

By early 2002 intelligence officials of the United States and Germany had largely concluded that the accusations against Kurnaz were groundless, but he was detained for nearly five more years. He was released and arrived in Germany on August 24, 2006.

Kurnaz says that he was tortured during detention in Kandahar and Guantanamo. In testimony via videolink in 2008 to a United States Congressional hearing, he described having suffered electric shock, simulated drowning (known as waterboarding), and days spent chained by his arms to the ceiling of an airplane hangar at Kandahar. His memoir of his experience, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo was published in 2007 in German, French, Norwegian, Danish, and Dutch editions. Excerpts were published serially by The Guardian beginning April 23, 2008, and in the United States that year.

In his book, Kurnaz also wrote about the deaths of three detainees in custody at Guantanamo on June 10, 2006. The US Department of Defense said they had committed suicide. Noting that the detainees were always under observation at the camps, Kurnaz said that he and other prisoners "unanimously agreed, the men had been killed. Maybe they had been beaten to death and then strung up, or perhaps they had been strangled." Other observers and numerous journalists questioned the official accounts of these deaths, as two of the men had been cleared for release.

Guantanamo detention center files

Combatant Status Review Tribunal

Kurnaz was among the 60% of prisoners who chose to participate in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals that began in 2004. These followed the US Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush that detainees had a right to due process and habeas corpus to challenge the grounds of their detention as enemy combatants; the remainder of prisoners boycotted the CSRTs. A Summary of Evidence memo was prepared for each detainee for review by the tribunal. Such memos listed the allegations that supported detention as an "enemy combatant".

Kurnaz's memo states:

Administrative Review Board

Detainees whose Combatant Status Review Tribunal labeled them "enemy combatants" were scheduled for annual Administrative Review Board hearings. These hearings were designed to assess the threat a detainee might pose if released or transferred, and whether there were other factors that warranted his continued detention.

First annual Administrative Review Board

A Summary of Evidence memo was prepared for Kurnaz's first annual Administrative Review Board, on 12 October 2005. The memo listed factors for and against his continued detention.


During March 2006, the Department of Defense started to comply with a court order from US District Court Justice Jed Rakoff related to an FOIA request. It released a transcript of Kurnaz's hearing.

Second annual Administrative Review Board

A Summary of Evidence memo was prepared for Karnaz's second annual Administrative Review Board, on 28 June 2006. The memo listed factors for and against his continued detention.


Murat Karnaz did not choose to attend this hearing. He gave his responses to the factors to his Assisting Military Officer during a pre-hearing interview. His Assisting Military Officer presented these responses to the Board during the unclassified session of the hearing. The Department of Defense did not publish a transcript from the hearing's unclassified session.

Board recommendations

In early September 2007, DOD released two heavily redacted memos from Kurnaz's Board, to Gordon R. England, the Designated Civilian Official. The Board's recommendation was unanimous. The Board's recommendation was redacted. Gordon England authorized Kurnaz's transfer to Germany on 8 July 2006.

Murat Kurnaz v. George W. Bush

Murat Kurnaz

Kurnaz challenged the legality of his ARB review in a Washington, D.C. federal court. A writ of habeas corpus, Murat Kurnaz v. George W. Bush, was submitted on his behalf in October 2004. His case was one of nearly 60 that were submitted following the US Supreme Court's decision in Rasul v. Bush (2004), which ruled that detainees had the right of due process and habeas corpus to challenge the grounds of their detention. The numerous cases were reviewed and coordinated by Judge Joyce Hens Green of the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia.

In response to Kurnaz's habeas corpus petition, on 15 October 2004, the Department of Defense published 32 pages of unclassified documents related to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal.

In 2005, Kurnaz's file was declassified, through a bureaucratic slip-up. During the brief window when it was declassified, in March 2005 the Washington Post reviewed all the evidence against him and published a summary. The file documented that both German investigators and United States Army investigators had failed to find any evidence of a tie between Kurnaz and Al-Qaeda or any involvement in any terrorist activities, and this information was available in 2002.

Carol Leonnig reported:

"In fact, that evidence, recently declassified and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked Kurnaz to al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization or terrorist activities."

The three officers of the military panel who reviewed Kurnaz's case asserted that they had other, classified evidence that established his guilt. But, they never disclosed this evidence to Kurnaz, his attorneys, or to the public.

One allegation was that he was traveling to Pakistan with a friend Selcuk Bilgin, who the Pentagon said was involved in a bombing. This was not true; Bilgin is married and lives in Germany with his family. He has never been arrested nor involved in a bombing.

During his CSRT reviews, Kurnaz was erroneously informed by the interrogators that Bilgin had been "engaged" in a suicide bombing, and asked him to describe his relationship to Bilgin. Kurnaz denied having any knowledge of Bilgin's involvement in a suicide bombing. He also denied knowing anyone who ever discussed committing an act of terrorism.

