May 20, 2008 -- Murat Kurnaz told members of Congress today he was subjected to "water treatment," electric shocks and other abuse during the almost five years he spent in U.S. custody, putting a face to the Justice Department's inspector general report released today, detailing abuses witnessed by FBI agents overseas at detention facilities run by the military and CIA.
Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen, was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks while he traveled with a religious tourism group, and was eventually handed over to U.S. forces. He was held in U.S. facilities in Afghanistan and then at Guantanamo Bay.
Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee via video link from Germany with his lawyer at his side, Kurnaz described how he was abused while he was held at a U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and described how he was subjected to "water treatment" while in custody.
"They stuck my head into a bucket of water and punched me in the stomach," he said. "I inhaled the water. ... It was a strong punch."
Kurnaz testified that, although he had no links to al Qaeda, and German intelligence services told U.S. officials in 2002 that he was not a terrorist, he languished at Guantanamo until August 2006.
While he was detained in Kandahar, Kurnaz testified, he was chained by his arms to the ceiling with his feet dangling and subjected to electric shocks. Kurnaz also alleges U.S. interrogators tried to force him to sign papers admitting his guilt.
Kurnaz, 26, who was born in Germany, also alleged the abuse continued at Guantanamo Bay.
"I didn't think this could happen in the 21st century. ... I could never have imagined that this place was created by the United States," he said.
While the CIA has admitted to waterboarding three al Qaeda detainees, the Justice Department inspector general's report, released today, details other instances of detainees having water forced down their throats.
The report noted an instance from a 2004 interrogation of a detainee in Iraq.
"[An FBI Agent] recalled that, at some point during the interrogation, the military officer 'put water down' a seated detainee's throat," the report said. "He said he guessed that the purpose of the water was to give the detainee the sensation that he was drowning, so that he would provide the information that the interrogator wanted. [The agent] stated that the detainee was gagging and spitting out water. He said that the detainee appeared to be uncomfortable, and assumed that he had trouble breathing."
The inspector general report notes that this is not "waterboarding," but "this rough technique was part of an effort to intimidate the detainees and increase their feelings of helplessness."
The 370-page report by the Justice Department detailed disagreements at the top levels of the Justice Department and the Pentagon over the effectiveness of using severe interrogation techniques on detainees.
It also included instances of abuse witnessed or documented by FBI agents who were instructed to not participate in the rough interrogations.