FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO
Chapter 3: KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN
I'D BEEN SOLD, FOR A BOUNTY OF $3,000, TO THE AMERICANS. That's what the Americans themselves told me in one of the endless interrogations in Guantanamo Bay. "I know," I told my interrogator, "you expected more for the $5,000 you paid for me."
"$3,000," said my interrogator. "We only paid $3,000 for you."
That's when I knew the story was true.
When I was apprehended, everyone knew that there was money to be made by turning in foreigners. Lots of Pakistanis were sold as well. Doctors, taxi drivers, fruit and vegetable sellers, many of whom I later met in Guantanamo. I don't care who got paid the reward money in my case. It could just as well have been the policeman at the checkpoint in Peshawar or the blond European or the American man at the villa. Maybe the officers at the police station in Peshawar split the money. $3,000 is a lot in Pakistan. A man can get married with a sum like that, or buy a car and an apartment.
Everyone, except me, knew about the reward money. I only discovered later that the Americans paid for us, as if we were slaves.
As the plane got ready to take off, not only were we shackled and chained, we were bound up like packages. I could hear the noise of the propeller and the shouts of the soldiers and the other prisoners. From beneath the sack covering my head, I could see a bit of the plane's aluminum wall. We were bound tightly to the walls with long belts so that we couldn't move the lower half of our bodies. My legs were stretched out straight and manacled. Chains constrained my feet above the ankles. The only thing I could move was my head.
On board the plane with me were the four other men from my cell and around twelve more prisoners. I couldn't see how many soldiers there were, but to judge from the confusion of voices, it must have been a lot. They went from one prisoner to the next, hitting us with their fists, their billy clubs, and the butts of their rifles. It was as cold as a refrigerator; I was sitting on bare metal and icy air was coming from a vent or a fan. I tried to go to sleep, but they kept hitting me and waking me.
"Keep your head up!" they'd yell.
They never let up hitting, kicking, and insulting us. Sometimes they'd forget about me for a couple of minutes, but then they'd strike me all the harder.
"You're terrorists," they shouted.
"We're Americans! You're terrorists. We've got you! We're strong! And we will give it to you!"
They never ceased screaming.
Prisoners, I thought, are often beaten in Turkey. It's a well-known fact, and so it seemed almost normal to me that the Americans would do the same. If I had been put in a Turkish prison, they would have beaten me there as well. At some point, I also thought, this will be over. But the soldiers never tired of beating us, laughing all the while. I imagine they made jokes at our expense.
It was night when we took off, but the lights were on inside the plane. All I could see were my bare feet and the bright light. My thin overalls were no match for the cold, and my feet and hands had swollen from being tightly shackled. I was afraid I would never be able to use my hands again. I knew that a hand can die, if the blood flow is cut off, and that the skin can turn black from the cold. I watched my feet slowly turning dark blue. I couldn't feel them any more. All I could feel, throughout my entire body, was pain. I was barely able to breathe.
I didn't try to speak to any of the other prisoners. If you spoke, you would have been beaten even more, so none of us did. I was far too weak and hurting. I wasn't afraid. But it was clear to me that I might die. I didn't want to die, but in my situation it seemed like the easier option. Better. I thought about my family. If I was going to die, would someone tell them how my life ended and what had happened to me? Would my family be able to live with that? No doubt they had no idea where I was or what was happening to me. I thought above all about my mother. I hoped at least she would find out how I died.
I prepared myself for my death.
I didn't cry. I'd admit it if had, but I simply couldn't. Even our Prophet cried after the death of his son, but I couldn't cry in the plane. I believe we have a saying: The tears of the heart are worse than the tears of the eye. But maybe this isn't really a saying. Perhaps I invented it during the flight. In any case, I kept repeating the words: Kalbin aglamasi gozlerin aglamasin dan cok daha siddetlidir.
I quietly prayed for patience. Allah, give me patience and strength and protect me. I know you are The Most Excellent Protector, and I expect protection only from you because you are The Most Strong.
I said prayers like this for the next five years.
I don't know how long the flight lasted. At some point, we started our descent. I heard the motors cut back, and I knew the plane would land. Nothing can happened to me, I thought. I was strapped in tight.
I heard the hydraulics of the rear section of the plane opening. I felt a blow to my head, and as I stood up, I saw bright flashes through the sack. Flashbulbs. From beneath the sack, I could make out soldiers filming and photographing us. They were standing on the runway. I could look down at them from underneath the sack. They never entered the plane.
Suddenly I realized something. Just as they had repeatedly called us terrorists during the flight, they were taking photos to depict us as terrorists to the world. Either they truly believed I was a terrorist, or they knew I was innocent but needed scapegoats to proudly present to the public. That made me upset. They were going to say to America and the rest of the world: "These are the terrorists we've been hunting for. These are the criminals who are responsible for the attacks of September 11. Now we have them, and this is how they'll be treated!"
What I didn't know at the time was that the photos were to be used as "evidence" in the media that we had been captured in the war zone in Afghanistan by American soldiers-even though we had all been taken prisoner in Pakistan by Pakistani police. I discovered all this later when I faced the military tribunal in Guantanamo.
In the plane, I had only one thing on my mind: the singular mission of proving my innocence to my captors. The soldiers had to assume I was a terrorist, if that's what they had been told. If that was true, they had good reason to beat me. Although it was unjust, I could understand them. But one way or the other, so I thought back then, my innocence would be proven, and I would be released. It would only take a few days. I intended to clear up the situation at my next interrogation.
I felt a new sense of hope.
The soldiers loosened my restraints. When they lifted me up, I felt too weak to stand on my own two legs. They linked our arms together with a thin but robust strip of plastic. I was swaying on my feet, and then I felt something cut into my arm: the plastic band attaching me to the prisoners in front of and behind me. I sensed a dull ache as I took a few steps. It was like walking on something strange, like stilts, that burrowed into my body. But I was lucky. Other prisoners had broken legs. Some of them were trying to walk on one leg. Two soldiers dragged one of the prisoners across the floor of the airplane. I saw his foot bent at a severe angle at the ankle.
I heard dogs barking. We stumbled out of the plane down a ramp. Whenever someone fell, the plastic strip would drag me down as well. I heard dogs growling and barking. They were everywhere around us, and I could hear them biting. You can hear a dog's bite. They were German shepherds and Belgian shepherds, or malinois. Back in Bremen, I had had dogs, and I was able to recognize the breeds from beneath the sack. Malinois are bigger and stronger than German shepherds. They have shorter fur, and it's usually one color.
We walked for a few minutes and then they threw us to the ground. We were ordered to lie on our stomachs. A soldier sat on my back. My breath condensed under the sack. I felt the cold of the freezing stone ground. As far as I could understand what the soldiers were saying, they were going to come collect us one by one and take us away. I heard helicopters and the motors of jeeps and trucks. First one, then the next, then a third. It took a long time. I lay on the ground for what could have been hours, or minutes. Then I lost consciousness, probably because of the cold.
