Chapter 2: PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN
I'LL NEVER FORGET THE DATE: DECEMBER 1, 2001. THAT WAS when I was supposed to fly from Peshawar back to Germany. My friend Mohammad had helped me pack my gifts, and I had said good-bye to other tablighis, or Muslim pilgrims, at the mosque. Then we boarded the bus to Peshawar airport.
"Are you looking forward to getting home?" Mohammad asked me. "Tomorrow you'll be seeing your mother."
I had a second piece of luggage with me, a backpack with my personal belongings, as well as a belt in which I kept my money and papers. Mohammad was carrying my bag. I was originally supposed to fly back to Germany from Karachi, and Mohammad was accompanying me to the airport to help change my flight so I could depart from Peshawar. I couldn't wait to .get back to Bremen. My wife was scheduled to arrive there before the end of the year from Turkey.
For the first time since I had arrived in Pakistan, I was wearing my shiny black Hugo Boss overcoat. It had remained in my backpack for the entire trip because it was much too warm. I'd thought the fall weather in Pakistan would be the same as it is in Germany and had brought heavy pants and sweaters with me from Bremen. I wanted to look stylish in Koran school and on the street.
When I arrived in Karachi on October 3 in my wool sweater and overcoat, I'd discovered that autumn in Pakistan was as warm as summer in Bremen. So most of the time I just wore T-shirts and my KangaROOS-brand hiking boots. A year later in Guantanamo, a representative of the German government would accuse me of walking around Pakistan in combat boots.
I had bought some sweets for my parents. The packages were lovely, like little works of art-it would have been a shame to eat them. For my baby brother, Alper, I had bought a handmade wooden toy, a game, with rings on a tree with braches. For myself, I had bought a pair of motorcycle gloves made of quality leather that would have cost a couple hundred marks in Bremen. I also had a handmade necklace for my mother, made of wood, leather, and blue lapis lazuli.
The bus we took to the airport was painted in bright colors and decorated with ornamental figurines. There were little bells and strings of red and yellow blinking party lights-it looked like a disco. All the buses in Pakistan look like this. The one I was traveling in was a small vehicle with a sliding door with maybe ten people in it-there was no room for anyone else. Two men had sat next to Mohammad so I had to take a seat in the row behind him.
We came to a checkpoint. I had already been through four or five such checkpoints while traveling from mosque to mosque with Mohammad and the other tablighis-there are checkpoints all over Pakistan. They're part of normal everyday life.
Checkpoints are usually located at police stations and are manned by one or two officers. The police attach a cord or rope to a house or a pole on the other side of the street and an officer sits in a chair sipping tea. Whenever he wants someone to stop, he'll pull the rope taut, and the approaching cars have to brake. If he doesn't feel like checking anyone, he just leaves the rope lying slack on street and everyone drives over it. Sometimes he'll pull up the rope and take a quick glance through the windows of a vehicle before waving it on. I had never been checked personally.
On the day I was set to leave Pakistan, the policeman at the checkpoint pulled the rope. The little bells in the bus jingled as the bus came to a halt, Traffic piled up behind us. The policeman got up from his chair and peered through the window, noticing me. I looked different than the other passengers-I have fairer skin, and that's probably what attracted his attention. He knocked on the window and said something to me in Urdu. Mohammad opened the window and answered for me. I have no idea what he said to the policeman.
Then the policeman addressed me again. I told him in German that I couldn't understand because I didn't speak his language.
Of course, he didn't know what I was saying either. He asked me for my papers-at least I think he did. I got them out of my belt and handed them over. Then he said something else and motioned for me to get out of the bus. I took my backpack, squeezed my way through the other passengers, and got off. Behind us, in the line of cars, people were honking their horns.
Mohammad tried to get out with me, but it took him a while to get to the door because the bus was packed with passengers holding luggage on their laps. The policeman motioned for the bus driver to move to the side of the road. The bus driver closed the door, Mohammad was still inside. I never saw him again.
I had met Mohammad a couple of weeks earlier in Islamabad where I was hoping to join a group of tablighis. Tablighis are students of the Koran who travel from mosque to mosque, praying and studying the holy book. I only knew a few words of English at the time. Mohammad was several years older than me and spoke English quite well since he was Pakistani, and Pakistan used to be a British colony. He also spoke some Turkish so he could translate and explain things to me. We traveled together until I was arrested that day in Peshawar.
