FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE -- AN INNOCENT MAN IN GUANTANAMO
Chapter 5: GUANTANAMO BAY, CAMP X-RAY
"053, GET READY FOR THE ESCORT TEAM!"
It was still dark. The numbers of Erhan and Serkan and of the two Uzbeks were also called. It was our turn.
We were gathered at a spot in front of the open hanger, led off one by ne, and brought to a tent. There they cut off our beards and shaved our heads. At least they would no longer be able to drag me around by the hair, I thought.
We received new orange-colored overalls, and they chained us back up.
"We're gonna put you now into the same cave with Osama bin Laden," said the soldier who had shaved my head, "and then we're gonna shoot you."
They didn't put a sack over my head this time. Instead they wrapped it up like a package with soundproof headphones, a gas mask, blinders, and watertight, thick black diving goggles. The soldier tightened the handcuffs so that they immediately began to hurt. It was hardly bearable.
"Too strong," I murmured underneath the mask. I was trying to tell the soldier that the handcuffs were too tight, but I didn't know the right word.
"Let me see," I heard another soldier say, who must have been standing next to the first one. I held out the cuffs in his direction, but he tightened them even more around my wrists. You bastard, I thought. He put something thick and stiff over my hands-gloves or maybe mittens. Then he hit me in the face and kicked me in the genitals. I fell. They carried me out of the tent and threw me on the ground. I was told to lie there on my side.
"You guys are going to get shot," the soldier said.
That I understood. And as I lay there for four, five, or maybe six hours in front of the hangar, I also understood the purpose of all of the get-up. The gloves weren't meant to warm my hands, and the headphones and mask weren't there to protect my ears and face. They were there to ensure the soldiers' safety, so we couldn't bite, scratch, or spit at them. We couldn't cough any bacteria into their faces, spread any germs, or infect them with a disease. They didn't care whether we suffocated under the masks.
I knew what awaited us: a first-class flight. They chained us together and herded us onto the plane. We were bound so tightly we couldn't move a millimeter. Again, I thought that they were taking us to an American military base in Turkey. What else was I supposed to think?
Sleep would have been the only consolation in such a situation. But the soldiers kept hitting us to keep us awake. I thought about the American movies I had seen in Bremen. Action flicks and war movies. I used to admire the Americans. Now I was getting to know their true nature.
I say that without anger. It's simply the truth, as I saw and experienced it. I don't want to insult anyone, and I'm not talking about all Americans. But the ones I encountered are terrified of pain. They're afraid of every little scratch, bacteria, and illness. They're like little girls, I'd say. If you examine Americans closely, you realize this-no matter how big or powerful they are. But in movies, they're always the heroes.
The flight must have lasted twenty-seven hours. Somewhere we made a stopover. We weren't able to move throughout the entire flight. They never loosened the restraints, not for a moment. We didn't know where we had landed or where they were taking us. We didn't even know if we were going to arrive alive.
I felt the heat immediately and could hear the barking of dogs in spite of the soundproof headphones. Through the goggles, I could perceive the bright light of the sun. On the runway, the first prisoners collapsed. They took off our face masks. The sunlight was blinding. We were told to lie on the ground. I kept my eyes closed. I heard the clicking of cameras. We were being photographed.
I carefully opened my eyes, but all I could see were boots on the glittering concrete surface. They put our masks back on- ine was a bit loose. They herded us into a bus. It was white. It was dark inside the vehicle. There were no seats in the bus, just hooks attached to the floor. They chained us to the hooks so that we could neither sit nor stand properly. They kept hitting us, and the dogs, which had been taken onto bus, bit us.
"Don't sit like that!"
A blow followed.
"Sit up straight!"
It was unbelievably hot on the bus. We must be in a country with warm winters, I thought. Southern Turkey? It was February or March. Maybe somewhere near the city of Adana. Adana could have been this hot. It was definitely above ninety degrees.
I felt the bus drive across a bridge or an on-ramp. Then we stopped. The bus began to sway. We must be on a ship, I thought. They were kicking us constantly, and the ship listed to one side. Is there an American military base on an island off the coast of Adana, I asked myself. Or are they taking us to Cyprus? Then we rolled back down the ramp and left the ship. At some point-we couldn't have driven more than a half-hour -- the bus stopped.
"Get out! Out!"
We had to kneel and lower our heads to our chests. There was a crunching sound. From under my mask, I could see gravel. I don't know how long exactly we knelt there. Several hours. The heat was unbearable. In Afghanistan and on the plane, it had been ice-cold. The soldiers were constantly yelling and hitting us. At last, I was allowed to stand up. The soldiers pushed me forward, and I stumbled barefoot across the gravel. The way was long, with lots of left and right turns. They yelled at me the whole time.
"We'll kill you!"
Then a soldier yelled, "Stop!" Someone took the mask from my head. I was standing in a tent. I saw a name tag. It was the first time I saw a soldier with his name on his chest. I will never forget it. Two other soldiers held my arms tight. They took off the gloves.
"I speak German," said the man with the name tag. "We're going to have a really great time together."
A number of soldiers were busy doing things to me. They pulled out hairs from my arms, put a swab in my mouth, and took my fingerprints. Someone was always fiddling with me. The procedure took quite a while. I kept looking at the one soldier's chest, at his name tag. I was weighed, and they measured my height.
"Name?" they asked.
It was a wonder to me that I could still talk. I hadn't slept properly in weeks because of the noise from the planes, bombs, and electrical generators in Kandahar and because of the interrogations. But at least I was standing up. I was happy to be standing because we sat the whole time on the plane. I didn't know how I was able to stand. It was almost as though the name tag on the male soldier's chest was keeping me upright. I will call him Cecil Stewart.