I woke up when someone hit me in the face.
"I feel his heartbeat again," said the soldier who had been sitting on my back.
It was my turn.
Someone picked me up, and I tried to walk. The soldier rammed his fist into my back, and I pressed forward until someone stopped me, The sack was removed from my head. I was in a tent. In front of me sat a man at a table with paper and a pen. Two soldiers cut open my overalls so that they wouldn't have to loosen my bonds, I was naked. I saw some other clothes, orange overalls, lying on a chair.
"Place of birth?"
Someone pulled out some of my hair. I was weighed, and a saliva sample was taken. Soldiers motioned for me to pick up the orange overalls. I heard shots outside and what I believed to be a bomb exploding. The man on the chair flinched at the sound. Then I was given the number 53. I was the fifty-third prisoner. There was another muffled bang. The same number was imprinted on the green plastic band that they fastened round my wrist. The soldiers seemed nervous.
I heard the unmistakable sounds of airplanes and battle. Rockets hissing and whistling, then muffled bangs on impact.
It was then that I realized I wasn't in Turkey, but in some sort of war zone.
The Americans were being attacked, and they were returning fire. Planes and helicopters took off and landed. The impact sounds of the rockets were close. The man at the table looked pale.
"Look down!" he yelled.
I felt the soldiers' fear as they grabbed me by the arms. They pushed my head to the ground with all their might. It seemed to me that they were less afraid of the bombs than of me, although I was naked, bound and unarmed.
The officer asked me some more questions, but I wasn't able to answer them. I could hardly stand and lacked the strength for anything more than a yes or no. They led me back out of the tent.
It was night-time. I saw a barricade made of coiled, barbed wire. The barricade was out in the open in the middle of a pen, measuring about thirty-three by sixteen feet and was guarded by soldiers in groups of two. There was no door to the pen, only two poles on chains that were raised and lowered. Twenty to thirty prisoners crouched inside. A soldier hit me in the back of the head with the butt of his rifle. I fell to the ground.
He motioned with his weapon.
"Can you see that?!" he yelled.
I understood. If I moved, he was going to shoot me. Other soldiers took off my restraints. When they removed the handcuffs, I found I could no longer move my fingers. They were dark blue and numb, as were my feet. They threw the overalls on the ground. I started to pick them up and put them on.
They pointed their rifles at me.
"Sit!" they yelled.
I sat down. Edging backwards, the soldiers began to exit the pen.
"Sit! Don't move!" they kept yelling, even after they were outside.
I was forced to remain seated like that, naked, with the overalls beside me, until the following day. I was terribly cold. After a while, I lay down. I was tired and fell asleep. I slept very well.
When morning broke, I looked around. I saw tents, barbed wire and a tall Structure, perhaps a guard tower. The landing strip, where their planes and helicopters took off and landed, couldn't have been far away. There was a long hangar made of wood and corrugated metal as well as the frame of a second hangar. The metal of the first hangar was full of holes. Bullet holes, I thought.
Alongside the tents, I could see other open tents that consisted merely of olive-green tarpaulins on wooden poles. There were soldiers hammering and drilling everywhere. I saw bulldozers. The camp seemed to be still under construction. Next to the tower, I could make out a kind of wall made of metal, perhaps tin. It may have run all the way around the camp, but I couldn't see that far. In the distance, behind the hangars, there were white shafts that looked like crosses on graves. But they couldn't have been graves because the shafts were at least ten feet high. On the other side, somewhat at a distance, we could see a second barbed-wire pen with other prisoners.
The military camp was surrounded, as far the eye could see, by mountains. They were gigantic. I'd never seen so many mountains of that height. I was sitting in a camp in the desert surrounded by tall, silvery-gray mountains. There was snow on their peaks. The ground in the camp consisted of frozen soil that had been dug up like the rock bed of a dried-up river. I could still hear helicopters taking off and landing. Fog rolled in.
Some of the prisoners sitting on the ground were naked like me. Others had already put on overalls. Some of them were still wearing the rusty metal shackles from Pakistan, thick rings around their ankles with a bar in between. I noticed that the guards were occupied with a prisoner far off from me and quickly put on my overalls. They didn't say anything. I buried my chin beneath the material and blew my breath across my chest. That warmed me up a bit. I moved my hands, flexing them. But it would be days before the feeling returned to my fingers.
I tried talking to the others. We were forbidden from talking, but we did so anyway. Whenever the soldiers would stray from the barbed wire, we tried to exchange a few words. But I didn't know either Arabic or Farsi, the Afghan language, and my English was poor. I couldn't find Salah or any of the others from the prison in Pakistan. They must have been put in another pen. But I did discover that the Americans were using this as a base to fight the Taliban in the mountains. So we had to be somewhere in Afghanistan. Was this a former Russian airbase, perhaps? We talked in English as best we could, occasionally gesturing with our hands and feet. But that was conspicuous.
Some of the people in the pen were Arabs who lived in Afghanistan. Others were Arabs from Pakistan, taxi drivers or shopkeepers or small entrepreneurs. One was a doctor, so that's what we called him: the doctor. He, too, was a foreigner who had been sold to the Americans. He was in orthopedics. He communicated this by tapping on his elbows and knees. As far as I could gather, he had been brought here as part of the first group, twelve hours ahead of me. I was part of the second group that had come from Pakistan. If I interpreted his gestures correctly, this first group had been beaten even worse than we were.
I met the doctor again later in Guantanamo, and we spoke often. I asked him a lot of questions, including medical ones. He was indeed an orthopedist, as I had gleaned in Kandahar, and he was also an expert on nutrition. I found that interesting. I asked him what you should eat and not eat if you had broken a bone. What a layman should do to treat a broken bone and things like that. Broken bones were a constant threat in Guantanamo. The doctor had lived in Pakistan for twenty years. His children had grown up and gone to school there. Almost everyone in the city where he lived knew him. One night, the Pakistani police hauled him out bed. They kicked in the doors and broke the windows of his house, then entered his bedroom from every direction. He was tied up on the ground. His wife and children were terrified. He had been imprisoned for a while in Pakistani jails, then they handed him over to the Americans, claiming he was a terrorist who had worked together with other terrorists. But it was really only about the reward money.
I didn't care about anything on this particular morning. I was hungry and I had to go to the toilet. But there was no toilet.
I tried to ask one of the soldiers on guard.
"Toilet, toilet," I said.
"Shut up! Sit down!"
He pointed his gun at me.
I couldn't sit down because I had to go so badly. I just didn't care anymore. I approached the barbed wire. The soldier yelled at me, as though he was about to shoot me.
I ignored him and let it all out.