The name Peshawar is Indian in origin, Mohammad told me, and means "city of flowers." I found that fascinating. Peshawar is a very old city, and Mohammad told me that many major historical figures, including Alexander the Great, had visited it. Muslim Arabs and Turks went to Pakistan a thousand years ago and brought Allah's revelations with them.
When he introduced me to the imams at the mosques we visited, Mohammad always said with pride: Murat is German, but he's also Turkish, like our forefathers. The Pashtun tribesmen, who introduced Islam to what is now Pakistan, are thought to originally come from Turkey. It was they who cultivated Pakistan, building gardens and parks
with palm trees and flowers.
The last mosque we stayed at with the other tablighis was one of the largest in Peshawar. It was so big that all the mosques in Bremen could fit inside it. The rooms for Koran students were located on a spacious interior courtyard, and there, too, flowers were everywhere. The minarets stretched toward the sky. When I knelt on the rugs in the prayer halls, I felt almost intoxicated by the decorations on the walls and under the domed ceiling. Mohammad told me that a century ago there had been a huge fire in the bazaars in front of the mosque but the mosque itself had been spared from any damage because the faithful had congregated there and prayed. Mohammad said Allah had protected them.
In the weeks before we arrived in Peshawar, we had visited a number of mosques in Islamabad. Every day we studied the Koran. We were taught how to read and interpret the Koran and how to pray. We were also given hadith instruction- the Prophet Mohammed's oral teachings. We learned how we were supposed to behave as tablighis and how we could help other people. Twice daily, we had meals together. We went shopping and argued about who would get the honor of paying.
We would sleep in one mosque and then spend the whole of the next day in the other mosques, visiting the other tablighis and drinking tea with them.
The streets and bazaars of Peshawar are crowded, sticky, and hot. They stink of exhaust fumes and rotting garbage. Taxi drivers constantly honk their horns along with the drivers of the motorcycle rickshaws, which look like miniature three- wheeled trucks with a single headlight. The roads are always jam-packed with cars, horses, donkeys, completely overloaded trucks, pedestrians, and bicycles, which are sometimes used to transport large objects like refrigerators or sofas. The people on the streets come from everywhere, from India and Afghanistan, China and Kashmir.
Some of the streets have marked lanes, but everyone ignores them-it's every man for himself. As taxis, mopeds, and rickshaws push their way through the crowds, you have to be quick on your feet to avoid getting run over.
The day before I was scheduled to leave, I walked through the bazaars to buy some gifts to take back home. The bazaars in Pakistan reminded me of the open-air markets in Germany and of Oktoberfest, only much more colorful and wild. There are gold- and silversmiths, spice dealers and butchers, rug merchants and potters. There are shops with electronics, cell phones, and cameras. You can buy fake Nike sneakers, Rolex watches, and Fila jackets. The merchants sell anything and everything a person might need. There are also storytellers and shows with exotic animals and snakes. I had never seen anything like it, even on television. A snake charmer laid rope out in a circle and then sat in the middle. He removed the lids of the baskets around him, and various kinds of snakes slithered out-cobras, vipers, and other highly poisonous reptiles. The charmer closed his eyes and touched the snakes, tapping on their heads. He didn't hurt them; he was just playing with them. All of this took place in the middle of the street for free. People gave him money only if they felt like it.
I was particularly fascinated by the martial arts, shows at the Kung Fu schools. Pakistan borders China, so there are many good martial arts coaches there and Kung Fu and ninja schools abound. Mohammad and I often went to watch ninjas throwing Chinese stars and knives and show-fighting. There are no laws against this kind of show in Pakistan -- you can live the way you want. I found I liked this kind of freedom.
That is, until the day I took the bus to the airport.
I was told to go inside the police station with the officer. He nodded twice and pointed to the entrance of the building, which had no door.
Okay, I thought, they want to check my visa and my passport. Mohammad would wait for me, and as soon as this was over, I could continue on my way.
The station was a squat structure, and I entered a room with rugs on the floor as in a mosque. There were no furnishings. A naked light bulb hung from the ceiling. There was no desk, just a small wooden table for drinking tea in the corner. The policeman tried to tell me something, but it didn't work. We couldn't understand each other. From his gestures, I gathered that he was leaving, but that he would be right back.