They put an armband on me. There was a new number on it: 061. It was green and made of plastic.
"This is a nice place," said one of the soldiers who had taken hair and saliva samples. "Lots of trees."
Trees? Were they making fun of me?
He pointed outside the tent.
The tent door was open. I couldn't see any trees. I saw hills. Hills and sand and cactus. Big cactus. There aren't any trees where cacti grow.
"Do you know why you're here?" I heard the man with the nametag ask.
"Do you know what the Germans did to the Jews?" he said. "That's exactly what we're going to do with you."
Someone grabbed me by the shirt and pushed me out of the tent. Outside I saw a number of tightly packed rows of chain-link fence. It was like a labyrinth. I saw another prisoner in his orange overalls being led through the fencing. The soldiers immediately threw me to the ground. I landed on the gravel. "Lie there!" The man with the nametag pressed his knee into the back of my neck, pushing my face into the gravel, so that I could no longer see the other prisoner and the escort team. Only when they were out of sight did we move on.
Where is the prison they're taking me to? I asked myself.
We passed through a number of doors in the chain-link fence and arrived at a pen, also made of chain-link fence. These were cages. Prisoners in orange overalls were already sitting there, each in their own little cages. One beside the other, all in a row, like tigers or lions in a zoo. The labyrinth had to be pretty big if we were all going to fit in here. Surely these strange cages were only an intermediate station. But all I could see around me were hills and cactus. Maybe the prison was over the crest of one of the hills. The soldiers opened up a cage and pushed me inside. I was told to kneel.
"You are Charlie-Charlie-3. Say it!"
"Charlie-Charlie-3," I said. I had trouble understanding. Why was my cage called Charlie-Charlie-3?
Then the soldier took off the chains and locked the door in the fence.
"Sit down!" they ordered.
I sat down.
"Don't move!" they snarled.
I didn't move. They yelled something else that I didn't understand, but I suspected it was about how they were going to kill me. But surely they could have done that a lot more easily earlier. The soldiers left.
I thought they would come back in a few minutes and get me. I sat somewhat more comfortably Indian-style and collected myself. I rubbed my wrists and ankles, which were swollen and bloody. At least they had taken the cuffs off. That felt better, and I calmed down a bit, even though I felt a stinging sensation, as if being poked by a thousand needles. I need to distract myself so I looked around.
In the cage, there were two plastic buckets, the color of eggshells and semitransparent. One contained some water that stank. Perhaps for washing, I thought. The other seemed to be the toilet. There was a thin foam mattress, less than an inch thick, on the ground and a blanket on top. Next to the blanket were a piece of soap, a towel, and a pair of flip-flops. We'll be taking these new things with us, I thought. We're probably just waiting here while they prepare our cells.
The prisoners in the other cages greeted me.
One of the prisoners in a nearby cage looked like an Afghan Uzbek. He, too, greeted me. I asked him in Turkish how long he'd been here, but he didn't understand. I tried to communicate with my hands. You? Here? I counted on my fingers: one, two, three, four ...
The Uzbek answered in his native tongue and held up all his fingers twice: "Twenty." I took this to mean twenty minutes. He'd been in his cage twenty minutes longer than I had in mine.
I waited. Someone would soon come and get us. Still seated, I measured my cage with my hand. I knew from my shipbuilder's apprenticeship how long the span between my thumb and little finger was when my fingers were stretched out. So I didn't need a measuring tape to figure out that the cage was six feet by seven. It was around six feet high. All told, it was less than fifteen square feet. In Germany, there's a law that kennels in the animal shelter have to be at least twenty square feet. I knew that because I myself had been a dog owner.
I waited and looked around. Not far from me, a prisoner was being led through the chain-link fences. He was still wearing his mask and the soundproof headphones, and I heard the soldiers screaming at him. They kept walking back and forth along the same passageway. Now I understood how we had come here. I thought that we had walked a long distance, but the spot where we had been forced to kneel for hours before they took the mask off was only a few yards away from my cage. We had kneeled directly beside one another, but we didn't know that. They led us around in circles until we thought that we were in a large camp or a prison. But the whole time we had always been in the same place within the maze of chain-link fence pens.
I thought, if it's March, my birthday is coming up. What a surprise.
Suddenly I heard a quiet splashing. A frog was swimming in the bucket of water. I had only ever seen them on television- frogs don't live on the Weser River in Bremen. It must have been looking for water in this desert. Where had it come from? I fished him out of the stinking water. It sat on my hand and looked at me, breathing rapidly. I tried to pat it gently, but it hopped to the ground and disappeared through the fence.
Hour upon hour I waited. No one came. No one was brought away and relocated. In the end, guards came with something to eat. On paper plates, as I saw from a distance, but it was something. Until now we had only ever gotten Emaries. I was looking forward to eating some real food. Maybe everything would get better. It couldn't be any worse than in Kandahar.
That would prove to be a mistake ... in every respect.
As the guards approached my cage, all I saw on the plate were three spoonfuls of rice, a slice of dry bread, and a plastic spoon. That was it. They shoved the plates through a small square opening around knee-height within the fencing. I thought there must be some sort of mistake. Perhaps something had fallen off the plate. Then I saw the rations given to the Uzbek. It was the same miserably tiny pile of rice, or maybe even less. I would have rather had an Emarie. At least they contained crackers.