The soldier disappeared and returned a few moments later, accompanied by an officer. The officer was carrying a blue plastic bucket. He threw it over the barbed wire and said we could use it. Almost all the prisoners got up and made use of the bucket. It was humiliating. Whether we were young or old, religious or not-we all had to strip naked to do our business in the bucket because we were wearing nothing but overalls. Men like me who follow the rules of Islam are forbidden from exposing our bodies between the navel and the knees. It's also prohibited in the hamam or Turkish bath. Even in my fitness club back in Bremen, I used to shower with my shorts on.
Female guards also patrolled the grounds outside our pen. It wasn't easy.
We sat the entire day in the pen. Other groups of prisoners were locked in with us and in the other pens. They, too, were naked and initially had to leave their overalls lying beside them. I'd estimate the total number of prisoners at around sixty.
At sunset, soldiers would come and lead us away in groups of about ten. On average, the way this happened was that about a dozen soldiers would enter the pen waving machine guns. We stood up one by one and approached the barbed wire. Our hands and feet were bound, and they led us to the hangar. The hangar was empty-there were no planes. All I could see was a long corridor, a number of pens with walls of corrugated metal, topped by barbed wire. We were herded toward the spaces enclosed by the metal walls and made to lie on the ground. It consisted of sand, rocks, and frozen soil just like our pen. The space was locked from the outside. Each of us received an MRE in a plastic container, which was thrown over the barbed wire.
MRE stands for "Meal Ready to Eat." Pronounced in Arabic, the acronym sounds like "Emarie," so that's what we called the packages. They were supposed to contain approximately 2,000 calories. Typically, they contained food like potatoes packed in tin foil or rice, meat or chicken, some vegetables and pudding, porridge, crackers and something sweet. The forks, spoons and knives were made of plastic. There was also a small flameless heater to warm the food up. Each Emarie was numbered from 1 to a number above 30. Some of them contained pork. The Emaries that they threw over the barbed wire for us only contained a bit of rice or porridge and a couple of pieces of meat, all mashed together, The other food had been removed from the plastic containers, leaving less than 600 calories. Human beings need more than 1,500 calories a day to survive. I knew that from my training as a fitness coach in Bremen.
My first Emarie happened to contain pork. The word was written on the side of the package. It was just a couple of cold, dried-out pieces of pork in rice. But I couldn't eat pork because it's against my religion so I tried to get something else. I got up, went to the barbed wire and attempted to speak to one of the soldiers.
"Shut up'" he yelled at me.
I warmed up my food.
In Bremen, I competed in a few boxing tournaments. I used to give karate lessons and had worked as a bouncer. When I looked at the guards, I knew that I could have any of them on the ground within a couple of seconds. That made me even more enraged. There was a soldier behind a wall of barbed wire who, despite his machine gun, seemed to be afraid of me and kept yelling at me. But he had the right to abuse me. Maybe it sounds immature when I describe my nineteen-year- ld rage in this situation. Other people may see things differently. But for me it was hard to swallow.
I took a seat back on the ground and ate the crackers.
One of the younger prisoners had witnessed the scene. He edged over to me and offered to share his Emarie. I tried to refuse, but he insisted. The word "chicken" was printed on the side of his Emarie. I realized then that there were good people among the prisoners. In a situation like this, food is all you have, your sole possession. And although he was hungry, this young man still found it within him to share his food with me. He couldn't have been more than sixteen-he didn't even have a beard. But he had a good heart.
Then the door in the barbed wire opened. The soldiers hit the boy for sharing his food with me.
That was difficult for me to watch.
I never saw the boy again. Maybe he is dead. Or perhaps I simply didn't recognize him in Cuba. Torture changes people.
That night we were moved. We were led away in groups of twenty to a new barbed-wire pen, holding about sixty of us. I tried to go to sleep, but that was the night of my first interrogation. Two soldiers came into the pen.
The Americans called them the "escort team."
I knew the word escort from my time in Bremen as a bouncer at clubs. It referred to women who accompanied gentlemen for an evening. Now I was being taken away by escorts. It was always the same procedure.
They would call my number.
"Zero Five Three, get ready!"
I would lie down on my stomach near the entrance to the pen, my hands behind my back. Everyone else would get up and go to the opposite side of the pen, their faces turned toward the barbed wire. The escort team then stormed in and put me in handcuffs and shackles. One of them punched me in the back with his fist. The other picked me up in his arms. One of them grabbed my hair from behind and pushed my head down. I was frog-marched out.
I was led to a tent. There were several officers there. They spoke to me in English, although I hardly knew two words of the language. They asked:
"Where is Osama?"
"Are you part of Al Qaeda?"
''Are you a Taliban?"
That's as much I could understand.
They kept repeating the same questions.
''Are you part of Al Qaeda?"
One of the soldiers punched me in the face.
''Are you a Taliban?"
The soldier punched me again.
"Where is Osama?"
"I don't know."
The other soldier punched me, this time square on the chin.
"Are you part of Al Qaeda?"
Another punch to the face. My lips were split, and blood was dripping from my nose.
''Are you a Taliban?"
Every time I said no, they hit me.
"Do you know Mohammed Atta?" One of the officers suddenly asked. The name seemed familiar. I thought it over. My head was pounding. Where have I heard this name before, I asked myself. Everything was spinning.
"One moment," I said. "Yes, I know. I hear. That name. I don't know where ..."
Then I remembered. In the news. It was the name of the man accused of masterminding the attacks on September 11. I tried to explain in English.
"Yes," I understood the officer as saying. "He was a friend of yours."
"He was your friend!"
"No, I only know him from the news ..."
I felt the next blow.
"TV! TV! News! You understand?"
"You're friends with him!"
The officer got up. I was kneeling on the ground, my hands bound behind my back. The officer came up and punched me in the face. He wasn't old, maybe in his early thirties. He asked me what I was doing in Pakistan. I told him, as best I could, about the tablighis and Mohammed. He yelled: "You're lying! Your visa is a fake!" I replied: "You can check it. You've got it!" He went back to the table and picked a file off the ground. He emptied out the contents on the table's surface. It was my wallet, my plane tickets, my passport, and my German identity card.
"There," I said. "Look in my passport. My visa is in there."
He examined my passport.
"It's faked," he said.
He showed me the stamp from the consulate.
"You made that yourself."
"Call them up. I got it from the Pakistani consulate in Germany. I was there! Why would I fake my visa?"
"You wanted to go to Afghanistan!"
"No" -- the next blow came down.
"You know Osama!"
"No, no! Call Germany! Call my mother, my school ..."
"Where is Osama?"
"No, no ..."
He punched me.
"You're a Taliban!"
"No, no ..."
He punched me.
Suddenly the American asked me about a name I do know. It was the name of a friend of mine from school. He recited a number but I didn't understand. Was it a telephone number?
"I know ... friend! He's a friend from school!"