A short time later, another officer appeared, probably the first one's boss. He was of medium height and slightly overweight. He had a huge moustache and a five o'clock shadow. He was wearing a turban and traditional Pakistani dress, a knee-length cotton tunic with white cotton pants. He said something to me in English. I think he was asking me where I came from. I said was from Germany. Then he wanted to know if I was a journalist.
"No," I said.
Was I an American?
Was I working for the Americans?
I told him I was a Turkish citizen who lived in Germany.
He asked whether I worked for Germany. Or for the Germans -- I couldn't really tell.
The man with the turban was holding my Turkish passport in his hands. He didn't seem to understand how I could be both German and Turkish, how Germany could be my home country even though I didn't have a German passport. He probably thought he had caught me out in a lie. Maybe he thought I was a spy or something.
"Do you have cameras?" he asked.
I tried to tell him that he was welcome to look through my things and held out my backpack. "Look! Look!"
They went through my backpack. The man with the turban said something to the other officer, who then fetched a telephone from one of the other rooms in the building. It was a regular landline phone with a cord. The boss called someone-I assumed he was talking about me with his superiors. Then he hung up and said something to the other officer. He took the telephone away and reappeared with a key, a tiny mirror, a razor, and some shaving cream.
His boss shaved.
Like the entrance to the building, the room had no doors. While the head policeman was calmly shaving his face, I could hear a loud exchange of words outside. I was sure it was Mohammad, trying to get in to see me.. But I could only make out the voice of the first officer.
I was standing in the middle of the room with my backpack on the floor in front of me. The first officer came and went as his boss ordered him to bring him one thing or another. One time it was a submachine gun.
Other policemen, also carrying machine guns, came into the room. They grabbed me and led me away, but not back to the street, where I thought Mohammad would be waiting. Instead I was taken to a courtyard where a four-door pick-up truck was waiting. The driver and one of the policemen got in up front, and I got into the backseat flanked by two other officers with machine guns. Another two policemen climbed onto the tailgate.
We drove through the city for maybe half an hour until we reached an affluent-looking part of town, full of large villas with big gardens and tall gateways. We drove through one of the gates, across a kind of park and through a second gateway, behind which there were a lot of fruit trees. It looked like private property, but there were guards at every entrance. We stopped and a man with blond hair and glasses approached the truck. I couldn't tell whether he was American or German. For all I know he could have been Russian, but he was wearing European clothing, a white shirt and black pants, which isn't all that common in Pakistan.
The two-story villa had orange trees in front, a real Turkish garden. I estimated the blond man to be between thirty-five and forty years old, although he was already losing his hair. He rubbed his hands together, as if pleased about something, and spoke to the policemen in a language I didn't understand. He told me in English to come with him. The policemen followed us. He led me into a room that reminded me of a four-star hotel. It had a double bed, a framed mirror, carpets and large plants.
He disappeared for a short time and then returned with another man who looked Pakistani and wore civilian clothing. They began questioning me.
Was I American?
Was I German?
Was I a journalist?
I tried as best as I could to explain that I wanted to catch a plane back to Germany, that I didn't have much time if I failed to make a flight today. That I had missed the date on my return ticket, November 4, but that it was still valid for another flight for ninety days.
The men said they would come back and ask me some more questions. I was to wait there.
I waited for about an hour.
The two men in civilian clothing never returned. Instead the policemen came back.
Should I have tried to flee while I was alone in that room? The doors in the villa weren't locked. But where could I have gone? Guards and policemen were everywhere with machine guns. I thought there was probably just a problem with my visa. I hadn't done anything wrong in Pakistan. I hadn't stolen anything or hurt anyone. I was sure that they weren't going to detain me for more than a couple of hours. They just wanted to ask me a few questions -- that was all, I wasn't worried. I was merely irritated that they were taking so much time.
I didn't think that being stopped at the checkpoint might be connected with the war in Afghanistan. I had nothing to do with that country although it did occur to me that maybe they thought I was a drug dealer. Afghanistan is one of the world's biggest opium suppliers. But I wasn't carrying any drugs, and I hadn't had contact with any dealers. As soon as they found out I wasn't a dealer, a journalist, or an American, I thought, I'd be set free.