I ate the rice and looked at my armband. The rice was cold and not fully cooked; the kernels were as hard as sand. But it was all I had to eat. My armband read: "Kunn, Murat, male, Turkish, 5-foot-4, 165 pounds."
They had misspelled my name-after all the time they kept me in custody and despite having confiscated my travel papers. I drank some water from the bucket. I was exhausted. The difference in climate between here and Kandahar was enormous.
Suddenly, within a matter of minutes, the sky grew dark. The sun was gone, and harsh bright lights were switched on. The light came from neon lamps affixed to the corrugated aluminum roof and a large number of spotlights that were mounted on sentry posts and the fences. It reminded me of the soccer stadium in Bremen. From loudspeakers that must have been hanging somewhere, there came some static and then a call to prayer. The time for evening prayers was a while ago, I thought, but then suddenly the voice was drowned out by loud music. It was the American national anthem. I heard the other prisoners start to complain, but that didn't help. At some point, I knelt, carried out the prayer ritual and said as well as I could in Arabic: "Praise be to Allah. Allah hears all who praise him." I bowed thirty-three times. Rock music was now blaring from the speakers, almost too loud to bear. The volume was louder than in any Bremen disco I'd ever experienced.
I had a sneaking suspicion that the Uzbek hadn't been saying he'd been in his cage twenty minutes longer than me. He had meant twenty days. They weren't going to be taking us to prison today. That was all right by me. Despite the light and the noise, all I wanted to do was sleep.
But I couldn't sleep. Every few minutes, guards came and pounded the fence with their nightsticks. Every few minutes someone, sometimes next to me and sometimes in front of me, killed something in his cage and threw it out-snakes, rats, and spiders, The guards' boots crunched on the gravel And then there were the 1,000-watt spotlights.
The guards returned. We all had to get up and "identify ourselves." We had to extend our hands through the opening in the cage where the food had been shoved through, so that they could read our armbands, Later they pounded on the fencing of my cage because I had my hands under the blanket.
"Take your hands out!"
Later still, they rattled the fencing because I was lying on my side.
"Lie on your back!"
At some point, I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
Camp X-Ray had been built especially for us, and true to its name, it was supposed to be a prison camp in which everything was completely transparent, This was something entirely new, There were no cells where you could be alone, There was no privacy, no protection from the watching eyes of the guards or the cameras, not even for a second, The cages were so small that it drove you to desperation, At the same time, nature-and freedom-were so tantalizingly close it could make you go crazy, An animal has more space in its cage in a zoo and is given more to eat. I can hardly put into words what that actually means.
The cellblocks all had a second roof of corrugated tin, but the cages were still somewhat in the wilderness, The sun beat down, and there was no refuge in the shade unless the sun was shining directly on the tin roof, which hung about a foot above the chain-link fence roof proper of the cages, The aluminum also heated up fast, We were just as exposed to the rain since it always was driven in from the side. You couldn't escape it no matter which comer of the cage you crept into.
The camp contained six cell-blocks: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot. The blocks were separated by narrow corridors through the chain-link fence pens. Every block had six wings, also named from Alpha to Foxtrot. Awing consisted of ten cages arranged at a right angle. Every cage had a name: Alpha-Bravo 1, Bravo-Charlie 5, Delta-Alpha 9. I was in Charlie-Charlie 3. There were high chain-link walls around the six blocks, interrupted by guard towers with sharp- shooters.
The initial days in Camp X-Ray weren't easy. I didn't know we were in Cuba. I had no idea what rules applied here. The rules were constantly changing anyway, and you'd get punished for breaking them. The first night I learned that I was only allowed to cover my legs, and nothing else, with the blanket, and that I wasn't allowed to sleep on my side, only on my back. In the days that followed, I learned that I wasn't allowed to get up and walk around my cage. During the day, we had to remain seated and at night we had to lie down. If you lay down during the day, you were punished. We weren't allowed to touch the fence or even lean our backs up against it. We weren't allowed to talk. We weren't to speak to or look at the guards. We weren't allowed to draw in the sand or whistle or sing or smile. Every time I unknowingly broke a rule or, because they had just invented a new one, did something I shouldn't have, the IRF team would come and beat me.
IRF stood for "Immediate Reaction Force" and consisted of five to eight soldiers with plastic shields, breastplates, hard- plastic knee-, elbow-, and shoulder-protectors, helmets with plastic visors, gloves with hard-plastic knuckles, heavy boots, and billy clubs. I would say they were thugs. Thugs whose entire bodies were protected by bullet- and knife-proof gear. They didn't have weapons with them other than the billy clubs-probably because they were afraid of us getting our hands on them.
I often saw fear in their eyes as they stood in front of our cages and waited to be deployed, even though we didn't have shoes on and were already cowering on the ground. They came with pepper spray in a kind of pressurized aerosol gun that they could aim precisely at a prisoner from ten feet away. It contained oleoresin capisicum, which is made from chili peppers. They sprayed the entire cage and waited until the prisoner was completely unable to resist. Then they stormed in.
I heard loud rock music, and I heard their commands. The pepper spray burned my nose, throat, and eyes. I had to cough. The burning was diabolical.
"Get up!" they yelled.
"Get to the wall!"
"Hands to the wall!"
I couldn't see anything, couldn't breathe, and didn't know what was happening to me. I heard them beating the fence with their billy clubs. When the cage door was opened, I heard them yelling. I felt a baton blow to my head. I huddled, and they beat me. They picked me up and threw me to the ground. They kicked and punched me. I curled up into a ball. Then I got angry and tried to defend myself. I jumped to my feet, blind, and started swinging my arms. I got hold of someone's helmet, but they forced me back down and grabbed me by the genitals. They held my arms and legs to the ground, until I was lying there like an animal about to be drawn and quartered. One of them pressed his shield on my chest, while another punched me in the face. At some point, I couldn't hear the music anymore. I heard nothing.
