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Torture Was Widespread
"Five Years of My Life" by Murat Kurnaz
Although U.S. officials have attributed the torture of Muslim prisoners in their custody to a handful of maverick guards, in fact, a survivor in his book Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo (Palgrave McMillan, 2008), suggests such criminal acts were widely systemic, likely involving large numbers of military personnel. Guards were responsible for countless acts of murder, including death by lynching, poisoning, snakebite, withholding of medicines, starvation, and bludgeoning. The murders committed by U.S. troops numbered at least in the hundreds, according to reliable sources.
Pentagon architects designed prisons that were sadistic torture chambers, barely six feet high and seven feet wide, in which human beings were kept for months or years at a time. These spaces, one prisoner noted, are smaller than the legal requirements in Germany for doghouses. Architects who knowingly designed these hellholes may have committed crimes against humanity.
After the photographs of sadism at Iraq's Abu Ghraib shocked the world in May 2004, President Bush called the revelations "a stain on our country's honor and our country's reputation." He told visiting King Abdullah of Jordan that he "was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families." Bush told the Washington Post, "I told him (Abdullah) I was equally sorry that people who have been seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America."
A year later, Lynddie England and ten others from the 372nd Military Police Company were convicted of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. Yet the events of that prison were likely duplicated across the spectrum of Pentagon and CIA detention camps.
It should be kept in mind that no impartial legal system was in place to defend the rights of those detained. Their torturers could break laws without fear of reprisal. As Jane Mayer wrote in The Dark Side (Doubleday, 2008), "Seven years after the attacks of September 11, not a single terror suspect held outside of the U.S. criminal court system has been tried. Of the 759 detainees acknowledged to have been held in Guantanamo, approximately 340 remained there, only a handful of whom had been charged. Among these, not a single 'enemy combatant' had yet had the opportunity to cross-examine the government or see the evidence on which he was being held." Thus, since none had been brought to trial, all the tortures inflicted were on captives who must be presumed innocent.
Five Years of My Life gives the lie to the notion that abuses were only carried out by a few vicious guards. Everywhere he went, the author was beaten and he saw other prisoners beaten by many different teams of sadistic guards. According to author Murat Kurnaz, a 19-year-old Turkish citizen raised in Germany and falsely defamed as "the German Taliban," torture at the several prisons in which he was held was frequent, commonplace, and committed by many guards. Kurnaz writes that the beatings began in 2001 on the flight from Pakistan (where he was pulled off a public bus and sold by Pakistani police for $3,000) to his first imprisonment in Afghanistan: "I couldn't see how many soldiers there were, but to judge from the confusion of voices it must have been a lot. They went from one prisoner to the next, hitting us with their fists, their billy clubs, and the butts of their rifles." This was done to men that were manacled to the floor of a plane. "It was as cold as a refrigerator; I was sitting on bare metal and icy air was coming from a vent or a fan. I tried to go to sleep, but they kept hitting me and waking me…. They never tired of beating us, laughing all the while."
On another occasion, Kurnaz counted seven guards who were beating a prisoner with the butts of their rifles and kicking him with their boots until he died. At one point, Kurnaz was hung by chains with his arms behind his back for five days. "Today I know that a lot of inmates died from treatment like this." When he was finally taken down and needed water "they'd just pour the water over my head and laugh." The guards even tortured a blind man who was older than 90.
At Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo, Kurnaz said, "During the day, we had to remain seated and at night we had to lie down. If you lay down during the day you were punished…. We weren't allowed to talk. We weren't to speak to or look at the guards. We weren't allowed to draw in the sand or whistle or sing or smile. Every time I unknowingly broke a rule or because they had just invented a new one…an IRF [Immediate Reaction Force] team would come and beat me." Once when he was weak from a hunger strike, Kurnaz wrote, "I was beaten on a stretcher."
During his earlier imprisonment at Kandahar, Kurnaz writes, "There were weaker, older men in the pen, men with broken feet, men whose legs and arms were fractured or had turned blue, red, or yellow from pus. There were prisoners with broken jaws, fingers and noses, and with terribly swollen faces like mine." Not only were the wounds of such men ignored by guards, but complicit doctors would examine him and other prisoners during tortures and advise guards as to how much more they could stand before they died.