The officers drove me in the pick-up to a police station near the villa. They told me I was going to have to spend the night there. The following morning I would be taken to the airport and I could fly to Turkey. Why Turkey? I asked. I was from Germany! Then it occurred to me that Mohammad still had my bag. The bag with my gifts. I hoped that he would be at the airport the next day and could somehow help me to get back to Germany.
We arrived at the police station. It looked exactly like the first one: the entrance didn't have a door, and the first room I saw was carpeted. I hadn't been handcuffed. The place didn't feel like a prison.
"You sleep here," said one of the policemen in English. "Tomorrow we come, bring you to airport. You Turkish, you fly to Turkey."
I thought he meant that I was to sleep on one of the carpets, but I was wrong. They opened a door, behind which I saw bars. This was a jailhouse after all.
The policemen led me through the door, opened the single, large cell and pushed me in. The cell was fifteen by thirty square feet, and it was full of people, all of them dark-skinned men, most likely Pakistanis or Afghans. There were around fifty of us crowded in there. They looked me over and then greeted me. They were friendly. Suddenly everyone stepped aside and formed an aisle. A young man in his thirties came up to me. He seemed to be the boss of the cell. He greeted me.
The man's name was Raheg, and he shook my hand. "Do you want to be my guest?" he asked in English. "Will you come with me, please?"
Raheg led me through a door at the back of the cell into a separate room-his own private prison cell. It was comfortable. He had a bed, a pillow, and a low table with a tea pot, glass tea cups and some cheese on a silver platter.
Raheg was powerfully built and much bigger than me. He must have been at least 6'3" and 250 pounds. In contrast to the other prisoners, he seemed like a rich man. He might have been incarcerated with the rest of us, but when he told the policeman to go and fetch something for him, they went and got it-pizza, hot dogs, whatever he desired. He asked me what I wanted.
Nothing, I said.
People visited him the whole afternoon. Every time the policemen would unlock the door, it was almost as though they were announcing visitors to a lord. They seemed to be afraid of him. Raheg was apparently not just the boss of the cell, but the boss of the whole jailhouse. He had gas tanks and a stove in his room. It was Ramadan at the time, and I was fasting during the day. He fasted, too. In the evening, he rolled out his prayer rug and invited me to pray with him. He gave me a brand-new shirt. My shirt was covered with dust-in Pakistan you have to change shirts every day because of the heat. Raheg told me he'd have my shirt washed. I took a shower in the main cell and changed my clothes, and then dinner was ready. The other prisoners had cooked it. There was meat, potatoes, and rice-even a salad. We talked almost the whole night through.
He told me that he had once been a major drug dealer. It was a family tradition-his forefathers had traded opium, and all his relatives were involved in the business. He had smuggled in large quantities from Afghanistan over the Khyber Pass, and now he couldn't get out of jail. He had fresh fruit brought to him and made some mint tea. He told me not to say a single word to the police. Whoever I was and whatever I'd done, I should under no circumstances tell them anything. I said I'd already told them everything.
"From now on, no more," he said. "You don't say anything. That's better for you."
Okay, I thought, he's been in prison for a number of years. He should know what's right and what's wrong here.
Raheg told me about his family, Pashtuns, some of whom lived in Mghanistan and some in Pakistan. Among Pashtuns, it's a rule that whenever someone seeks refuge in your home, for whatever reason, you should provide them protection, accommodation, and assistance. I knew from Mohammad that this tradition was like a law. Raheg said he would talk to the policemen and try to secure my freedom. He gave me several telephone numbers-of his brothers and other relatives. I could call them when I got out, he said, and they would take care of me. He told me not to worry about money. They would give me some.
"No problem," he said. "You can fly to Germany."
Pashtuns have their own rules. Raheg was good to me.
The following day, we prisoners all prayed together. Then the guards came. They were carrying chains and were going to shackle me, but Raheg flew into a rage. He came up to them, screaming. The other prisoners stood behind him. It looked as though the situation was about to escalate, but then the guards withdrew. After a while, they reappeared without the chains. I took my leave of Raheg, giving him a hug. The guards led me away. A car-a limousine with tinted windows-was waiting outside. Two policemen were sitting there, carrying machine guns.