I didn't get much sleep the night of my first visit from the IRF team. I lay on my back-shaken by throbbing pain and the pounding bass from the music-and tried not to move. I had learned that I was only allowed to cover my legs with the blanket and had to keep my hands in plain view on my stomach. I heard the IRF team many times that night. I prayed to Allah that they wouldn't return to my cage.
The next morning, my whole body hurt. I sat up and looked around. It was still dark outside the fences, but breakfast had already arrived: a hardboiled egg without its shell, a slice of dry bread, and a few peas. I heard a couple of the prisoners calling to the guards. It was always the same word:
A short time later, the guards came and brought the prisoners a small piece of toilet paper. They shoved through the square hole in the cage.
"TP!" I called.
I didn't get any toilet paper. I had learned that toilet paper was a matter left entirely up to the guard. If he felt like giving you some, you got some. If not, you had to improvise.
A short time later, the escort team arrived. They bound me, and we walked through the corridors in the chain-link fencing. They pressed my head down so that I couldn't look around. At every door, the guard who did the unlocking read my armband and searched me for weapons. We left Block Charlie, went through the corridor between Charlie and Bravo, walked along Bravo and arrived in the corridor between Bravo and Alpha. All I could see was the gravel and the cages with other prisoners. Suddenly someone called out in Turkish.
"Murat, Murat! It's me!"
It was Nuri's voice.
Nuri was a Turk I'd met in Kandahar. He sat next to me in front of the hangar while we were waiting to be loaded on to the plane. He had looked terrible. His eyes were swollen, his lips were split, his wrists and ankles bled from the cuffs, and some of his teeth had been knocked out. I had asked him what his name was and where he came from. He said he came from Izmir. That was the city where my father was born.
Nuri was an electrician. He was married and had two children. We had heard the constant screaming of prisoners being tortured in the hangar. Nuri had said:
"Now we're going back to where we came from."
Allah, he said, had created us from earth, and the earth was where we would return.
"Do you think," Nuri had asked, "that they'll just let us go after all they've done to us?"
"In any case, it will be better than here," I had answered, "whether or not they kill us."
Nuri had laughed. "You're right. But I'm still worried about my children."
So Nuri was here, I heard him, but I wasn't able to turn my head enough to see him. I couldn't answer.
"Try to get transferred to Block Alpha."
How was I supposed to do that?
''Ask the guards," he said. "Ask them to move you here."
I heard him call the guards. They stopped and let my head go, Nuri glared at one of them and gestured for him to come closer. He pointed to an insect crawling on his arm. He pointed to the guard, as though saying: You are this insect. Then he squashed the bug with his hand.
We came to an open space. There was an electric car like a golf cart. We drove in it past a row of long, low buildings, made of chipboard. They were arranged in blocks of four, raised on stilts about three feet off the ground.
Soldiers and an African American woman in uniform waited in front of the building where we stopped. The soldiers frisked me, then the woman asked:
"Do you have any weapons?"
That was ridiculous. Where was I supposed to get any weapons?
I said, "Yes, I have."
"Where?" the woman asked and immediately took a step back.
I bared my teeth.
The woman ran away, calling out that I had tried to bite her. Other soldiers hurried up and threw me on the ground.
"You want to bite the guards?"
One spoke loudly and quickly. I could hardly understand a word.
"No, no," I said. "No problem. I don't bite women."
They pressed me to the ground and screamed at me. They were nervous.
I hadn't been counting on that. I heard them call an IRF team.
"He wants to bite," the officer said.
The IRF team hit me a couple of times. Then they picked me up and brought me into one of the wooden buildings. There were two rooms, fifteen to twenty square feet, obviously for interrogations. The building had looked much bigger from the outside. There was a chair in the middle of the room. I was told to sit. There was a massive ring in the floor, and they attached the chains between my feet to it with a padlock. The chains around my feet were attached to another chain that ran around my stomach and was attached to my handcuffs.
I couldn't stand up, raise my hands, or even move. In front of me was a table and another chair. That was all. There were two doors but no windows. All around me there was compressed wood. Even the table was made of compressed wood. I looked around the bare space. I didn't see a camera or a mirror. My interrogator would enter through the second door. Behind it there had to be another room, the camera room. But where were the cameras? A guard stood at my side.
My interrogator came out of the second door. He was in his mid-forties.
"This is a great opportunity," he said in German. "I'm looking forward to speaking German with you. I don't want to forget it."
He spoke with an accent, but his German was fluent. I was surprised. At least I would have the chance to explain myself in German and prove my innocence. But before I could say a word, he told me that he went to university for a few years in Germany. I think he said in Frankfurt. I waited for him to finish.
He lit a cigarette.
He didn't ask me any questions. Instead, he just talked. He had shared a house with other American students, and they had regularly smoked hashish. A woman from the authorities regularly came to their house with a dog trained to sniff out drugs. But they knew when she was coming so they would break the hashish into little pieces and spread it all over the carpet with a toothbrush. The dog went crazy because he smelled the scent of hashish everywhere, and the woman was happy because she seemed to have discovered the drugs. But she couldn't find them, and every time she left disappointed.
Why was he telling me this silly story?
He was excitable. A lot of the time, he was laughing. There was a file with some papers and a pen on his desk. He told me some more stories, which bored me. He was talking as if I were hardly even there. I think all he wanted was to hear himself speaking German. Or was he trying to win me over?