He recited a second name. It was a friend of mine from the mosque in my home district of Hemelingen in Bremen. Again he read out a number, first the name, then a number from a piece of paper.
"Yes, I know, friend ..."
He repeated the numbers. I made out the area code for Bremen and a couple of the other digits. How did he get these telephone numbers?
"Fatima. Zero-zero-nine-zero ..." the American said.
"My wife! My wife! In Turkey ..."
Suddenly he asked:
"You sold your cell phone before you left Germany. Why did you sell your cell phone?"
That I understood. It was true. I had sold my mobile before I'd flown to Pakistan.
"Yes! I sell handy. How you know?"
"Handy" is the German word for cell phone. He punched me in the face.
"Who did you sell it to?"
I couldn't remember. I was always purchasing the latest cell phone and selling off my old one. Was it to a second-hand electronics store? Or to one of my buddies? I didn't know. But I did sell it. That much was true ...
I felt a blow to the back of my head.
"I don't know ... I always sell handy ..."
I asked myself: How does he know these things? But I didn't have time to ponder the question because someone was hitting me again. I saw stars.
"You took money from your bank," the officer said. "1,100 German Marks from Bremen Bank. I know that. What did you use it for?"
The only words I understood are Bremen Bank. That was my bank. How did he know that? I hadn't brought my ATM card to Pakistan!
"Quick! Answer! What did you use that money for?"
"1,100 German Marks!"
"Ticket! I buy ticket to Pakistan and back!"
"Who is Selcuk Bilgin?"
Selcuk? How did he know about Selcuk? I never told anyone about Selcuk. Why wouldI have? They wouldn't have understood ...
I felt a kick to the stomach. I collapsed, thinking I was going to be sick.
"Friend! My friend! Together to Pakistan ... but no come ..."
Hour upon hour, they repeated the same questions accompanied by punches and kicks. It was no use. The officer simply refused to understand who I was and what I intended to do with Selcuk in Pakistan. We wanted to go to Koran school. I had waited for Selcuk for days at the airport in Karachi, but he never arrived, as he had promised he would in Frankfurt. It was no use. The officer wasn't listening. He just asked the same questions and recited the same names and numbers, and then they hit me. I don't know how long I was interrogated that day. But I can still remember the words he kept repeating.
"You're a terrorist! We know that. We're going to keep you forever. You're never going home!"
When I regained my senses, I was back in the pen. My face was swollen, and every bone in my body ached. I heard them call out the number of another prisoner. The escort team came and led him away.
The escort team was always coming and going from the pen, bringing someone back or taking someone away for interrogation. I, too, was interrogated again that first day. Or was it the next morning? In any case it had been dark for a while. It was always the same game with a different officer asking the questions and different soldiers hitting me. Names, numbers, accusations, blows. By the time I got back to the pen, I could never remember a thing.
But I tried to concentrate. How did they know the names and telephone numbers of my friends? Where did they get Selcuk's name? Then it occurred to me. Germany and the United States were allies! They probably cut a deal. They probably called up the German authorities. There was no reason for them not to. They probably called up and said: We've got someone here from Germany, and we'd like some information about him. Who is he?
That's how I imagined it. But if they knew that I'd sold my mobile phone, surely they'd also know I was innocent. They might have gotten the telephone numbers and the names from my cell phone. Maybe they were still saved there. I had saved the names of my friends and relatives, my brother-in-law and my sister in Bremen's Sebaldsbruck district. They could have also gotten many of the names from business cards in my wallet. All my friends in Bremen had business cards. I had many of these cards in my wallet, from colleagues from work and school friends. It doesn't cost much to have them printed.
But they also knew the name of one of tablighis from Bremen. I didn't have his business card. Of course, they knew who I was! It had been several days since the American had interrogated me in Peshawar. Surely they had gotten in touch with the relevant authorities in Germany to check that everything I was saying was true! That I came from Germany, that I wanted to visit a Koran school, that I was an apprentice shipbuilder ... but that would also mean that the German authorities had called my family and Selcuk. They must have found out that I wasn't a terrorist! I heard a number being called. It wasn't mine.
The following day, I was interrogated three times for about one and two hours each time. In between interrogations, I sat in the pen. It was bitterly cold. I could hardly feel my toes, which were still blue. Sometimes I thought back on how my mother used to bring me warm socks when she went to the shopping mall in Bremen. I hated wearing thick woolen socks with my sneakers. They were itchy. But when I thought of those socks, it was enough to drive me half-crazy. How nice it would have been to have a pair of those woolen socks now.
At the appointed hours of the day, we prayed, guessing the time from the position of the sun: in the morning, when it was getting light but still before sunrise; at noon, when the sun was at its peak; in the evening, after sunset but before it had gotten completely dark; and at night. Each of us prayed on his own, either quietly or silently, and we remained seated.
Early one morning, when we prayed together for the first time, they threatened to shoot us. But we kept on praying. If they wanted to shoot us, we thought, let them shoot. They didn't. They just yelled and made threats. Then a commander or some high-ranking officer came and spoke to us. He said we would be allowed to pray at the appointed times. Not because he wanted to do us any favors, but because he realized that we would rather die than not say our prayers. And they didn't want us to die because they still needed to interrogate us. From then on, we started our prayers standing, then knelt down and bowed our heads toward the East. We weren't able to wash our hands, but our faith allows us to wash with sand if there isn't any water-it's called teyamum. We cleansed our hands with sand.
When it rained, the water would sting our faces and skin like needles. Everything turned to mud. The ground was pure sludge, and you felt you might get washed away in the mud and the water. Often we'd huddle together to keep warm. Then the rain would stop, the wind would kick up again, and the cold would creep into my head. The ground froze. My overalls remained wet and clammy. I could even see the cold. I saw it in the thick gloves, jackets and overcoats worn by the soldiers and the face masks they had under their motorcycle helmets. Their entire faces were covered by the masks, with mere slits for their eyes.
We weren't allowed to get up and move around except for prayers, no matter how badly we froze. But we could hardly move anyway because we were so undernourished. There were weaker, older men in the pen. Men with broken feet, men whose legs and arms were fractured or had turned blue, red, or yellow from pus. There were prisoners with broken jaws, fingers and noses, and with terribly swollen faces like mine.
In the evening, we were herded into the hangar and given an Emarie. In the morning, we were given some Afghan white bread-one loaf to be split among five prisoners. They simply threw the loaves of bread over the barbed wire. Sometimes they'd land in the dirt. Then the soldiers would throw plastic bottles of water over the barbed wire. A half-liter per person, per day. Sometimes they didn't give us any water or any bread. One morning we were all given blankets. From then on we were allowed to use the blankets for a couple of hours. Then we had to hand them back or leave them lying on the ground next to us.