After we had turned the first comer, we stopped. One of the policemen got out and retrieved the chains from the truck of the vehicle. They bound me, and we drove on. The policeman apologized to me with a word I recognized from Turkish.
"Mecburi," he said. That means: I have no choice-it's my duty.
We drove for several hours before stopping in front of a building. I couldn't tell whether it was a prison. One of the policemen got out and started talking with someone, who got excited and raised his voice. I saw kids on bicycles. They came up to the car and peered through the windows, pointing their fingers at me and laughing.
"Osama, Osama!" they cried.
When the policeman got back to the car, he was carrying a sack. He slipped it over my head. Everything went dark.
We drove for hours-at least that's how it seemed to me. It was so hot in the limousine that I thought I was going to suffocate. I tried to make this clear to the policeman sitting next to me. He lifted the sack a bit so I could breathe more easily, but the other officer yelled at him. From time to time, he lifted the sack a bit so I could get some air.
The policemen led me up some stairs, and I could hear a number of doors closing behind me. We went down a long corridor. Our footsteps echoed. Then I heard another door closing. From the sound, it had to be made of metal.
They removed the sack from my head. I was standing in the middle of an empty room. There was no sink, no toilet, nothing other than brick walls. Behind the metal door that I had heard was another one made of heavy wood. The floor was concrete. High up one of the walls, directly under the ceiling, was a deep round hole that allowed light into the room. They took off the chains. Then they closed the door behind them. I still thought that they would come, ask me some questions, and then take me to the airport.
Hours later, I heard footsteps. A man in civilian clothes, a long shirt, vest and turban, came and asked me questions in English.
Who are you? What's your name? How old are you?
Where do you come from?
Are you a journalist?
Are you German?
Why did you come here?
What did you do in Pakistan?
Are you married?
Are you married to a Pakistani woman?
The questioning went on for hours, The man's English was hardly any better than mine. I told him about the tablighis and about Mohammad. Repeatedly, I asked him if I could use a telephone.
Finally he agreed to bring me a phone. "No problem," he said. He left the room and shut the door behind him.
I never saw that man again.
I tried to count the number of days, but I could only guess. I didn't know whether it was night or day. The light was always on. Whenever I thought it was night because I was tired, I'd try to sleep. When I thought it was daytime, I'd get up and say my morning prayers. They had taken my watch, my belt, and my shoes. I was barefoot. The only things I had in my possession were the pants I'd been wearing the whole time and the shirt Raheg had given me.
Two guards watched over me. It seemed to me that they worked in shifts of twelve hours each. But their comings and goings were irregular. Sometimes, one would appear a number of times in a row, and then the other. Sometimes, suddenly, there was no one there at all. I was able to talk with one of them a bit. The other remained silent the entire time.
They brought me food. Red lentils. Always red lentils that had been boiled but were no longer warm. Half a glass of red lentils per day. And a glass of water twice a day-at least I think it was twice a day. The times varied. Sometimes I imagined they were skipping the odd meal. I always had to ask for water by kicking the wooden door.
I also had to kick the door with my bare feet when I needed to go to the toilet. Outside there was another, equally bare room with a "squat toilet"-a hole in the floor that can be flushed. Further on there was a second metal door behind which the guards sat. Sometimes I had to kick the wooden door for hours, before one of the guards would open up and let me go to the bathroom. I refused to use the floor of my cell. I had no choice but to hold out for as long as it took.
I had to hold out.
At some point during my confinement, I became afraid. What would happen if my plane ticket expired? I didn't have any money to buy a replacement. Would they buy me one? Even if it was only a ticket to Turkey, anywhere was better than here.
I kicked the wooden door and paced across the floor of my cell.
The cell was six by nine feet. I paced back and forth. Life can't go on like this, I thought. I'll go crazy. Back and forth. I had read once that people can go insane if they spend too much time in solitary confinement. Back and forth. I needed something to occupy my mind. I went back to the door and kicked it with my bare feet. I had to do something to keep my wits.
I heard steps and the sound of a key turning.
It was the guard who talked.
I asked him if I could have a Koran. "Koran, Koran," I said. "Can I have?"
He nodded, smiling, and shut the door. The sound of his footsteps receded, and I heard the second metal door closing. I waited, pacing around my cell. For hours and hours.