Whatever, I thought. At least, I was sitting in a chair and no one was beating me.
Suddenly he asked: "Do you know what we have in store for you?"
I smiled and held the smile long enough so he was sure to see it.
"Yes," I said.
His expression changed. He had probably been expecting a different reaction. He continued to smoke.
I had hoped I would finally be allowed to explain. But I soon realized that this man wasn't at all interested in whether or not I was innocent.
"Tell me your life story," he said.
I started telling him about my apprenticeship as a shipbuilder.
"No, start with your childhood," he said. "Tell me about your childhood."
I told him about going to school in Hemelingen, but he kept interrupting me, he wanted to know names. The names of the friends I had mentioned. He wanted to know if I had any girlfriends-their names interested him, too. He wanted to know when and where I had spent my time and which discotheques I had worked for. Names, names, names.
He said it was obvious that as a terrorist I had only tried to hide in the discos, that I was using them for cover.
"I know you terrorists," he said.
Why should I have tried to hide in a disco?
"You didn't use to wear a beard," he said. "A disguise. You only used your girlfriends."
He was always interrupting me. Did he really think I was a major terrorist?
"I know all your stories. You might as well start with the truth."
He kept smoking.
I told him about my interest in kung-fu.
"Typical for terrorists," he said. "You've all had training in martial arts. Of course, you have. But you're probably the only one who admits it."
He wanted to know which fitness and karate studios I'd worked out in. He said he himself went to a fitness studio.
"Mohammed Atta had a fitness studio in Germany, but behind the scenes he planned his attacks. Just like you."
"I only worked out in my studio in Bremen, nothing else," I said. "I don't know what Mohammed Atta did. I only know him from television."
He wrote down everything I said. I noticed that he used a different pen than the one he had put on the table at the beginning of the interrogation, which he had handled so strangely. It dawned on me that there had to be a hidden camera in that pen. He had placed it on the desk with the cover pointing directly at me so that the camera could film me head on. He never used it for writing, and he handled it so carefully that I knew it had to contain a miniature camera. That much I knew about electronics.
The interrogation lasted for several hours. I told him everything up to the day of my arrest in Peshawar. A few times he stood up and left the room briefly. Perhaps he went to get a bite to eat or something to drink.
He packed up his files and carefully put the camera-pen into his breast pocket.
"That's enough for today," he said. "I know you're lying. From the beginning to the end. That's only going to make your situation worse. Bad luck, boy. You shouldn't lie."
"I'm not lying. Why should I be lying?"
"We know exactly who you are. But we wanted to hear it from you in your own words. You blew your chance!"
Then he left, and the escort team brought me back to my cage. They searched me for weapons and then left me alone.
In the meantime, my sneaking suspicion had become a certainty, The Uzbek had indeed meant twenty days and not twenty minutes. The cages weren't temporary pens, They were the prison, wherever it was we were, There wasn't going to be anything else, These cages were my future, I realized that now. But for how long? Chayr Insha Allah. With Allah's will, good things should happen.
But how could any good things happen here?
The guards came and said: "Get ready for a shower!"
I remembered those words from Kandahar.
I stripped down to the boxer shorts they had given us, put the towel, soap, and flip-flops under my arm and waited, They came back with the IRF team and a German shepherd, What had I done wrong now? I only learned later that some prisoners were always accompanied by the IRF team when they were taken to showers or interrogations. They were the ones who were especially strong or had trained in martial arts. Others were just escorted by normal guards.
"Turn around and get on your knees! Hands on your head!"
I turned around, knelt, and put my hands on my head. They entered the cage and put me in handcuffs and foot shackles, Then we walked through the chain-link fences until we got to the showers. They were ordinary cages like the ones in which we were imprisoned, but they were divided in two and there was a hose hanging from the fence. A guard outside the cage turned on the water, They put me in the cage and took off the handcuffs. A thin stream of water came out of the hose, I stepped under it, and as I took the soap and lathered myself up, a quick countdown began, Three-two-one-over. There was no more water. My body was still covered in soap suds, but the soldier operating the tap said:
"Your time is up."
That was what they called taking a shower.
On the way back to my cage, one of the soldiers asked me if I worked out and, if so, in what form.
"Hey, you got big arms," he said. "What do you do?"
I said nothing.
When I arrived back at my cage, I could hardly believe my eyes. There was a new prisoner in Charlie-Charlie 1, which had previously been unoccupied. He was young, around my age, maybe nineteen or twenty. He lay on the ground, making soft noises. He wasn't crying. Instead I thought I could make out something of a melody, a sad song in Arabic. He didn't have any legs. His wounds were still fresh.
I sat in my cage, hardly daring to look, but every once in a while I had to glance in his direction. The stumps of his legs were full of pus. The bandages wrapped around them had turned red and yellow. Everything was bloody and moist. He had frostbite marks on his hands. He seemed hardly able to move his fingers. I watched as he tried to get up. He crawled over to the bucket in his cage and tried to sit on it. He had to go to the toilet. He tried to raise himself up with his hands on the chain-link fence, but he didn't make it. He couldn't hold on with his swollen fingers. Still he tried, until a guard came and hit his hands with his billy-club. The young man fell to the ground.
Every time he tried to hoist himself onto the bucket, the guards came and hit him on the hands. No one was allowed to touch the fence-that was an iron law. But a young man with no legs? They told him he wasn't allowed to stand up. But how could he have done that without arty legs? He wasn't even allowed to lean on the fence or to crawl onto the bucket.
