Guantanamo bay

Ex-Guantanamo prisoner urges German Government to accept detainees

Author’s Note: ‘Making Sense of …’ is a series that brings selected German speaking newspaper articles to an English-speaking audience. 

The Tree at the other side - A Return home for Checkkuri?

The tree at the other side – A return home for Checkkuri?

photo credit: code poet via photopin cc

Murat Kurnaz, ex- Guantanamo inmate and a household name in Germany,  is urging to welcome Younous Chekkouri (currently detained in Guantanamo) in Germany. He made his point in an editorial at one of the biggest German newspapers, Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Click here to read the original article.


Murat Kurnaz has been detained in Guantanamo between 2002 and 2006 after being ‘caught’ in Pakistan where he intended to join an orthodox movement and conduct a pilgrimage. Strikingly, German authorities knew about it and did cooperate with the US . Back then, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former and current German foreign minister, allegedly, did not enough to free Kurnaz from Guantanamo. Note, back then Kurnaz was Turkish citizen but was born, raised and lived in Germany. However, he intended to gain German citizenship instead (for an interview with him on this subject click here)

In his autobigraphy ‘Fünf Jahre meines Lebens’ he finishes of this chapter for his live. Later on the book was made into a movie (see the trailer here). 


As the title of this posts suggests Kurnaz urges the German government to take accept a current detainee of Guantanamo bay, Younous Chekkouri. The two met in Kandahar in an US prison and Chekkouri approached Kurnaz in German language – something he would have not expected. Later on both have been detained in Guantanamo and occasionally had the chance to met in person — and become friends.

Chekkouri learned basic German in his youth, has uncle and other family members in Germany (with German nationality). Being a Moroccan national he is however deprived from the chance to be accepted in Morocco as such. In fact, the secret service of Morocco threatened him to enprison and torture him upon return. Being deprived of any home the assessment that he is no danger to society as expressed by US agencies in 2009 brought little hope. The lack of willing host country makes him a stranded soul in Guantanamo Bay.

After having elaborated on the fate of Chekkouri, Kurnaz recalls the promises of Obama to close down the camp and illustrate the cruel punishment methods and detainment circumstances. He closes the article with a call for German Chancellor Merkel to turn the fate of Chekkouri into fortune and “ein humanitäres Zeichen zu setzen und bei der Beendigung des dunklen Kapitels Guantánamo einen eigenen Akzent zu setzen.” [to make an expression of humanitarian aid and establish an own approaches to close the dark chapter Guantanamo]

Reception and Impact

Author’s Note: In this section I am, at first, elaborating on the comments made to this article in the newspaper as such. Afterwards an assessment of the impact I assign to it is followed.

Well, the echo seems split on the article. On the one hand there are plenty of comments that call for accepting Chekkouri to Germany. They generally refer to the inhuman conditions in Guantanamo and the tendency of the US to play ‘world police’. Notwithstanding the superior number of comments favouring an acceptance those comments being critical to it feature significantly higher approval rates (at the time of writing, the highes ‘refuse’ comment features close to 700 likes while the highest ‘accept’ comment only about 200). Fears centre around the prior deeds of Chekkouri and a refusal to take burden for nationals of other states.

Overall, the reactions in German political discourse seem to be low level. No major outcry, no major trouble for the current foreign minister Steinmeier and no demonstrations demanding Chekkouri’s acceptance.  Long-term mother of Germany, Angela Merkel, is not showing willingness to include the topic in bilateral negotiations in times of strained relationships over NSA spy scandal. Back in 2006, she might have demanded to shut down Guantanamo (see the German article here) but it has been a while since she referred to it explicitly. In fact, it seems in German media the topic Guantanamo enqueued into the long row of things Germans tend to dislike about the US. It is frequently mentioned in one breath with drone war, NSA affair and a general disappointment about the poor track record of Obama (see, for instance, herehere or here).