As best as I can guess, it was two days before the guard brought me a Koran.
"Koran," he said, as he handed me the book.
"Elhamdulillah," I said.
Thanks and all praise be to Allah.
The guard immediately left, and I stood holding the book in my hands. It was a beautiful moment. I opened the book and read: "In the name of God, the Mercy-giving, the Merciful! Praise be to God, Who created Heaven and Earth and granted darkness and light! Yet those who disbelieve make other things equal to their Lord. He is the One Who has created you (all) from clay; then fixed a term. A deadline [for the Day of Judgment] has been set by Him."
The sixth sura. I could hardly believe 1was hearing the words of the Koran. I listened to my own voice as I read the verses. I was a prisoner, but at least I had something to do, something worthwhile even. I could study the Koran. I knew that this would be a good deed earned to my credit.
"He is God in (both) Heaven and Earth. He knows your secrets and anything you publish; He knows whatever you earn."
Suddenly I heard footsteps and keys. The door opened.
Pakistani policemen in turbans and uniforms came in and took the Koran away from me. They were carrying chains, heavy, rusty iron chains. The cuffs they clamped around my wrists were as thick as bars of chocolate. Using an Allen key, they attached the chains with screws to the inside of the handcuffs, tightening them until pain shot through my wrists. They used the same procedure with my feet. There was a further chain attached to the handcuffs with which they could lead me. I knew what was coming next.
One of them slipped the potato sack over my head.
It went dark again.
The chains rattled as they led me from the cell. I heard the wooden door and the metal door close behind it. They pulled me through the empty room with the toilet, the second metal door, the room where the guards waited, and then another metal door and a long corridor. I heard door after door closing behind me. Then I sensed light. It was daytime. I was sitting in a car, policemen to my left and right.
The sun did me some good, although I could only feel and not actually see it. Even under the sack, the air smelled mild. Where were they taking me, I wondered. And how long had I been in the cell?
I thought back. I had said ten sets of morning prayers.
We drove for a couple of hours. Every once in a while we stopped, and I could hear the policemen getting out for some tea. I could hear the spoons clinking in their glasses. They were laughing and shooting the breeze. I was left alone back in the car and had to listen to Pakistani pop music on the radio. That was a true punishment.
After about half a day, we arrived somewhere. Again I was led up some stairs. I heard a lot of doors. There were always steps, up and down, and then another door. A policeman put his arm out in front of my chest-a sign for me to stop walking and stand still.
Someone took the sack from my head. I found myself in a cell that was scarcely bigger than the one from which I'd been moved. But one of the walls was open. There were metal bars and behind them a hallway about three feet wide. Artificial light streamed in from somewhere.
A man was squatting Indian style in one corner of the room. The police released me from my chains and left the two of us alone.
About three feet in front of the other prisoner was a container about as big as a shoe box. It contained sweets, green, yellow, and red. Cookies.
Never before my life had I felt so hungry. For days all I had eaten were those red lentils. I wanted nothing more to pounce on the box of sweets.
"Salam alaikum," I said.
"A1aikum salam," said the man on the floor.
I could tell he was an Arab.
I asked him who he was and he answered in Arabic. I couldn't understand him. I sat down in another corner of the room. The man stared at the box. I stared at the box, too.
After a while, the Arab asked me if I wanted something to eat. At least, that was what I gathered from his hand gestures.
No, I signaled back. No, thank you.
The Arab put his hand to his mouth, nodding.
I should eat, he was trying to tell me.
I ate the entire box. I would have given all the money I have ever earned in my entire life for that one box of cookies.
Soon there would be four of us. Two Arabs were brought back to the cell. I discovered that they were being interrogated when I arrived. The man who gave me the sweets was from Bahrain. His name was Kemal. One of the other two men was from Oman, let's call him Salah. Today he's back home, but I don't want to him to get any trouble. I spent four years of my life with Salah. I saw him over and over again in different cellblocks in Guantanamo. Salah spoke very good English. He told me that he had gone to university in the United States. As of 2007, Kemal is still imprisoned at Guantanamo.