Over the next few days, I talked to him a bit. I could hardly understand him. His name was Abdul Rahman, and he came from Saudi Arabia. I think he said he had been at Bagram, where he had been exposed to extreme cold, just as we had at Kandahar. That's why he had frostbite in his fingers and legs. American doctors had amputated his legs at a military field hospital.
I felt incredibly sorry for Abdul. He must have been in unbelievable pain, and he looked half-starved to death. Nonetheless, they just threw him in a cage and left him lying there instead of treating his injuries. How was he supposed to survive? What kind of doctors were they? And the guards that hit his hands ... what kind of people were they?
The bandages wrapped around Abdul's stumps were never changed. When he took them off himself, they were full of blood and pus. He showed the bandage to the guards and pointed to his open wounds. The guards ignored him. Later I saw how he tried to wash the bandages in his bucket of drinking water. But he could hardly move his hands, so he wasn't able to. And even if he had, where would he have hung them up to dry? He wasn't allowed to touch the fence. He wrapped his stumps back up in the dirty bandages.
When the guards came to take him to be interrogated, they ordered him to sit with his back to the door and put his hands on his head. When they opened the door, they stormed in as they did with every other prisoner. They hit him on the back and pushed him on the ground. Then they handcuffed and bound him so he could no longer move. Abdul howled in pain.
Why did they do this? He had no legs and only weighed around a hundred pounds. What could he do to them? Abdul was carried to interrogation. The guards put their arms under his armpits, pressing his shoulders, neck, and head down. They lifted him and carried him through the corridor, his stumps dangling in the air. Abdul cried out horribly. When he was brought back hours later, his face always looked like he had been beaten.
We spent a few weeks together in Charlie-Charlie. Abdul was always friendly and pleasant, a real nice guy. It took a while for us to communicate, but in the end we managed. I learned that, like myself, he was newly married. His wedding had been a couple of months ago. I asked him if his wife knew he had lost his legs. Of course she didn't-I should have known better. No one knew anything about us. We talked about sports a lot. Abdul said he liked playing soccer.
The strange thing was how calm he remained, even though he was in terrible pain. He was a person who never lost interest in others despite his own atrocious situation. When the IRF team beat him, he never cried. But when he heard or saw them beating prisoners in the other cages, he did cry. He cried in a loud voice. He still felt sympathy for others, even though he himself had been treated so inhumanely. Then he was moved, and I never saw him again.
Today I know that Abdul survived his injuries. His wounds healed, and he can use his hands again. He's gained weight, and he tries to keep himself in shape. I've heard from another prisoner that he can even do push-ups. Abdul had told the other inmate to say hi to me. As of 2007, he's still being held captive at Guantanamo.
Abdul wasn't the only prisoner who had parts of his body amputated. I saw other such cases in Guantanamo. I know of a prisoner who complained of a toothache. He was brought to a dentist, who pulled out his healthy teeth as well as the rotten one. I knew a man from Morocco who used to be a ship captain. He couldn't move one of his little fingers because of frostbite. The rest of his fingers were all right. They told him they would amputate the little finger. They brought him to the doctor, and when he carne back, he had no fingers left. They had amputated everything but his thumbs.
A lot of Afghans had been injured or maimed in the fighting. Some of them were missing an arm or a leg. I saw open wounds that weren't treated. A lot of people had been beaten so often they had broken legs, arms, and feet. The fractures, too, remained untreated. In Camp X-Ray I saw a man taken away to interrogation. When he returned, his arm was dangling as though it was only attached to the rest of his body by skin and tissue. The bone in his arm must have been completely severed, but he was simply thrown back into his cage. How was it supposed to heal?
I never saw anyone in a cast. That will heal by itself, the guards always said. Shortly before my release, I met another prisoner who had had two of his fingers broken by the IRF team. The swelling got worse over the days and weeks. I saw some of the people who suffered these injuries again. Others simply disappeared. Or perhaps I didn't recognize them. In the initial days in Camp X-Ray, we all had shaved heads and faces. Later most of us had long beards and hair. There were always prisoners whose arms, legs, and fingers had healed crookedly. They couldn't use their fingers or their limbs. Some of them only had one arm.
Over the years, I had a lot of toothaches and other health problems. But I tried to avoid being taken to the doctor at all costs. I wanted to keep my teeth, fingers, and legs.
I saw an elderly man who was blind. He was interrogated, beaten, and tortured the same way the rest of us were. The Americans didn't distinguish among us. The man, I was told, was over ninety. He was an Afghan. His hair and his beard were as white as snow.
A prisoner in a cage next to mine at Camp X-Ray told me his father was also being held at Guantanamo. He had asked the guards a number of times to be allowed to see him. They refused. It was not a unique case. There were lots of fathers and sons in Guantanamo. I knew an eighteen-year- old whose fifty-year-old father was also being kept prisoner. There were also lots of brothers. The fathers had to watch as their sons were beaten, and vice versa. Who can stand to watch his own father being beaten up? In Camp Delta, I saw the IRF team mistreat a prisoner in the cage facing mine. His son was imprisoned next to me. He was forced to watch everything.
Once in Camp X-Ray, I spit at a guard who had hit the old man. They came and said, You're going to be punished! I answered, What are you going to do, lock me up? I'm already in this cage. They beat me up. I'm not proud of what I did, but with some people all you can do is spit on them. This particular guard was maybe twenty or twenty-five years old. The old man was blind. I'd never experienced anything like it. How can people be so awful, so repulsive?
