An innocent man in Guantanamo
By Jenny Kallenbrunnen
The final scenes of Fuenf Jahre Leben (Five Years of Life) are of Murat Kurnaz’ wedding. But when the film ends, the members of the audience sit in dumb silence, as they absorb the previous 95 minutes, which document the experiences of a detainee in Guantanano Bay who was ultimately proved innocent. Kurnaz spent nearly five years in Guantanamo detention camp after he was arrested by the US military on suspicion of being an Islamist terrorist.
The son of Turkish immigrants who came to Germany in search of work, he was stopped on a public bus while on holiday in Pakistan shortly after the 9’11 atrocities and was subsequently handed over to the US authorities. Kurnaz was first taken to Kandahar, in Afghanistan, before being transported to Guantanamo, where he was tortured and tormented by US soldiers. He was eventually released in August 2006.
Stefan Schaller’s film based on his experiences premiered at Germany’s Max Ophuels Film Festival in Saarbruecken this week. It is based on Kurnaz’s book “Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo”, which tells the story of how the then 19-year-old Kurnaz was arrested and ended up spending 1,725 days in Guantanamo Bay.
Schaller filmed many of the scenes through metal-bar cell walls, using dim lighting and grey scenery to help recount Kurnaz’s grim story. The dull thud of military boots and the oppressive musical score by German instrumentalist Enik add to the atmosphere of dread.
The final frames are a written criticism of the German government for not doing enough to secure the release of Kurnaz, who was a Turkish citizen but a German resident at the time of his arrest.
To this day, not one of the crimes of which Kurnaz was accused has turned out to have any foundation.
Kurnaz, Schaller and lead actors Sascha Alexander Geraak and Ben Miles all attended the film’s premiere in Saarbruecken, although Kurnaz also watched the film with Schaller a week earlier.
“I was never so nervous as I was on that day,” Schaller told dpa.
“You are forced to shorten certain events and emotionalize things when depicting a person’s life.” Kurnaz, meanwhile, says he was happy about the way he is portrayed in Schaller’s film because all the events he felt were important have been built into the script.
However, the 30-year-old insists he never shed a tear during his detention at Guantanamo. “I think I come across as a little bit of a wimp,” he says.
Schaller did leave out the fact that children were also imprisoned. “It’s not possible to show everything,” says Kurnaz.
The pair now hope to have the film distributed across the globe and especially the United States.
Around 160 terror suspects are still detained at Guantanamo despite a long-held promise by President Barack Obama to close the facility.