On the one hand, my situation had improved-at least I could make myself understood to Salah. On the other hand, things had definitely taken a turn for the worse. The cell was damp and cold, and it was crawling with cockroaches, beetles and strange, exotic spiders with fat bodies and hairy legs. There was no toilet, just a bucket. I soon got sick and started vomiting. Though our meals now consisted of rice and Pakistani bread as well as lentils, all I threw up was water or acidic yellow froth.
A piece of bread the size of a pita and a plate of rice or lentils twice a day-that's all the four of us were given to subsist on. We shared the food, but at some point I couldn't eat any more. It was strange, I was permanently hungry, but I couldn't eat anything. That was" completely new to me. In Bremen, we fasted during the daytime during the month of Ramadan. But we filled our bellies in the morning and the evening. Your stomach might have grumbled in between, but it didn't hurt.
Now my stomach definitely hurt. I felt a constant burning, acidic sensation in the back of my throat. Everything hurt, my stomach, my throat, even my tongue, which had become heavy, swollen, and dry. After a few days, I started feeling weak and getting headaches. I couldn't sleep, and over time I found I didn't have enough strength to move. But I could talk to Salah. I learned more English from him than in all the previous weeks I spent in Pakistan.
The Pakistanis interrogated me twice in this cell. They always asked the same questions. They photographed me and took my fingerprints.
What are you doing here? they asked.
Where do you come from?
What have you done?
Then they took me for my first interrogation with Americans.
We drove for a while by car through the city. I could hear the sounds of city streets, motorcycle rickshaws, and shouting in the marketplace. I was shackled and had a sack over my head. It was very hot. When we stopped, a policeman took the sack from my head so I could see the building we were about to enter. It was a large, brightly painted villa. Inside, it was cool-there was probably air conditioning. I was led through the house. There was a nice-looking salon with plants, armchairs and books, then a corridor, thick white wooden doors with windows in them, and high ceilings with spinning fans. I was taken to a room where I was told to wait. The policemen took their seats next to me on a bench.
After a short while the door opened, and an American came in and looked me over. He almost seemed startled. What had he expected? He was probably surprised that I looked so European. Even though I was dirty and unshaven, and my clothes were unwashed, I still had fair skin.
"The German guy!" he exclaimed
Then a second American came in and examined me. Both of them were wearing civilian clothing, cotton pants and shirts. The second one also sported a V-neck sweater. He had salt-and-pepper hair and a moustache. He almost looked German.
I said, "I come from Germany. I'm German."
The two Americans exchanged smiles.
"Yeah, the German guy," said the one with the sweater.
The policemen motioned for me to get up and follow them. The two Americans took the lead, and we trotted along behind them. I was taken to an interrogation room where there were three chairs and a table. I was still wearing chains, and my guards stood holding machine guns. Maybe, I thought later, the Americans were afraid I was going to attack them. All I wanted was to ask them when I could go home. As far as I was concerned, Turkey would do. I still believed they just wanted to ask me some questions and would then let me go.
The man with the sweater rolled up his sleeves and began the interrogation. The questions were similar to the ones the Pakistani police kept asking me, but this time I could understand them better.
When did you come to Pakistan?
All of that information was contained in the passport and the plane ticket they had in front of them.
Then the Americans wanted to know why I was in Pakistan. I tried to explain to them that I was a student of the Koran, that I had wanted to study at the Mansura Center in Lahore but had been turned down after being told it was too dangerous at the moment for them to accept foreigners because the Americans had just invaded Afghanistan. But I didn't say that.
At first I'd been upset about getting turned away by the Mansura Center. But I didn't want to turn around and go home, now that I was already here. I knew from some other tablighis in Bremen that Koran students in Pakistan move from mosque to mosque in small groups. I wanted to join these groups, I explained to the American.
He then wanted to know what I had been doing since the day I entered Pakistan, which was over two months before. I told him that I had traveled with other Koran students and that we had slept in the mosques, which we had gotten to know after praying there.
My English was still very bad. He didn't seem to understand a lot of what I was trying to say. But he understood enough to ask who these Koran students were, what their names were, and where they were now. I told him I didn't know. There were always new students joining the groups, while others went their own way. But I could make myself understood. I told him about Mohammad, whom I hadn't seen since I had been forced to leave the bus at the checkpoint in Peshawar. Surely he had asked about me.
Then the American wanted to know where exactly I'd been in Pakistan.
