By Shannon Smiley and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 26, 2006
BREMEN, Germany, Aug. 25 -- Lawyers for Murat Kurnaz, a German native released Thursday after spending more than four years locked up at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said he was mistreated to the end by U.S. military personnel, who kept him shackled and blindfolded until his flight home landed.
Bernhard Docke, an attorney representing Kurnaz, a 24-year-old Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany, said his client was kept in a "cage" and under bright neon lights 24 hours a day during his captivity at Guantanamo. "The Americans are incorrigible, they have not learned a thing," Docke said at a news conference in Bremen, Kurnaz's home town. "He was returned home in chains, humiliated and dishonored to the very end."
Defense Department officials said they agreed to free Kurnaz on the condition that Germany treat him humanely and that it ensure he would no longer pose a security threat. The U.S. government still considers Kurnaz an enemy combatant, said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesman.
"It was only after lengthy discussions that the U.S. government decided that conditions were appropriate to return Mr. Kurnaz to Germany," Peppler said in a telephone interview. "We do not consider Mr. Kurnaz or any other detainee we transfer as zero risk. To a certain extent, they still do pose a threat."
Peppler declined to comment on the lawyer's statement that Kurnaz was blindfolded and shackled on the flight.
Docke said Kurnaz, who has not appeared in public since his release, faced a long struggle to readjust to society and has "now entered a cultural, social jet lag of a new dimension. He has been in a parallel universe."
Kurnaz was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and taken to Cuba a few months later, among the first arrivals at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Declassified records in his case made public last year show that he was kept behind bars and designated an enemy combatant even though U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement officials had largely concluded that there was no information tying him to al-Qaeda or terrorist activities.
Kurnaz has said he was on a missionary trip to Pakistan and was arrested while riding a bus because he was a foreigner. "The U.S. government has repeatedly said Guantanamo houses only terrorists and people from the battlefields -- the worst of the worst. We know that this claim is not only an exaggeration, but a lie, and Murat Kurnaz's case proves this," said Baher Azmy, a Seton Hall University law professor who also represents Kurnaz.
Kurnaz's lawyers blamed the German government for not taking up his cause sooner. They said the government of former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had declined to intercede on Kurnaz's behalf because he did not have German citizenship.
In January, Schroeder's successor, Angela Merkel, raised Kurnaz's case with President Bush, prompting diplomatic talks that ultimately led to his release, according to his lawyers and German officials.
Whitlock reported from Berlin.