At night we had no blankets. But in any case there was little opportunity to sleep. The soldiers came at night and made us stand for hours on end at gunpoint. Every prisoner was interrogated at least once a day. Interrogations also took place at night. We had to stand up and sit down. There were interrogations and beatings. Then we'd have to sit down and stand up again, When we were allowed to use the blankets, I would pull mine up over my head. After a while, my breath would warm the air underneath. But the blanket would get clammy and moist, and the moisture would freeze.
We hardly had a moment of rest. When I was lucky, I could lie down for half an hour. My breath froze on my overalls. Sometimes I asked myself which was better: the interrogations and beatings in the tents, or crouching around outside in the pen, where every few minutes we had to get up and line up against the barbed wire. At least it was warm in the tents. But you also had to deal with the uncertainty. Many people never came back from the interrogations. Had they been brought somewhere else? If so, where?
One time when the escort team came, the soldiers were carrying a long crate that looked like a coffin. But there were holes in it. They called out a number, and the rest of us had to line up against the barbed wire. I bent my head and peeped over my shoulder. The prisoner whose number had been called was lying on his stomach. The soldiers bound him, picked him up and put him in the crate. I heard them speaking to one another, but I only understood isolated words: dangerous and caution. They were saying the man was dangerous. They used belts inside the crate to tie the prisoner up like a package. Then they put down the lid and took him away.
That was how it went, day in, day out.
Nonetheless, I still hoped that I would get an interrogator whom I could convince of my innocence. I still thought they would find out that I had gotten married shortly before my trip, that my visa was legitimate, that I'd never been to Afghanistan, and that I was training to become a shipbuilder. A few more calls to Germany and they would find this out, and then they'd send me back home.
But every time I was brought to interrogation, they didn't listen to me, and I only understood a fraction of what they were saying and asking anyway. I could only answer the things I had understood. Often they acted as if I spoke perfect English. They even said sometimes, You speak perfect English. We know you do. Don't try to fool us. I recognized some of the officers who interrogated me. Then there would be new faces. But the interrogations were all the same. They recited the names and telephone numbers of my friends and tried to get me to admit to being a Taliban. They hit me and tried to get me to say: "Yes, I'm a Taliban," or "Yes, I'm from Al Qaeda" or "Yes, I know where Osama is." That was all they were interested in hearing.
I had no chance. My only hope was that someone from the German authorities or the German military would turn up.
We changed pens almost every day, moving from one barbed-wire enclosure to the next, and finally to ones that the soldiers had built under tarpaulin roofs. About two weeks after I arrived in the camp, I met a couple of Turkish men. Finally I could make myself understood and understand what someone else was saying. It was like salvation. And not only did they speak my language, they could also speak some Arabic, so they were well-informed about practically everything. I learned a lot from them. Where I was, what was going to be done with us, and who the Americans thought we were.
The Turks said we were in Kandahar.
I asked how they knew that. The camp could have been anywhere. All we could see were mountains!
They said the Afghans knew exactly what region we were in. I had no doubts any more. At least I've seen another country, I thought bitterly, and I didn't even have to pay for the trip.
I knew the two Turks had been taken prisoner in Pakistan just as I had. They told me. I didn't ask where and how that had happened, or what they were doing there. You don't ask things like that in a detention camp. The Americans asked us every day where and how we were captured and what business we had in Pakistan. If you came back and asked your fellow prisoners the same questions, you quickly got a reputation as a spy. Then you would have been shunned. In all those years, I always behaved the same way. I listened if someone wanted to tell me something, but I didn't ask any funny questions. The two Turks have since been released from Guantanamo, I'd like to see them again, To protect them, I'm going to call them Erhan and Serkan.
One day, people from the International Red Cross came to the camp and stood in front of our pen, Some of the prisoners went up to them and spoke with them, One of them was German, He addressed me in English, and when I explained where I was from, we switched over to German. He asked me if I wanted to write a letter to my family so that they would know where I was. Of course I wanted to. The German had long hair. He had a moustache, wore glasses, and was probably in his mid-forties.
He told me I wasn't allowed to write the letter myself. That was against the rules. I had to speak to him very loudly to make myself heard over the noise of the fighter jets landing and taking off. He stood in front of the barbed wire, paper at the ready, and I dictated a few lines to him. To the best of my recollection, this is what I said.
My dear family,
I'm sure I've caused you a lot of worry. I'm sorry for that. I can't write myself -- as you can see, this is not my handwriting. I am currently imprisoned at an American military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. They're trying to make me out to be a terrorist. I don't know what the future holds. Every day we are beaten, but I'll get through it, I hope we'll see each other soon. Forgive me for all the trouble and worry I've caused you.
Your son, Murat
I gave the man my address and my parents' telephone number in Bremen, I told him that the German authorities must have already known that I was here. If the letter reached its destination, my parents would learn where I was -- in case the authorities hadn't informed them yet. Maybe they could do something from Germany. And in case it was too late by then, at least my mother would know for certain how I had died.
That same evening, the escort team came and brought me to be interrogated. The officer held my letter in his hand. He showed it to me and then hit me. He said:
"That kind of stupid letter will never get to your home ..."
I understood that clearly.
"We're not stupid," the officer explained. "If you want to write a letter home, you have to write it differently. 'I'm doing fine. I feel all right. Don't worry.' That sort of thing, you understand?"
Of course, they weren't stupid. I shouldn't have written anything about torture or anything like that. But I had hoped that the man from the Red Cross would be humane enough to call my parents.
The officer tried to begin the interrogation. I said nothing. I didn't say a word that evening, no matter how often they hit me.
Today I know that the man from the Red Cross never called my parents. I also know he was forced to sign papers, agreeing not to pass on any information to the outside world, and that he had no choice but to agree to the conditions of the Americans, the rules of the camp. The only information that made it out of the camp was what they released. Nothing could be repeated, even orally, as another Red Cross representative explained to me later in Guantanamo. I never saw the German man who didn't call my mother again. Perhaps he took his work very seriously. Maybe he didn't want to lose his job. But I ask myself: Doesn't a person have a duty to help a fellow human being in a situation like that?
Again I was moved, put together with different prisoners and taken to be interrogated. The escort team brought me to one of the tents. There they told me to sit on the ground with my legs stretched out. I didn't understand and tried to kneel as always. But they said: Sit! Sit down! Then they pushed my legs to the ground. I was to stretch them out. Two soldiers held my feet tight. Others grabbed my hands and pushed on my shoulders so that I could no longer move.
"So, you're not a terrorist?" one of the interrogators asked. "You're not from Al Qaeda?"
I could tell from his tone of voice that they were trying a new approach.
"Today we're going to find out," said another interrogator.
Did they have a lie detector? I asked myself. The man was holding something in his hands. It looked like two irons that he was rubbing together. Or one those machines used to revive people who have heart attacks. Before I realized what was happening, I felt the first jolt.
It was electricity. An electroshock.