On one occasion, he saw guards beating a prisoner with no legs. Still worse, Kurnaz said, doctors participated in the tortures. A dentist who was asked to pull out a prisoner's rotten tooth, pulled out all his healthy ones as well. Another prisoner who went to the doctor for severe frostbite had all his other fingers amputated. "I saw open wounds that weren't treated. A lot of people had been beaten so often they had broken legs, arms and feet. The fractures, too, remained untreated," Kurnaz wrote. "I never saw anyone in a cast." Prisoners were deliberately weakened by starvation diets. Meals at Guantanamo consisted of "three spoonfuls of rice, a slice of dry bread, and a plastic spoon. That was it." Sometimes a loaf of bread was tossed over a fence into their compound.
Prisoners who should have been in hospital beds instead were confined to cells designed to torture them. Kurnaz described his experience this way: "Those cells were like ovens. The sun beat down on the metal roof at noon and directly on the sides of the cage in the mornings and afternoons. All told, I think I spent roughly a year alone in absolute darkness, either in a cooler or an oven, with little food, and once I spent three months straight in solitary confinement." Prisoners could be put in solitary confinement for the tiniest infractions of the most ridiculous rules, such as not folding a blanket properly. "I was always being punished and humiliated, regardless of what I did," Kurnaz said. Once, he was put in solitary for ten days for feeding breadcrumbs to an iguana that had crawled into his cage.
Besides regular beatings from the IRF, who commonly entered cells with clubs swinging, Kurnaz received excruciating electroshocks to his feet and was waterboarded in a 20-inch diameter plastic bucket filled with water. He describes the experience as: "Someone grabbed me by the hair. The soldiers seized my arms and pushed my head underwater.... Drowning is a horrible way to die. They pulled my head back up. 'Do you like it? You want more?' When my head was back underwater, I felt a blow to my stomach…. 'Where is Osama? Who are you?' I tried to speak but I couldn't. I swallowed some water.... It became harder and harder to breathe, the more they hit me in the stomach and pushed my head underwater. I felt my heart racing. They didn't let up…. I imagined myself screaming underwater…. I would have told them everything. But what was I supposed to tell them?"
It should be noted that U.S. and German authorities had decided as early as 2002 that Kurnaz was innocent—that he was a student of the Koran in Pakistan—when he had been seized by bounty hunters and sold to the Americans as a "terrorist." Yet they continued the torture for years.
To compound the misery, Guantanamo guards would trample an inmate's Koran. While U.S. authorities denied that Korans had been thrown in toilets, those denials are worth little considering that when the evening call to prayer was sounded, Kurnaz said, the caller's voice "was drowned out by loud music. It was the American national anthem." One guard specialized in kicking at prisoners' cell doors when they attempted to pray.
When Kurnaz was transferred within the Guantanamo prison system to "Camp 1" he was put in a maximum security cage inside a giant container with metal walls. "Although the cage was no smaller than the one in Camp X-Ray, the bunk reduced the amount of free space to around three-and-a-half feet by three-and-a-half feet. At the far end of the cage, an aluminum toilet and a sink took up even more room. How was I going to stand this? I hardly saw the sun at all. They had perfected their prison..."
In 2002, Kurnaz writes, when General Geoffrey Miller took over command of Guantanamo, "The interrogations got more brutal, more frequent, and longer." Miller commenced "Operation Sandman," in which prisoners were moved to new cells every hour or two "to completely deprive us of sleep, and he achieved it." Kurnaz says, "I had to stand and kneel 24 hours a day," often in chains, and "I had barely arrived in a new cell and lay down on the bunk, before they came again to move me.… As soon as the guards saw me close my eyes…they'd kick at the door or punch me in the face." In between transfers, "I was interrogated…. I estimated the sessions lasted up to fifteen hours" during which the interrogator might disappear for hours at a time. "I sat chained to my chair or kneeling on the floor, and as soon as my eyelids drooped, soldiers would wake me with a couple of blows…. Days and nights without sleep. Blows and new cages. Again, the stabbing sensation of thousands of needles throughout my entire body. I would have loved to step outside my body, but I couldn't…. I went three weeks without sleep...the soldiers came at night and made us stand for hours on end at gunpoint. At this point, I weighed less than 130 pounds."
Kurnaz was released to Germany in August 2006 and testified by videolink in 2008 to the U.S. Congress. During his five years of confinement, he was never charged with a crime.
Sherwood Ross is a Florida-based media consultant and director of the Anti-War News Service. To comment or contribute to his work contact him at email@example.com.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.