The first time I saw Abdul, I thanked my God that he had spared me that fate. I thanked Allah that I was doing a lot better than Abdul, although I was being tortured and kept locked up in a cage. Sometimes, when I heard the IRF team coming to Charlie-Charlie, I prayed they would come and beat me up and not Abdul.
During one of my interrogations, the American who spoke German showed me some newspaper clippings. They'd been printed out from a computer, and you could see the logo of the newspaper. The New York Times, the Washington Post. There was a whole pile of them. He translated the headlines.
"German Taliban Captured by Special Forces in Afghanistan Fighting."
Had they written those articles themselves? They sounded genuine. My interrogator read a couple of paragraphs out loud in English, then he translated: "Units of American special forces succeeded in capturing a German Taliban during fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan. The man who was trained in martial arts put up bitter resistance ..."
An American newspaper had written such lies about me?
"But you know that I was captured in Pakistan," I said.
"Yes, we know it," the man answered. "But the people on the outside don't know it. It's none of our business. Journalists write whatever they want."
The American laughed.
At night the creatures came. Perhaps they came down from the hills I could see during the day. Our cages were full of spiders, black widows, and small tarantulas. The tarantulas were black and covered in thick fur. We became good friends. The guards had no objection to us being visited by spiders. Family visits weren't allowed, but spiders were. I didn't care. Tarantulas don't kill people. If they bite you, all you get is a headache. The guards used to crush them into the gravel under their boots.
There was another type of spider the guards were afraid of. They called it the "brown la cruz" or something like that. The spider was reddish-brown, very small, and, with the exception of its backside, hairless. It was supposedly far more poisonous than a tarantula. Its bite could be fatal if not treated immediately. The spiders were able to jump. I always caught them and threw them as far away as I could. I didn't kill them. They hadn't done anything to me. You shouldn't kill any animal you don't intend to eat. The same goes for plants. Snakes also carne at night. They were attracted by the warmth of the gravel and concrete.
Charlie-Charlie was one of the outer rows of cages so we were the nearest to the surrounding natural environment. I never got as many visitors as I did there. One time a boa constrictor carne. It was very long and thin, and I thought-it still has a lot of growing to do. There were various kinds of snakes, brown ones, green, gray. But they did us no harm. I remembered the snakes in my grandfather's yard and in the hazelnut grove. I thought about the yellow one I had tried to kill with a branch and which Ibrahim had taken care of with a hazelnut twig. Now I felt sorry for it.
One night, I had just fallen asleep despite the din from the loudspeakers, when I felt something crawling on my hand. It felt like someone was trying to tickle me. I thought in my half-sleep that I was at home and my mother was trying to wake me up. She often used to wake me up by tickling me. I opened my eyes and saw that there was a scorpion on my hand. A little black scorpion. I threw it to the ground and crushed it under my foot. I knew that if I did this quickly he wouldn't have time to sting my foot.
Frogs often slipped through the chain-link fence. They looked nice. I don't know how they got into my cage, but suddenly they'd be sitting there. They were in search of water and would leap into the bucket. Sometimes I only saw them when I was drinking. They would be crouching at the bottom of the bucket. That always cheered me up.
The animals I liked best were the iguanas. I always kept some of my slice of bread to feed them. I rolled up the bread into tiny balls and scattered it in front of them on the ground. The iguanas had various colors, green, greenish yellow, or gray. They looked like tiny dragons. Some of them were too big to slip into the cage. But they carne anyway. I would flick breadcrumbs through the chain link. They got used to it.
Iguanas? Where were we?
Hummingbirds also visited me in my cage. I had read a lot about hummingbirds. Weren't they native to the Caribbean?
Some time later I heard another prisoner say he thought we might be in Cuba. One of them said the Americans had a military base in Cuba. So I asked one of the interrogators, We're in Cuba, aren't we?
Yes, he said, we're in Cuba.
The cage next to me had become vacant. There was a relatively small but powerfully built man in the one behind it. At first I never saw the IRF team in that cage. Perhaps they were afraid of him. One evening I spoke to him in Turkish. He talked a lot, but I could only understand a little bit. He was Chechen but came from Dagestan. I tried to imagine what it looked like there. I think he said he was a wrestler. But it must have been some unusual form of wrestling. Using his hands, he explained that you weren't allowed to touch your opponent's legs. I liked the man.
I don't want to reveal too many personal details about him. Today I know that he's back in prison. After being released from Guantanamo and sent home, the Russians arrested him at the airport. They trumped up some accusation against him and threw him in jail. I've been told he was sentenced to fourteen years. He is named after an Arab prophet. It's a common name. I'll call him Isa-the Arab name for the prophet Jesus. In Christianity, Jesus is the messiah. In Islam, he's a major prophet, whose return we are still awaiting. I hope that the Chechen will return some day, too, after he's been freed.
Isa was a funny guy. He was always smiling and making faces, although that was forbidden. He didn't give a damn about the guards or the IRF team. He stood up and exercised when he felt like it. He was unbelievably strong. He could do standing backflips. Once he showed me just how powerful he was.
"Psst," I heard him whisper.
Isa was sitting Indian-style and motioned for me to edge over toward him.
"Evet?" I asked in Turkish, Yes?
Isa raised his arms and bent his upper body over sideways toward the cage door. He grabbed a vertical iron bar, I could hardly believe my eyes, Bracing himself on one elbow, his legs walked through the air in slow motion, as if suspended by an invisible rope, Then he straightened both of his arms so that his entire body was suspended off the ground horizontally, I wouldn't have thought that was possible. I'd never witnessed such strength and body control. Isa held this position for a couple of seconds, then carried out the same slow-motion movements in reverse, until he was once again sitting Indian-style on the ground.