They put the electrodes to the soles of my feet. There was no way to remain seated. It was as though my body was lifting itself off the ground of its own accord. I felt the electric current running through my entire body. There was a bang. It hurt a lot. I felt warmth, jolts, cramps. My muscles cramped up and quivered. That hurt, too.
"Did you change your mind?"
I don't know how long they held the electrodes to the soles of my feet. It could have been ten or twenty seconds, maybe longer. It felt like an eternity.
"So how is that?"
The man rubbed the electrodes together and again touched them to my feet. Again I felt the cramps, the tremors, the hot pain.
The electricity crackled like a series of caps being hit with a hammer. They were like little bolts of lightning in my ear. If I could look inside my ear, I thought, there would electricity there-you could see electricity. At the same time, I heard screams.
They were my screams. But it seemed as though they were coming from outside my body, as though I had nothing to do with them. My whole body was quivering.
"Did you change your mind?"
"No, no ..."
"Okay, try this!"
I heard myself screaming.
"Do you remember now who you are?"
"No, yes, no ..."
"Okay, how about that ..."
I heard my heart. It was beating loudly and very strangely. Quickly and then slowly again.
"Do you know Osama?"
"You ... Taliban ...?"
"... Atta ..."
I could hardly hear the man any more. I thought I was either going to pass out or die. But he always removed the electrodes from my feet. That was the worst thing, knowing that the pain would come again, until you thought there was no way you could take it any more.
I think I passed out. That was probably when they stopped.
It was night. I had been able to get some sleep, when suddenly I was awakened by screams. They came from some distance, from the second, open hangar, which was nothing more than a metal frame. I saw two soldiers hitting a man who was lying amidst some chain-link fencing on the ground. I could see that the prisoner's head had been wrapped in a blanket. The soldiers hit the man's head with the butts of their rifles and kicked him with their boots. Other guards and soldiers came up and started hitting and kicking him, too. There were now seven of them.
There were around a hundred feet between our pen and the open hanger. I noticed that the man was no longer moving. The soldiers kept kicking him. Then they walked away, leaving him lying there. Why, I asked myself, hadn't they chained him up and brought him back to his pen?
The next morning, the prisoner was still lying on the ground. I could now see that his head was completely wrapped in the blanket. How could he breathe, I asked myself. He was lying in a pool of blood.
That afternoon I saw four officers come and inspect him. They took notes. A short time later the escort team arrived. They unwrapped the blanket from his head, picked him up and put him on a stretcher -- without restraining him. His arms and legs dangled lifelessly.
He was dead.
We all knew he was dead.
I wondered to myself if he had any children. Whether his mother and father would ever find out that he had been beaten to death. At that moment, I didn't care whether it was him or me. My life was worth nothing more than his. I'd understood for quite some time what this camp was about. They could do with us what they pleased. And I might be next.
I entered the tent. What were they going to do to me now? They hadn't used electroshocks during my last few interrogations. They'd hit me as always, but that was it. At least it was warm in the tents.
On the table, there was a shallow, blue plastic bucket about 20 inches in diameter, full of water. I didn't know the interrogator. There were three officers there to ask me questions, with two soldiers as guards and assistants.
"So you still don't want to tell the truth," said one of the officers. "We will make you talk."
I knew what was coming.
They pushed my head into the plastic tub.
It's like bobbing for apples, I thought. Back in grade school in Hemelingen we had bobbed for apples at the school parties our teachers organized. It was a simple game. There was an apple floating in a bucket of water, you put your hands behind your back and tried to fish it out using only your teeth. Whoever succeeded first, won the game. But there was no apple in this bucket.
I wasn't afraid, but I was very nervous. I didn't know whether I was going to survive. I thought of something I'd learned with the tablighis at the mosques in Pakistan. It was the words of the prophet Abraham as he was about to be cast into the flames. Habe allahu we ne emel wekil: He is your Protector. What a splendid Protector.
Someone grabbed me by the hair. The soldiers seized my arms and pushed my head underwater.
In Islam, there is an idea that anyone who is forced to suffer a death by drowning will be given a great reward in the afterlife because it's a difficult way to die. I tried to think about that, while they held my head under water. Drowning is a horrible way to die.
They pulled my head back up.
"Do you like it?"
"You want more?"
"You'll get more, no problem."
When my head was back underwater, I felt a blow to my stomach. I had to exhale and cough. I wanted to breathe back in but forced myself not to, and I suppressed the urge to cough. Still, I inhaled a bit of water and could hardly hold my breath.
"Where is Osama?"
"Who are you?"
I tried to speak but I couldn't.
I felt blows to my stomach and against my back. I swallowed some water. It was a strange feeling. I don't know whether the water went to my lungs. It became harder and harder to breathe, the more they hit me in the stomach and pushed my head underwater. I felt my heart racing. They didn't let up. I tried to answer their questions when I managed to get a breath of air, but all I could manage was "yes" and "no." I was choking. I felt like I was going to vomit, then I coughed and spat. I was dizzy and nauseous.
When they pushed my head under again and hit me in the stomach, I imagined myself screaming underwater.
Habe allahu we ne emel wekil!
I would have told them everything. But what was I supposed to tell them?
"I ... don't know ..."
The prophet Abraham didn't feel the flames.
Back in the pen, I spoke to another prisoner who had also been subjected to the waterboarding treatment. He said he had swallowed lots of water. He gestured, as though he were shoveling something into his mouth with his hand. Then he rubbed his belly to show how swollen it had been.
We couldn't help laughing.
The next morning, the escort team came yet again.
"053, get ready!"
I was being summoned for interrogation.
They led me to the hangar where we were usually given the Emaries. What was I doing here, I asked myself. They took me down a long corridor, then opened a door made of corrugated aluminum and pushed me inside. It wasn't a room, just a pen enclosed by aluminum and chain-link fence. Hanging from a beam was a hook like the ones used in butcher shops. A chain dangled from the ceiling.
The soldiers took the chain and ran it underneath my handcuffs. They looped the chain over the hook like a block and tackle and fed it into a winch. I was hoisted up until my feet no longer touched the ground. They clamped the chain to the beam and then left without a word, shutting the corrugated aluminum door behind them.
The cuffs cut off the blood to my hands. I tried to move. I tensed my shoulders, hunched my head into my neck and swung my legs. I tried to climb up the chain. I raised my legs and was able to maintain that position for a while. But then I had to lower them and wait. I relaxed my muscles. You can't fight against something like this for long. No one has that sort of strength.
I knew they were going to leave me hanging there until I couldn't take it any more. After a while, the cuffs seemed like they were cutting my wrists down to the bone. My shoulders felt like someone was trying to pull my arms out of their sockets. I tried to breathe evenly to conserve energy. At some point, I began rocking myself back and forth in the hope that would get my blood flowing. But every movement hurt, no matter how tiny. Especially in my wrists and elbows. The best thing was just not to move and resign yourself to the pain. All I could do was let go. But letting go is impossible when you're under that much strain. I know now that people can die from this sort of treatment. Their bodies just can't take it.
