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Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo

Reviewed by Gillian A

In this book, translated from German, Murat Kurnaz, a German Turk, tells his tragic story. When only nineteen and an apprentice shipbuilder, while taking time off in Pakistan for religious study, he was hauled off a bus and imprisoned for a short time before being `sold’ to the US Administration for $3,000. This was a bargain – the Americans were offering $5,000 – $25,000 to locals for anyone suspected of being Taliban or Al Qaeda. With such tempting offerings, many innocent men – usually foreigners – were gladly exchanged for the money which converted into huge amounts in the local currency.

Murat was sent first to a prison camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan and then later to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In both places he was repeatedly and relentlessly tortured. Among other things he was constantly beaten, often for no reason, he was water boarded, he was electrically shocked on the soles of his feet, he was hung from the ceiling by his arms tied behind him for hours on end, he was deprived of sleep for weeks at a time, he was forced to stand for days, he was starved, he was force fed, he was put in an air-tight metal container and subjected to extreme heat and cold and of course there were the months of solitary confinement. In Guantanamo he came across prisoners as young as 14 and a few even in their 80s and 90s.

Like all the books on Guantanamo, there is almost a shock a page. Besides the main tortures listed above, what I found almost as deplorable was how vindictive, sadistic and cruel the soldiers were to the detainees in little ways, all the time and always there were endless lies. Also appalling were Murat’s descriptions of female soldiers in one of the camps, watching while naked male prisoners defecated in a communal bucket in the open pen. And in Guantanamo, scantily dressed young women rubbed themselves against him and made sexual suggestions. One wonders if their male superiors ordered them to do this or if they thought up these little torments themselves. But it should also be said that a few guards treated the detainees with basic decency.

At the end of the book we learn that the Administration knew 6 months into Murat’s capture that he was innocent, but kept him on, continued the torture and even made wild accusations against him – presumably to save face. After 5 years when he was finally to be sent back to Germany, on the way out they made a last ditch effort to make him sign a statement saying he was either Taliban or Al Qaeda or he must stay in Cuba. He refused.

How do we know all this is true? Having read so many similar accounts from so many prisoners of many different nationalities and languages, from different cell blocks, who could not have collaborated, I am convinced that what is described is essentially what happened. The Epilogue, written by his American attorney, Baher Azmy, a law professor in New Jersey, is excellent.

Murat was robbed of part of his youth with no explanation or apology so it is hardly surprising he felt compelled to tell his story. He finishes with – “We have to tell the world how Abdul lost his legs and how the Moroccan captain lost his fingers. The world needs to know about the prisoners who died in Kandahar. We have to describe how the doctors came only to check whether we were dead or could stand to be tortured for a little longer.”

January 8, 2012 - Posted by | Deception, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes

1 Comment »

  1. It is extremely important for the truth of torture be revealed to the world. Torture is such a degrading action; not only to the victims of Guantanamo and other prisons, but to those many men and women who loss their lives for liberty. Today, it is the survivors of crimes who are truthfully, the writers of history. Please continue your good work and visit my blog. http://www.ruhullaha-maryamkho.blogspot.com

    Regards,

    Maryam Ruhullah

    Like

    Comment by Maryam ruhullah | January 14, 2012 | Reply


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