Kurnaz has alleged that he was subject to what the Bush administration termed "enhanced interrogation techniques," generally known as torture, which included a type of suffocation by drowning (known as waterboarding), sexual humiliation, beatings, extremes of heat or cold, and the desecration of his religion.

According to a German news source, he had been denied the right to return to Germany, as his 'indefinite residence permit' had expired due to his being out of the country for more than six months. (As the child of 'guest workers,' under German law, he is not automatically afforded full German citizenship; but since he was born in Bremen, he is granted an 'indefinite residence permit' there and an opportunity to become a naturalized citizen.) This ruling by the Foreign Office was overturned by the regional administrative court of Bremen on 30 November 2004. It ruled that due to his incarceration in Guantanamo, he had been unable to apply for an extension of his 'leave permit' and was still eligible to return to Germany.

On December 14, 2005 it was confirmed that officials of the German foreign and domestic intelligence agencies (Bundesnachrichtendienst and Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) had participated in the interrogation of Kurnaz at least once between September 21 and September 27, 2002 while he was being held at the Guantanamo Bay camps . German authorities are forbidden to assist in the legal process of a foreign nation if the punishment from that process can result in the death penalty, or if the legal process fails to meet certain standards of fairness. The detainees in Guantanamo Bay were potentially subject to execution following their trials (if they were charged with capital crimes â€" Kurnaz was not). Debates continue as to the fairness of the process.

According to a December 22, 2005 story by United Press International, Kurnaz had briefly stayed at a Tablighi Jamaat hostel While in Afghanistan. Based on this, United States intelligence officials decided to capture and detain him.

In May 2008, Kurnaz testified from Bremen, Germany via videolink to a US Congressional hearing on due process for detainees. The lawmakers had recently received declassified documents that showed both German and United States intelligence officials had determined in 2002 that Kurnaz was not a member of al-Qaeda and had no links to them. But, he was detained and ill treated for four more years. The military has said its panel reviewed information that is still classified but has never offered to share that, even with lawmakers with top security clearances. Both Republicans and Democrats were disturbed about Kurnaz's case, as it followed other reports of excesses in the US war on terror.


Murat Kurnaz

On February 12, 2006 Deutsche Welle reported that Kurnaz's lawyers were hopeful that German authorities were close to negotiating Kurnaz's repatriation. It speculated that the Americans would agree to the release, or transfer, on the condition Kurnaz be subjected to constant surveillance by Germany.

The German magazine Focus reported in 2006 that the Bush administration was trying to tie the release of Kurnaz to Germany's agreeing to accept four other Guantanamo detainees. The USA had cleared approximately 120 detainees for release or transfer. But, many could not be returned to their countries of origin because they were likely to face retaliation from their governments.

The German and American governments denied that Kurnaz's release had been tied to Germany accepting other detainees. Focus reported that the German government has agreed to accept one other detainee, not four, and that the Americans had not informed the German government of the identities of the other detainees it wanted them to accept.

Kurnaz was released on August 24, 2006. Like other released Guantanamo captives, he was transported to his destination by plane, restrained in shackles and wearing a muzzle, opaque goggles, and sound-blocking ear-muffs. He was reported to have been denied food and water during the 17-hour flight.

German soldiers investigated

Murat Kurnaz

In January 2007, Kurnaz alleged that, while he was in American detention in Kandahar, German soldiers were allowed to interrogate him. According to an article by the United Press International, Kurnaz picked out the picture of his interrogator from 60 photos he was shown of members of the German military's elite KSK unit. Deutsche Welle and Reuters report that Kurnaz was shown 48 photos of members of the KSK unit. Only 14 of the men were in Kandahar in January 2002, the time of the alleged abuse.

Kurnaz alleges the soldier grabbed him by his hair and smashed his head into the ground. The International Herald Tribune reports that, in addition, the soldiers kicked Kurnaz. UPI reports that the soldiers are accused of "aggravated assault". Deutsche Welle and Reuters quoted German prosecutors, stating: "Both suspects are accused of grievous bodily harm while on duty."

According to Kurnaz, the men wore German uniforms, and spoke German with him:

"They asked me if I knew who they were and then they said, 'We are the KSK,' I thought they would have some questions and that they could help me, but they told me I had chosen the wrong side."

The German Ministry of Defense had initially denied that KSK members were in Afghanistan at that time. By May 2007, they acknowledged that the KSK had officers in Kandahar and had contact with Kurnaz. Although the investigation was eventually dropped, the government stated that they had trouble believing the soldiers' version of events and that abuse may have occurred.

In 2007 a German Parliamentary inquiry undertook investigation of the extent to which German military and counter-terrorism authorities took advantage of the United States extraordinary rendition program.