"Karachi," I said. "Airplane: I landing. No speak language. Nobody speak English. I meet Hassan in the plane. Hassan is from Islamabad. So I go to Islamabad. But not with Hassan. Hassan take the airplane to Islamabad."
"So you went by bus or by train to Islamabad?" asked the American. "Airplane. I buy new ticket and take the airplane, later. But in Islamabad I don't find Hassan. Telephone number he gave me-no good. I go to Lahore, to Masura Center for Islam. They say: no German, too dangerous. I go to Islamabad. I meet Mohammad. We sleep in the mosques. We study Koran. We study hadith. Hadith!"
One of the Pakistani policemen nodded.
"Then we take train to Peshawar."
What had I been doing in Bremen? asked the American.
I couldn't understand why he wanted to know that, but I answered anyway.
"I live in Bremen. I live in the house of my parents. I study ships, and then I study Koran. I marry Muslim woman from Turkey, so I want to study Koran."
Proudly I showed him the wedding band on my finger.
Suddenly, the American asked: "Are you a terrorist?"
"Terrorist? No, I'm German. I'm Turkish, but I live in Germany. I'm born in Germany, in Bremen."
"Do you know Osama?"
"Where is Osama? Tell me!"
"I don't know."
"Tell me and I'll let you go ..."
"No! No! I don't know ..."
The Pakistani policemen brought me back to the cell with the others. We stayed there for several days. Then some Pakistani soldiers came. Their commander, perhaps a general, was short and stocky and brought us some blue overalls-a kind of prison uniform. We were forced to put them on. We weren't allowed to wear anything underneath. Our own clothes were taken away. Then they chained our hands and feet.
Salah and the others knew that we were to be handed over to the Americans. But they hadn't told me.
The general said, "Mecburi. Mecburi." He looked me in the eye. Then he said in English, "Forgive me!"-before he put the sack over my head.
I'll never forgive him. Not even in the afterlife.
After we had gone up some stairs and had been loaded into a truck, the sack had slipped somewhat and I was able to nudge it further up without the soldiers noticing. I saw that we were in a military truck covered by a camouflaged tarpaulin. Suddenly a hand pulled the sack down over my eyes.
We only drove a short distance-probably no more than ten minutes. Then I heard airplanes, propeller-driven motors. I thought: they're taking me to Turkey. The planes' motors were already running. They were ready for takeoff. I heard other trucks that sounded just like the one we were in. Then I heard voices. American voices.
As we got out of the truck, I was able to push up the sack a little bit again. I saw lots of American soldiers in uniform, light-colored camouflage gear. I still thought they were going to take me to an American military base in Turkey. I was glad to be finally leaving Pakistan.
They searched me-even though I was wearing nothing underneath my overalls and had nothing left to my name, not even a pair of shoes. I felt their hands everywhere, and they were rough. Someone grabbed my right hand and tugged at my ring finger. He's after my wedding ring, I thought, the ring inscribed with my wife's name. One of the soldiers tugged at it. I balled my hand and tried to make a fist, but I was too weak. I was too weak to offer much resistance, and my fingers had gotten thin. They pried my fingers apart, and the ring slipped off.
I heard a soldier throw the ring away.
It clattered on the asphalt.
I was enraged, but there was nothing I could say. I was half-starved and bound in chains. I could hardly stand on my own two feet, when a deafening sound almost knocked me over.
The sound of hydraulics. An airplane hatch being opened mechanically.
We were pushed inside. I felt cold, raw metal against the soles of my bare feet.
"Sit!" a GI screamed in my ear. "Sit! Sit down, motherfucker!"
I fell on my behind and cowered on the metal floor. The soldier pressed my head down. I heard yelling and shouting. It came from a large number of other prisoners in the plane.
Suddenly I felt a blow to my head. I fell over to one side and lay there. Then I received a kick to the stomach.
It was the first time I was beaten.
They kicked my arms, legs and back with their boots. I had no way of defending myself. All I could do was cower.
I didn't have the strength to scream. There was only one thought in my head: they're taking me to Turkey. They're taking me to a base in Turkey, where they'll hand me over to the Turks.
They chained me to the floor. Soon, I thought, it will be all over.
They kicked me in the back.
I heard the hydraulics. Commands were barked out. The loading hatch shut.
Soon it will be all over.