At some point, hours later, someone came and let me down. A doctor examined me and took my pulse. He was wearing a uniform like the other soldiers, but he had a badge of rank on his shoulders, and a patch on his chest said: "Doctor."
"Okay," he said.
The soldiers hoisted me back up.
Three times a day, the soldiers came with the doctor and lowered me. In the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. At least I think it was morning, afternoon, and night.
I began to ask myself which was worse: bobbing for apples or being strung up from the ceiling.
At some point, someone came and started asking me questions. I could hardly understand him, but I already knew what he was asking. My answer was no.
My hands had swollen. In the beginning, I'd felt pain in them. Later on, I lost all feeling in my arms and hands. I still felt pain in other parts of my body, like in my chest around my heart.
When the interrogator arrived, they would lower me for a while. He would ask me if I had anything to say, whether I had changed my mind or had a different story to tell. But I could no longer speak.
The next time they lowered me, I could no longer stand. My legs buckled as if they were matchsticks, and I fell to the ground. The doctor examined my fingernails. My fingers were blue, and I felt a stabbing sensation. A stethoscope was hanging from his neck. He took my blood pressure. I could no longer feel anything in my hands at all-even the stabbing sensation had gone away. He pulled a penlight from his shirt pocket and shined it in my eyes.
I was no longer capable of answering, even if he had asked something. I couldn't understand a thing. I didn't even know whether he was saying anything in the first place. After he left, they hoisted me back up again. The doctor only seemed to be interested in how long I could stand this treatment. At some point, I didn't even register when he was there. I could only remember his visits because afterward I was hoisted up again. I could feel that, and I would open my eyes again. I don't know how long I lay on the ground in the intervals.
A lot of the time, it felt like I was falling asleep.
When they hung me up backwards, it felt as though my shoulders were going to break. They bound my hands behind my back and hoisted me up. I could remember seeing something like that in a movie once-only in the film, it was Americans being strung up by Vietnamese with their hands behind their backs until they died. I'm an athletic guy, I thought. Maybe I could pull up my legs and flip over so that I'd be hanging forward. But I was too weak.
I woke up when they hoisted me back up. I think it was a different day. This time, they hoisted me up higher than usual. Then they just left me dangling there. Before, my feet had been fifteen inches from the ground, now it was a good yard. Previously I had heard how they had hoisted up another prisoner on the other side of the aluminum wall, and I had seen the chains on the adjacent beam. Now I could see over the wall.
I didn't recognize the man. He was hanging as I was from the ceiling. I couldn't tell whether he was dead or alive. His body was mostly swollen and blue, although in some places it was pale and white. I could see a lot of blood in his face, dark streams of it. His head lolled to one side. I couldn't see his eyes.
I hardly moved, but once in a while I tried to swing myself back and forth a bit, even though it hurt. Just to do something. Several times a day, they lowered and examined me, then hoisted me back up. But no one carne to lower the man next to me. They had forgotten him. He just hung there in the same position. I thought about the prisoner with the blanket wrapped around his head. They didn't seem to care whether we died. That man is dead, I thought. He looked like someone who had frozen to death in the snow.
I watched his chest for a while. Nothing moved. There's no way to survive if you're never taken down. I assumed the worst. That was something I learned over the years. Always assume the worst. Because that's how it's going to be.
And that's how it was.
I was strung up for about five days. As far as I could tell, it must have been between a minimum of four and a maximum of five days. Other prisoners in my pen told me it had been five days. I didn't think I would make it. I kept thinking, I can't take any more. Every person has his limits, and I often believed I had reached mine.
Today I know that a lot of inmates died from treatment like this. Other prisoners also saw our fellow prisoners die from being strung up. In Guantanamo, rumors went around that many people had died this way in Bagram, another U.S. military base in Afghanistan. Almost all of the prisoners at Guantanamo had been held first in either Bagram or Kandahar. And there were many people in Kandahar who never returned to their pens after being interrogated.
Later, my lawyers told me that some of the prisoners who disappeared had been set free while others had simply never been heard from again. Sometimes, you would see someone you thought was long dead. One of them was Yassir, an Arab American I met in Kandahar. I didn't know he was in Guantanamo, although we both spent time in solitary confinement in the same cell block. At the end of my imprisonment there, I learned from my American attorney that he had been freed. What's more, not all prisoners were tortured with the same intensity. They carefully selected certain prisoners to be treated especially harshly.
For example, Dilawar. He was a taxi driver from Afghanistan. There was talk that he had been transporting a generator in his car, and when they stopped him, they accused him of using it to fire rockets. They hung him up and beat him until he died. He probably died of thirst.
Thinking back on my time in Kandahar, I can't cry, and when I talk to someone who was in Guantanamo, we laugh about it. We laugh a lot about how we were beaten and how we used to listen to one another screaming. What else are we supposed to do? Sit down and cry? It happened, and now it's over. Either I talk about it seriously, or I feel like I have to laugh. So I laugh. But I haven't forgotten a thing.
It's strange. I'm sitting here in my room, and everything is the same as when I was thirteen: the CDs I used to listen to are still on the shelf, Tupac and Snoop Dogg. The same curtains hang in the windows, my model boat is on the window sill, and my barbells are on the floor. It's as though I never got any older. When I first returned to my room, after being imprisoned for five years, I ate some mandarin oranges. Mandarins are good. I sit here and think about Kandahar, and I feel at home. I'm well fed, and the house is warm. I can eat and drink. Everything is here.
But I've learned that pain is part of life. That's the way life is.
When they finally took me off the hook, I lay on the ground for two days. I slept as much as possible. I hadn't eaten anything and hardly had anything to drink. Sometimes they offered me something to drink, but they'd just pour the water over my head and laugh. Once they stuffed an apple in my mouth and told me to eat. But I couldn't eat, and the soldiers laughed.
Then the escort team came and brought me back to the pen. It was raining. I lay down in the mud. I could still hardly move, and I fell asleep. At some point I had to go the toilet. I went to the bucket.
Then a woman came. Female soldiers often came and watched when we went to the toilet. We had to remove our overalls almost completely to use the bucket. It was humiliating. The women cracked stupid jokes about our private parts.
About fifteen soldiers, approximately one-third of them women, patrolled in shifts. It was only the women, not the men, who said anything, when we went to the toilet. I tried only to go to the toilet when there weren't any soldiers nearby. My fellow prisoners were polite enough not to watch.
Later on, soldiers appeared and called my number. They escorted me from the pen and told me to stop and get undressed. It was winter, and they had a bucket of cold water, which they poured over my head. They enjoyed that. The women stood in a circle around me with their weapons and laughed.
