“In Gitmo I was punished with 30 days in darkness for feeding iguanas”
RT: Murat Kurnaz was held at Guantanamo Bay for five years before being released without charges. Mr. Kurnaz, have you ever been given apology or explanation by the Americans?
Murat Kurnaz: No they didn't apologize and I don’t thing they will ever apologize for anything.
RT: You were arrested in Pakistan in 2001. Why were you there?
MK: Here in Germany I saw a group called Jamayat Tabliq. They are helping young people who have problems with drugs or homeless people who have problems at all. They originate from Pakistan. They have around 80 million members. It’s, I think, the biggest Islamic group. They are non-political. They are against war, of course. They are also hated by Al-Qaeda and [the] Taliban, because they are against war.
When I went to Pakistan, I went to their school. They have each year, I think, between 30,000 and 40,000 students visiting that school. I was just one of them. So when I was captured and turned to the Americans, I was already on a bus close to the airport. I had already my plane ticket in my pocket. So I couldn’t understand why and what reason [I was stopped]. Jamayat Tabliq – everyone knows they are not interested in war and are against terrorism.
RT: What were the circumstances of your arrests?
MK: When I got arrested, they didn’t tell me anything about what's going on. They didn’t tell me that they were looking for terrorists or whatever. They said “we’re just going to check your passport.” I didn’t know at that time they get bounty of $3,000 for each person. Not under my name, but for anyone turned over to the Americans as terrorist they get $3,000, and $3,000 is in Pakistan a lot of money.
When I had my first interrogation by the American government during my detention in Pakistan, they asked me if I know where Osama Bin Laden was. They were not interested in me.
RT: After you were transferred to Kandahar in Afghanistan, what happened there?
MK: In Kandahar all kind of things that you can imagine as torture was happening. I saw many got killed under torture. I was one of those who survived those kinds of torture. On myself they used electroshocks, because I would not sign papers.
I was forced to agree I was member of Taliban and Al-Qaeda and I said I'm not. Really I didn’t know at that time what Al-Qaeda was, I didn’t know [anything] about Al-Qaeda. So when they asked me about Al-Qaeda and Taliban, I said I’m not a member of them. And they brought me papers, forced me to sign. I refused.
That's why they tried to make me sign by electroshocks. And another time they forced me by water treatment, waterboarding. Another time they hang me on chains. I was hanging on the ceiling. They were pulling me on the ceiling with the chain, and until my feet were over the floor. After a few days I started to pass out, because in that situation I couldn’t eat or drink and it was freezing cold. It was wintertime and I had no clothes on.
So I was hanging there for many days. When the interrogator came they put me back down and he asked me are you going to sign or not. And every time when I said no he just went to show [thumb up], and they put me back up.
RT: What happened to other detainees?
MK: I got waterboarded after I'd seen a couple of people got killed in front of me. It wasn’t first or second one, I saw several people killed. Some of them got kicked on their head until they died. Another one was hanged on a chain until till he died. Many things…
When I got waterboarded I was sure I can be the next one. But I was a young man then and I thought: “I’m now in hands of the American government, I’m sure they have justice,” because I saw all Hollywood movies where they are all the good ones.
RT: An FBI agent was quoted as saying that Guantanamo detainees were chained hand to foot in a fetal position on the floor with no chair, food, or water for 24 hours or more. Did that take place?
MK: They did it with everyone, I think. As soon as arrived we had to stay in a special position when we have handcuffs and shackles on and our eyes covered with goggles. We had to stay in that situation for a long time, some people passed out.
RT: Were there any underage detainees in Guantanamo?
MK: Yes, the youngest one was nine years old. The second-youngest was 12. I can't understand why they get arrested.
RT: Do you agree with US officials that torture works, that it makes people tell the truth?
MK: When they tortured me… If I worked for the terrorist I never would agree, because they would torture me anyway. What I would have to lose? Some people under torture told them [a] couple of things, but I don’t know if truth or lie. But many lie under torture, because when they torture they ask special questions, and they can answer “yes” or “no”, and that's why mostly it’s a lie.
RT: How did the system of rewards and punishments work there?
MK: Some of us got more food; some of us got less food. It depends on what camp you are in. In Guantanamo there are like eight camps, and except one you get less food. One camp I call camp Hollywood because it was made for journalists. When the journalist people are coming, they can play football, maybe the first time in five years. They say that this is the same thing every day – they can play football, volleyball. And there is place for football and volleyball and basketball and when the journalists are filming they can play that.
I have to say I’m a person who loves animals, and in Guantanamo there were many kinds of animals that haven’t seen in my life except on TV. So when I got to Guantanamo saw iguanas. I was hiding a piece of my bread because of the iguanas. They are very smart animals. They were coming the same time to the fence and I was feeding them. When the guards saw it I got punished by 30 days of isolation in darkness – because I was feeding animals.
RT: Was there a feeling the camp was hostile to Muslims?
MK: Of course it was like that, because after 9/11 most Americans were thinking that Muslims are terrorists. But of course it's not true. Islam is there to fight against the terrorists and not to be a terrorist.
RT: Were you told anything about your legal status at Guantanamo?
MK: We were not authorized to ask any kind of questions. When we asked questions we got punishment for it, and all they said “we are asking the questions not you.” For first three years I didn’t know even if my family knows I'm alive. I even didn’t know if my family knows I’m in Guantanamo. I didn’t know anything. When I got arrested they never told me anything. And we weren’t authorized to watch the news, there was no TV, no newspapers, no kind of news. And the guards who were working inside the camp were not authorized to talk with us.
Even I didn’t know I was shown to be an innocent person by the American government until shortly before I got released. So I thought I would stay there all my life,
RT: Tell us about your sports career before you were arrested?
MK: When I was 19 I was in a very good shape because I started to train in martial arts since I was seven years old. I was doing it almost professional. So when I got arrested I couldn’t train like before in my life. But even in Guantanamo I did train martial arts by myself. Of course I got punished every time for it because I was training martial arts which was forbidden. Even to do push-ups was forbidden, so I got punished even for doing push-ups.
RT: Murat Kurnaz, thank you for speaking with RT.