AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 13/2006

Guantanamo Detainee Germany Rejected Bremen Man's Return

By Georg Mascolo, and

Part 2: Continue reading about Kurnaz's fate on Page 2.


Until this point, the Turks had paid practically no attention to Kurnaz. They had little interest in a de facto German who could possibly cause problems in Turkey, so they signaled to the Americans that they weren't especially enthusiastic about accepting the young man from Bremen. Now the ball was in the Germans' court. Kurnaz's future was decided on Oct. 29, 2002, about a month after a general election in Germany.

Every Tuesday at 10 a.m., the so-called intelligence situation report takes place on the fourth floor of the Chancellery. Intelligence officials, as well as representatives from the interior, foreign and justice ministries, participate in the meeting. The head of the BND is usually the first to speak. Hanning, who is fond of using laser pointers and interspersing his presentations with overhead slides showing locations where terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is believed to have been, is an eloquent, convincing speaker.

After the situation meeting, a handpicked group of top officials, including the heads of the BND, the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and the BfV, hold a separate meeting in a seventh-floor conference room. The room has a clear view of the Reichstag, which is adorned with fluttering black, red and gold German flags. It is during this second  that the truly top-secret decisions in German security policy are discussed. On the Tuesday in question, the issue on the table was the inquiry from the Americans: Where should Kurnaz be sent?

Hanning argued for deportation to Turkey, not to Germany, and even suggested barring Kurnaz from ever entering the country again. The objective was to prevent him from returning to his former surroundings. The Chancellery and the Interior Ministry agreed with this assessment. After all, they argued, a Guantanamo returnee could quickly turn into a martyr and a security problem, possibly even a propaganda disaster.

The German government now admits that officials from the BfV wrote a letter on Nov. 8, 2002, informing the CIA that Germany had decided not to accept Kurnaz: "From the German perspective, there is a desire for Murat Kurnaz not to return to Germany following a possible release."

American disbelief

The Americans could hardly believe what they were hearing at first. According to an internal BND memo, the "federal government's decision" not to allow Kurnaz to be deported to Germany "was met with disbelief on the part of the Americans, who argued that the release had been planned, both because of the inability to prove his guilt and in the interest of good cooperation."

A detainee is escorted to interrogation by US military guards at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.
AP

A detainee is escorted to interrogation by US military guards at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.

While the security experts had apparently reached their decisions on Kurnaz's immediate future, his release had become the subject of a diplomatic tug-of-war, because the Foreign Ministry had yet to be informed of Berlin's decision. Fischer took up the case with his American counterpart, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Washington on Nov. 19, 2003. Although Powell and Fischer were on good terms, Powell told the German foreign minister that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his Bush administration rival, was in charge at Guantanamo -- and that there was no sign of any change in the Defense Department's position on Kurnaz.

The diplomats could only speculate over why the US authorities were suddenly taking such an inflexible approach. Perhaps hard-liners had prevailed at the Pentagon, or perhaps Washington was simply showing its disappointment over Berlin's earlier rejection of the prisoner. In any event, the earlier offer of release was no longer on the table. Indeed, the Americans suddenly went out of their way to come up with reasons to justify Kurnaz's continued detention. At a military hearing in September 2004, they accused him of being a friend of a Turkish suicide bomber named Gökhan Elaltuntas -- a mistake that the German government's criminal investigators quickly cleared up. Then the Pentagon's "Office of Detainee Affairs" claimed that Kurnaz was a devoted al-Qaida supporter, supposedly one of those men Rumsfeld calls "the world's best-trained killers."

When talks began in Washington in early 2006, US State Department legal advisor John Bellinger claimed that Kurnaz had fought in the battle of Tora Bora and helped secure Osama bin Laden's escape. This was clearly nonsense, and the story never came up again during the ensuing negotiations. Officials from the Pentagon have conducted the talks for the Americans, and in early February they submitted a threat assessment on Kurnaz classified as "top secret." The document reads as if the man were Bin Laden's closest associate. The US delegation also submitted a recent photograph of the prisoner.

Creating the enemy 

Since then, the Germans have been asking themselves whether the West hasn't created the enemy it believed it was fighting at Guantanamo. In the photo, Kurnaz sports an enormous beard covering his powerful chest. His eyes seem sinister. His US attorney, Baher Azmy, who was recently allowed to visit him, says that Kurnaz fills his empty days with two things: religion and exercise. The hours he spends exercising in his cell have even prompted camp guards to refer to him as the "push-up guy."

Kurnaz also spends countless hours studying the Koran. His Arabic, which he has learned from other prisoners, is now so good that he is reading the book in its original version. He knows entire Suras by heart, and he turns to Mecca to pray five times a day. "Religion," says Azmy, "is especially important to him."

Azmy has also had coffee with Kurnaz, who drinks his with several spoons of sugar to make it taste like his mother's Turkish mocha. The two have met four times, for a total of 50 hours. "He has become a different person," says the attorney, who is still convinced that his client is harmless.

Azmy is also familiar with Kurnaz's view of the Germans, whom the prisoner believes treated him poorly. According to Kurnaz, the German officials who came to the camp told him "we don't want you back in Germany," and that he should stop complaining -- after all, he was spending time "in the Caribbean." Whether Kurnaz's accusations are true is another story, but they certainly reflect the impression of Germany he has since formed.

Has a confused youth from Bremen, a young man who apparently had difficulties with women and alcohol and admired the Taliban from afar, turned into a dangerous radical, as the Pentagon claims? "This is the dilemma the Germans must now confront," says Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit that was hunting for Osama bin Laden. "We locked up the harmless foot soldiers, and now no one knows what detention has done to these people."

Because of these fears, the Pentagon only wants to release Kurnaz in return for security guaranties that the prisoner may not "pose a threat to the international community." As Bush explained to Chancellor Merkel in the Oval Office, he cannot "simply let these people go."

To satisfy these demands, the German officials will be required, like a group of schoolboys, to explain to Washington how exactly they plan to keep the released prisoner under control. The Americans would prefer to see constant observation, together with a German promise not to allow Kurnaz to leave Germany. But the Chancellery has rejected this, even countering that Kurnaz will not even be punished. The relevant department in the Interior Ministry has already estimated the number of personnel around-the-clock observation would require, concluding that that number is too high, especially before the soccer World Cup being held in Germany this summer.

No hurry for release

This explains why the negotiators are in no particular hurry. Each week that passes without Kurnaz being released is also a week without problems. Indeed, the Germans clearly wouldn't mind if he didn't arrive in Germany until after the World Cup finals in July. Deporting him to Ankara also remains an option. The Turks are being kept abreast of the matter, but they too are unsure what to expect.

Bernhard Docke, Kurnaz's German attorney, is concerned that "four and a half years of being held in a cage take their toll on people." Docke believes the Schröder administration is partly responsible, and calls the "absence of support from German policy" one of the "darkest moments in the case."

From his office window, Docke has an expansive view of Bremen's Wallanlagen park. Rabiye Kurnaz occasionally drops by for a chat. Docke has almost become a friend of the family, although he has never actually met his client. All he knows about prisoner "JJJFA" comes from stories or from the 36 ring binders stacked on the shelves in his office. His next plan is to arrange for medical and psychological care for Kurnaz, as well as for "a quiet place, so that Murat can get his bearings again."

Rabiye Kurnaz recently received a letter that now lies on the lace tablecloth on the living room table. It's from a nun in a Bavarian convent. Each evening, the nun reports, the sisters at the convent include Murat, a devout Muslim, in their prayers. They pray for his release.

Translated from German by Christopher Sultan.

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