I was ashamed, but I wasn't voluntarily naked. I don't want to repeat what they said, although I remember most of it. They called this treatment the "shower." Some of the other prisoners were also treated this way, and in my case it was usually at the hands of female soldiers. Perhaps it was because, even though I'd lost a lot of weight, I had been in very good shape.
"053, get ready for your shower!"
Although the water was ice-cold, it felt burning hot on my skin. Sometimes even the water in the bottles that they threw over the fence of our pen was frozen. We could only drink it after we had warmed it up underneath our overalls.
The prophet Abraham was stripped naked before he was cast into the flames. That's why it is said that he will be the first to receive clothing in paradise. "The help of Allah alone is what I need!" Abraham said when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to offer him his assistance. "God is my protector. I expect help only from him." They threw Abraham into the fire. But he didn't feel the flames, and he wasn't burned. Allah commanded the fire not to burn him, and Abraham felt fine in the flames.
I sat in my usual spot and thought about what would happen next. Two prisoners sat beside me, Erhan and Serkan, or sometimes it was an Arab or an Afghan. We were moved repeatedly. Every couple of days they'd build a new pen, and new prisoners would be brought there. I met some Uzbeks from Afghanistan-their language is like ancient Turkish. There are some eight million people of Turkish descent living in Afghanistan, as I found out; they come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which border Afghanistan to the north. In Kandahar I began to learn new languages. The Uzbeks also spoke Farsi, and that was helpful because they could help me talk to the Afghans.
"053, get ready!"
I looked around. It was dark.
I went to the fence. A short distance away, next to the Americans, were two other soldiers wearing different uniforms. I noticed that immediately, even in the darkness. I'd never seen uniforms like that in the camp. I studied the uniforms and saw the colors of the German flag on their sleeves. German soldiers? Were these the German soldiers I'd been hoping for? Somehow, I had the feeling that these two soldiers weren't going to get me out of here and take me back home. Still, perhaps it would be possible to send a message back home.
"That's him," said one of the Americans. "That's the German guy."
The German guy. Had the two soldiers come here because of me?
Now I could see them better. They really did have German flags on their epaulettes. One soldier had dark hair; the other was blond and a bit more powerfully built.
I could see their faces. They nodded and looked me in the eye.
"Picked the wrong side, didn't you," said the dark-haired one in German. "Look at the ground!"
That was all they said. They didn't ask me anything, and they didn't seem to want anything from me. I sat back down on my spot.
A half hour later, my number was called again. I lay on my stomach with my hands behind my back, and they put the cuffs on. The escort team led me to a military truck. Behind it were the two German soldiers.
Were they waiting for me? What did they want? Would they help me perhaps?
The escort team threw me to the ground in front of their feet. I heard the Americans step back. The dark-haired soldier approached. He bent down to me and grabbed me by the hair. He pulled my head up and turned it so that we were staring each other in the eye.
"Do you know who we are?" he yelled, again in German. "We're KSK. German special forces."
I didn't say anything. This was not the time for a conversation. I lay there at his feet in the frozen mud, and he held my head in his hands.
Then he slammed my nose into the ground.
The soldier stood up, and I felt a kick. One of the two German soldiers had kicked me in the side. I couldn't see which one it was.
They hadn't come here to help me.
The German soldiers laughed. I heard the escort team, too, begin to laugh a little further off.
Then the Germans went away. They just left me lying there. The escort team came, picked me up and led me back to the pen. I was sitting in my spot again. My head buzzed, I felt nauseous, and my nose was bloody. I asked myself why they had treated me like that. The Americans tortured me because I was supposed to confess to being a terrorist. But why did the Germans do that? Did they hate me for being Turkish?
Still, I hoped that something good would come of the situation. The German soldiers would probably have to file a report. They wouldn't report that they had abused me, but they would mention that they had seen me in the camp. They had to tell the German authorities about me. Then not only my family, but also the state would know that I was being held in an American military base in Kandahar.
That same evening I saw the German special-forces soldiers patrolling the camp with the American troops. As they approached our pen, I could see the blond soldier showing the Americans his machine gun. It was very different from the M-16s the Americans carried. To demonstrate how it worked, the German soldier shouldered his weapon and pointed it at us. I could now see that it was equipped with a laser aiming device. I saw the red dot wander through the gloom, stopping on the heads of the prisoners. The German special forces soldier was only a few meters away from us and was aiming at our heads.
The Americans seemed to be fascinated by this. The dot from the laser went from head to head.
Other soldiers joined their group, expressing their enthusiasm for the weapon.
One day, the first of the prisoners were led away in groups. Word was that they were being moved. But we quickly realized they were being taken away from the camp. But where to? We didn't know. Then someone said they were taking us all away by plane.
They always came and took ten to twenty people. They always took a few people from every group, from every pen. This went on for a couple of weeks. Once a week, the same procedure. The prisoners all had to approach the fence, and those whose numbers were called had to get ready for the escort team. We never saw them again.
The camp was full of rumors. Some people thought they were taking us to a prison in the United States. Others believed we were being set free since they couldn't prove anything against us. Others still thought we were going to the electric chair. For days, we talked about how we were going to die.
"No," said one of the Uzbeks. "In the United States, they inject you with a needle full of poison. You're given some sleeping pills, and when you're unconscious, the poison is injected."
"How do you know?" asked someone else.
"I saw it in an American movie called Dead Man Walking. About some guy. In the end he was dead, but he wasn't walking."
We couldn't help but laugh at that.
"No way," said a Pakistani, who claimed to have been in the United States and know the country. "We're going to fry."
"They'll hang us," said the Uzbek. "They still have the death penalty by hanging in the United States."
"They've already hung us," I said and held up my hands.
We kept speculating about how they were going to kill us.
I had been reunited with the two Turks in the same pen, and we could talk with one another.
"But why would they want to torture us to death if we're innocent?" asked Serkan. We asked ourselves what was going to happen next, whether Turks would come and get us and put us in jail.
I had known Erhan and Serkan for some time, but it was only on the final night before we were taken away that I learned where Serkan was from. He said that he had a small carpenter's shop in his hometown. I asked him which town. Sakarya on the Black Sea, he said.
That was where my mother came from.
I had a lot of relatives there, I told him. Every year we went there and spent the summer in a village just outside the main town.
He told me about a certain spot on the sea where I had often gone swimming too. His carpenter's shop was located at a street crossing where an old eucalyptus tree stood. I remembered the street and the tree. Perhaps we had seen one another there on the beach.
I didn't sleep a wink that night. For the first time, I thought again about Turkey, about Sakarya, the town where, a few months previously, I had married Fatima. I thought about my grandfather's village, Kusca. My grandfather grew hazelnut trees there. He made his living from them, just as half of the village had for generations.
I saw the grove in front of his house.