Release planned for 2002

Murat Kurnaz

After Kurnaz's lawyer sued the DoD, more of the documents from his dossier were made public. These included a 2002 memo that stated Kurnaz had been cleared of suspicion, and that his release was planned for September 30, 2002.

The Washington Post republished one of the newly released documents, written by David B. Lacquement, a senior officer in Military Intelligence. Among the justifications for considering Kurnaz an enemy combatant:

  • He joked about explosives being present in items.
  • He had covered his ears and tried to pray when the American anthem was being played;
  • He had expressed contempt for US leaders;
  • He has shown awareness of the Guard's monitoring logs, by telling a guard to record that he had eaten his whole meal, when he had only eaten an apple.
  • That the attack on 9/11 was in the Koran and approved as an attack against infidels.

In 2007 the Pentagon spokesman Commander Jeffrey Gordon would not discuss whether the DoD acknowledges Kurnaz was innocent, but he "...stressed that a substantial amount of information about Kurnaz remains classified."

McClatchy News Service interview

Murat Kurnaz

On June 15, 2008 the McClatchy News Service published a series of articles based on interviews with 66 former Guantanamo captives, including Kurnaz. Kurnaz told his McClatchy interviewer that he was apprehended while on his way to the airport to return to Germany. He said that when his van was first stopped, his main fear was that he would miss his flight. He said he was sold by the Pakistani police to US officials for a bounty.

He said that, while in the Kandahar detention facility, at times his head was immersed in water, and he was kicked in the stomach by a guard, so he would inhale water, and have the feeling of drowning. He reported having been severely beaten in Guantanamo, and suffering sexual molestation by three female guards. A Pentagon inquiry in 2005 found evidence of such sexual abuses at Guantanamo.

Since his return to Germany, Kurnaz lives with his parents. He has a desk job, which he enjoys. He says he does not hold ordinary Americans responsible for the abuse he endured.

Kurnaz' comments regarding Guantanamo's 2013 hunger strike

In early 2013 desperate captives remaining in extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo started a hunger strike. In an interview with Russia Today Kurnaz said he thought the strike would not end until cleared men were released and the other captives were given fair trials. In his interview he described his own experience as a hunger striker.

In the interview, Kurnaz said that he believed American authorities were prepared to release him in 2002. He thought that the four-year delay in his transfer was due to reluctance by Germany to accept him.


  • (English) Murat Kurnaz: Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo Palgrave Macmillan April 1, 2008. ISBN 978-0-230-60374-5
  • (German) Murat Kurnaz: Fünf Jahre meines Lebens. Ein Bericht aus Guantánamo (Five Years of My Life: A Report from Guantánamo). Rowohlt, Berlin April 2007. ISBN 978-3-87134-589-0
  • (French) Murat Kurnaz: Dans l'enfer de Guantanamo. (In the Hell of Guantanamo) Paris: Fayard, 2007. 306p. ISBN 978-2-213-63425-8
  • (Norwegian) Murat Kurnaz: Fem Ã¥r av mitt liv : en beretning fra Guantanamo. Oslo, Norway, 2007. ISBN 978-82-92622-33-9
  • (Danish) Fem Ã¥r af mit liv: En beretning fra Guantánamo af Murat Kurnaz. Klim, 2007. ISBN 978-87-7955-582-2
  • (Dutch) Murat Kurnaz: In de hel van Guantánamo, Forum, 270p. ISBN 978-90-492-0002-2
  • (Polish) Murat Kurnaz: Guantanamo: pięć lat z mojego życia. Wydawnictwo W.A.B., 2008. ISBN 978-83-7414-493-3

Further reading

  • Murat Kurnaz, Opinion: "Notes From a Guantánamo Survivor", New York Times, 7 January 2012

See also

  • Khaled El-Masri
  • Lakhdar Boumediene, Bosnian citizen mistakenly imprisoned seven years in Guantanamo
  • Boumediene v. Bush (2008)


External links

  • Murat Kurnaz's Guantanamo detainee assessment via Wikileaks
  • Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo, Part I, The Guardian, 23 April 2008 (see link for other excerpted parts)
  • "The Guantanamo File on Germany's Murat Kurnaz", Der Spiegel, April 27, 2011
  • An Innocent Man in Guantanamo, LIVE from the New York Public Library, April 4, 2008
  • "The German BKA Dossier on Murat Kurnaz" (In English), World Politics Review, Jun 21, 2007
  • ‘It Is Time to Prosecute Those Responsible for My Torture’, The Nation, November 11, 2014
  • "Evidence Of Innocence Rejected at Guantanamo", Washington Post, December 5, 2007
  • "AlterNet: Rights and Liberties: Disappeared: Five Years in Guantanamo". Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  • "Testimony of Murat Kurnaz at Congressional Hearing". 2008-05-22. Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
  • "Guantanamo inmate claims he underwent medical experiments", Deutsche Welle, March 5, 2011

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