Published in Vancouver Observer newssite | October 20, 2011 | Circulation: 99,000 unique monthly readers
After spending five years as an extra-judicial prisoner of George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror,’ Murat Kurnaz is disappointed that Canada did not arrest the former U.S. president during his visit to Surrey, while human rights organizations launched a court case for Bush’s arrest on torture charges and 200 people protested nearby.
Kurnaz, 29, spoke with the Vancouver Observer from Germany, where he lives with his wife and two-year old child. A Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany, he was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001 and spent the next half-decade imprisoned on U.S. military bases in Kandahar, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“George Bush should pay for what he did wrong,” Kurnaz told the Vancouver Observer. “I hope it will happen and he’s arrested.”
“I spent five years in jail for nothing. I am trying to improve my life now – I don’t have time to be angry at anybody. But I want to stop these things from happening in the future.”
Kurnaz and three other U.S. prisoners – one of them still held at Guantanamo Bay – launched a private prosecution in a provincial court today, after appeals for Canada’s Attorney General to issue an arrest warrant were ignored.
The prosecution was filed on behalf of the four prisoners by Matt Eisenbrandt, legal director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ).
“Under the Criminal Code, Canada has jurisdiction over torture abroad,” Eisenbrandt said. “Anyone who has reasonable belief a crime has been committed can file a criminal information. It’s an important tool if authorities aren’t taking action.”
Kurnaz was still a teenager when he traveled from Germany, where he was born, to visit Pakistan for several months in 2001. He attended a religious school suspected by the U.S. of being run by a charity sympathetic to anti-American terrorism. The only Guantanamo Bay prisoner to testify before U.S. Congress, Kurnaz said his time in custody was marked by daily torture and humiliation.
“The torture happened every day,” he said. “I was forced to sign papers agreeing I was a member of Al-Qaeda. When I refused, I was tortured by electro-shock and water treatment.”
Water treatment, different from water-boarding, involves forcing prisoners’ heads into buckets of water and kicking them in the stomach until they inhale water, Kurnaz said. Except for the handcuffs and violence, the interrogation technique reminded him of bobbing for apples as a child.
“We have a game we played in school parties in Germany,” he said. “There’s a bucket with water with one apple floating. It’s a race to eat the apple and you have your hands behind your back. It was similar – they would push my head under water until I inhaled.”
“But there was no apple.”
In fact, a declassified U.S. Department of Defence intelligence memorandum suggests Kurnaz was cleared of wrongdoing and slated for release as far back as 2002, four years before he found freedom.
In another declassified document, obtained after Kurnaz sued the Department of Defence in 2006, a senior military intelligence officer successfully pushed for Kurnaz to remain labeled an “enemy combatant” based on his inquiries about the height of a prison basketball net, covering his ears to pray during the U.S. national anthem, and joking about an empty cup of water being a bomb.
Most bizarrely, the senior military intelligence officer behind the memo, David Lacquement, cited Kurnaz lying about having eaten his dinner when in fact he had only eaten an apple.
Despite his ordeal, Kurnaz also has kept his sense of humour. When asked how long his water treatment interrogations lasted, he responded:
“I don’t know, because my watch wasn’t water resistant. That was a joke. They took away everything I owned.”
The biggest loss from his time in U.S. custody was missing the deaths of several close family members and being divorced by his wife – all of which he learned upon his August 24, 2006 release.
“I didn’t know anything going on outside,” he recalled. “As soon as I was released, I realized the world was not as I left it.”
“I learned a lot of things. Not everyone is as they seem. I did not lose my trust in people, but I know you can’t always believe people – especially politicians.”
Recently, the world’s largest human rights organization, Amnesty International, added weight to calls to arrest Bush. Citing 4,000 pages of legal documents and a 70-page indictment, which were submitted to the Attorney General last month, Amnesty said Canada can and should apply international torture law regardless of whom.
“He should be tried in the United States,” said Alex Neve, executive director of Amnesty International Canada. “But if that’s not going to happen because a country in unwilling or unable, the rest of the world is not only allowed but required to enforce international law.”
“(Bush’s) range of violations are at the level of war crimes. Anyone — Canadian or otherwise — who experienced human rights abuses because of Bush’s policies would agree he needs to be charged.”
Living in Germany since his exoneration and release, Kurnaz is hopeful that eventually Bush will be arrested for the crimes he is alleged to have committed.
“The ‘War on Terror’ was a lie,” he said. “Fighting terrorism is okay if they are really fighting it. But they are using their anti-terror war for their own purposes.”
“We need to fight against the people torturing and who are trying to legalize these interrogation techniques.”