By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008
A resident of Germany who was imprisoned for two months at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan has told an interviewer that his interrogators hung him from a ceiling for five days and that several doctors periodically checked him before authorizing the torture to continue.
Murat Kurnaz said that shortly after his capture in Pakistan in fall 2001, the American interrogators insisted he admit to being an al-Qaeda operative and associate of 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta. Kurnaz said when he said he did not know Atta or refused to talk, the interrogators punished him by hanging him by his arms to the rafters of a freezing aircraft hangar.
Kurnaz's allegations about his abusive treatment in a prison at the U.S. military base in Kandahar are to be publicly aired for the first time tomorrow on CBS's "60 Minutes." He was released by the U.S. military in August 2006 after spending nearly five years at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Kurnaz made similar allegations of systematic torture in 2005 when he was still a U.S. prisoner, according to newly declassified notes his attorney took during a conversation at Guantanamo. Kurnaz said then that interrogators in Kandahar dunked his head in water, administered electric shocks to the soles of his feet and hung him by his hands -- when he denied being a terrorist.
Kurnaz, who the U.S. military eventually freed without giving a reason, is publishing a book in April that describes his experiences in custody. An ethnic Turk raised in Germany, Kurnaz traveled to Pakistan to study Islam in 2001. He was seized by Pakistani police after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was turned over to U.S. troops as a terrorism suspect for a cash bounty, military records show.
When the 19-year-old student was transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002, U.S. and German intelligence officials quickly confirmed that Kurnaz had no links to terrorist groups and had probably been seized by mistake, according to military records produced years later in court proceedings.
"Interrogators persisted in questioning him about connections to Mohamed Atta, who Murat only had a vague memory of from television reports after 9/11," according to his lawyer's notes. "Interrogators insisted that he was from the same mosque as Atta; when Murat insisted he had never met him, he was beaten."
"When Murat refused to talk, he was hung with cuffs and rope, arms above the head to a rack, feet shackled in some kind of hangar, which was freezing cold," the notes read. "He was forced to stay in this position for days as punishment for his refusal to admit his connections to Al Qaeda and Taliban."
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Kurnaz's allegations are erroneous. "There is no evidence to support the allegations in Mr. Kurnaz's book," Whitman said in a written statement. "The abuses Mr. Kurnaz alleges are not only unsubstantiated, they are implausible and outlandish."
The lawyer's notes obtained by The Washington Post do not depict Kurnaz alleging in 2005 that doctors worked alongside the interrogators while he was tortured. Torture is barred by international treaties, and doctors are prohibited from participating in abuse.
"Every five or six hours they came and pulled me back down and the doctor came," he told CBS News, according to a transcript of the interview. "He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart and when he said 'okay,' then they pulled me back up."
A 2005 article in the New England Journal of Medicine asserted that other U.S. Army doctors had violated the Geneva Conventions by helping intelligence officers carry out abusive interrogations at military detention centers.
Kurnaz's attorney, Baher Azmy, said that his client's experience is consistent with allegations by other detainees viewed by U.S. military as potential ringleaders. "When he was transferred to Afghanistan and because he was a Muslim from Germany, at least initially, they imagined he was a big fish," Azmy said. "It's entirely plausible they would have reserved their worst treatment for him in their early days."
In his book, "Five Years of My Life," Kurnaz says he watched as U.S. military personnel beat a man, and carried him away the next afternoon, his arms lifeless.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.