U.S. Frees Longtime Detainee

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 25, 2006

STUTTGART, Germany, Aug. 24 -- A German native who was imprisoned by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was released Thursday, more than 18 months after a federal judge in Washington ruled there was insufficient evidence to detain him.

Murat Kurnaz, 24, a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany, was flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and reunited with his mother, Rabiye Kurnaz, after spending more than four years as a prisoner at Guantanamo, according to his lawyers.

"What we saw was just an overwhelming human moment, an overjoyed weeping mother and her son," said Baher Azmy, a Seton Hall University law professor who served as a defense attorney for Kurnaz and was present for his client's arrival in Germany.

Without identifying Kurnaz by name, the Pentagon confirmed his release, saying that an administrative review board at Guantanamo had recommended his transfer to Germany. "The United States does not desire to hold detainees any longer than necessary," the Defense Department said in a statement.

Kurnaz was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and taken to Guantanamo a few months later on suspicion that he was a supporter of al-Qaeda. But records in his case show that the evidence against him was thin from the start.

By early 2002, U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information linking Kurnaz to al-Qaeda or terrorist activities, according to declassified records in his case that were made public last year.

A military tribunal at Guantanamo nevertheless concluded that he should remain in prison, citing a single unsubstantiated report from an unnamed U.S. government official alleging that Kurnaz was an al-Qaeda member who had been trying to reach Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces.

In January 2005, U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green criticized the military for ignoring evidence in Kurnaz's favor and ruled that his detention was illegal. Her ruling was stayed while the government appealed.

Although Kurnaz grew up in Germany and was a legal resident here at the time of his capture, the German government at first declined to intercede in his behalf, saying he was not entitled to its help because he was not a citizen. But Germany changed its position last year and Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the case in meetings with President Bush, which led to a diplomatic agreement to release Kurnaz, German officials said.

Kurnaz's lawyers said U.S. officials had asked Germany to place Kurnaz under surveillance and open a criminal investigation of him as a condition of his release, but relented in the end. "There will be no criminal charges, no criminal investigation," said Azmy, the defense counsel. "He's a completely free man."

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