I was thrilled.
"Eh?" said Isa, grinning with joy like a child, He slapped his thighs.
I applauded, as though I'd just witnessed a magic trick.
The IRF team came and beat him up terribly. Shortly thereafter they sprayed my cage with pepper spray, the door opened, and it was my turn. I rolled up into a ball as best I could on the ground. At least, I thought, the beating was worth it.
Another time Isa gave me a present, It was after dark and the guards were doing their rounds, so no one was talking.
"Psst," I heard Isa whispering again.
I looked over, He wasn't asleep yet.
"Hediye," he whispered, That's Turkish for gift.
In his hand I saw a ball of rolled up paper. I was curious. Was there something to eat inside?
"What's in it?" I asked.
"Hediye," he said.
He waited until the guards had passed by his cage, He flicked the paper through the empty cage toward me, It bounced off the fence and landed on the ground, but I succeeded in getting it through the chain link. I opened it and was startled to see to a giant, disgusting, exotic-looking worm. It was neon green, yellow and red, with legs like a millipede and pincers like a scorpion. The worm looked really dangerous. Its colors were like a pretty piece of graffiti art. It quickly crawled from the paper and onto my hand. I let it drop. It writhed on the ground, and I grabbed a flip-flop and tried to crush it. Isa laughed himself sick. He was lying on his back holding his stomach in his hands. Then the IRF team came.
Isa was full of such stunts. When the guards yelled at him, when they threatened and tried to scare him, he would roll up on the ground and laugh. That got the guards really mad. But Isa would just point at them and laugh. As if to say, "Look at how their faces get red when they're yelling."
At Camp X-Ray, there were also female guards-just as there had been in Afghanistan, serving in many capacities except on the IRF teams. There were whites, blacks, and Latinas. The guards were frequently rotated, but I soon came to know most of them. I often saw Cecil Stewart, but he never talked to me. I had the feeling some of the guards would have liked to talk with some of the prisoners. "Sorry," those guards would say,-"I can't talk to you. They're watching me." They were under surveillance. It was an iron law that guards weren't to talk to the prisoners. They weren't allowed to treat us like human beings.
I learned the names of two other guards. I will call him Johnson. His specialty was kicking on the cage doors while we prayed. He did this over a course of months. He was known for it.
Once I called him by his name.
"Mr. Johnson, please TP."
That made him mad. Instead of giving me some toilet paper, he sent in the IRF team. The guards patrolled around the clock in twelve-hour shifts. Their boots were always crunching somewhere on the gravel. The only time you didn't hear the sound was at night-because of the loud music. In Charlie, they patrolled the corridors between the cages in pairs, while the others sat somewhere and drank coffee. The sharpshooters watched us from the guard towers.
There were signs in Arabic, English, and Persian on the chain-link fence. "Escape is pointless. Sniper surveillance round the clock." But there was no way we could get out of the cages. The fence was made of thick chain link, with the links welded together. One evening, however, I witnessed a scene that made me think.
It was already dark by the time our guard shoved our paper plates through the opening in the cage doors. Cold gruel and a slice of bread. His mind must have been elsewhere because he also shoved a plate into the empty cage between me and Isa. Maybe he thought its occupant was away being interrogated.
Isa ate his food. Then he turned in my direction. I saw him tear the fence in a certain spot. He bent the wire and loosened, bit by bit, the solder. It sounded like a seam of thread popping. The hole was maybe ten or fifteen inches in diameter so that his arm and half his shoulder fit through the opening. Isa grabbed the plate of gruel from the neighboring cage. He replaced it with his empty plate and sealed up the hole in the chain link so that no one would notice a thing. The chain link fences were full of dents from the batons and prisoners wrestling with the IRF teams.
Isa laughed and ate his second helping of gruel.
Then the guards came to collect the plates. They threw them in a plastic garbage bag. I held out my plate through the opening. In the cage next door, the guard retrieved the empty plate and moved on to Isa, who also handed his plate through. Suddenly the guard stopped. He turned around and looked at the empty cage. He looked at his garbage bag, at Isa, and then at me. He scratched his head.
"I saw who ate that plate of food," I said.
The guard approached my cage.
"You know Lee [not his real name]?"
"Lee was here. He ate the plate of food and then left it."
"I know Lee is crazy," said the guard. "But he's not that crazy."
"Then you tell me who ate it," I said.
He shrugged. Then he moved on to collect plates from the other prisoners.
Lee was the third guard whose name I knew. He was Asian, and the other guards used to make jokes at his expense. Lee treated us just as badly as his colleagues, and so we often made fun of him, too.
Isa was grinning from ear to ear.
Until that point, I'd never thought about trying to escape. But after I saw how Isa had torn a hole in the chain-link fence-it got me to thinking. If he'd made it bigger, he could have slipped through. There was a possibility to escape. You had to be very strong. But if Isa could do it, couldn't I as well?
Then I would have to climb over the next fence. It was maybe twelve feet high. There was barbed wire on top that you'd have to get through. But what was the story with the perimeter fence?
That night I dreamt of Faruk, a friend of mine from Bremen. I dreamt of how he was consumed by the drugs he took, how he tried to prove how tough he was by beating people up. And I then I dreamt of him looking me in the eye as if to say: Help me! You're my friend!
It was dark when I woke up. I heard the noises of the animals, and I thought about Faruk. I had failed him as a friend. I thought about Bremen. I asked myself how I had come to be sitting in this cage. Actually, I thought, everything started with a joke Selcuk had made about my beard.