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    1. One cop. One young refugee. Eleven shots. Why did Matiullah Jabarkhel have to die?

      In Fulda, Germany, a police officer shoots a young refugee fatally. Was the action justified or violent? Depends on who you ask. An article by Sebastian Kempkens, published on the 22th of...

      In Fulda, Germany, a police officer shoots a young refugee fatally. Was the action justified or violent? Depends on who you ask.

      An article by Sebastian Kempkens, published on the 22th of September, 2021.

      Translated by @Grzmot

      For the protection of the individuals involved, some details have been changed.


      When everything is over, Lukas Weiler is leaning on a fence in the commercial district of Fulda and feels like everything around him is wrapped in cotton. He sees blue lights shimmer in the darkness and his colleagues run towards him, is how he later remembers the scene. Around him the streets are being locked down. In front of him lies the dead body of a young man, that he, a street police officer, just shot. A puddle of blood is spreading on the asphalt. Steam is rising from the corpse on this cool April morning.

      At some point Weiler, who actually has a different name, forces himself up and walks, accompanied by two colleagues, the way back on which he pursued the young man. He crosses the intersection, where he fired the first shot. He walks past the bakery, where he drew his gun. The parking lot, where his colleague was attacked and where everything began.

      Weiler sits down in a room in the police station, which is located just around the corner. A man from the team which collects evidence and traces from crime scenes shows up and swabs his fingertips, on which there is still blood of the dead. Weiler must hand in his uniform and weapon belt, he remembers. His equipment is now evidence. Then, shortly before 10 AM, two colleagues enter the room, who oversee the investigation against him, followed by the state attorney.
      The state attorney said: “Mr. Weiler, you are now accused in a homicide.”
      On the report the details of the case will be detailed: That it is about article 212 in criminal law – Manslaughter. Time of the crime: 4:30AM, weapon: pistol Heckler & Koch P30.
      Lukas Weiler fired eleven shots at the 21 years old Matiullah Jabarkhel. An Afghan refugee, who had lived with a temporary residence permit in Fulda and had thrown rocks at a bakery. It’s the 13th of April 2018, a Friday, on which a police response which looked like a routine, ended in catastrophe.
      Deadly use of force involving firearms, that sounds like an American phenomenon. But even if the numbers in Germany are low in comparison: They are rising. Between 2000 and 2014 the statistics of the German university of the police only noted a two-digit number in one year. Since 2015, it has been a double-digit number every year. In 2019 and 2020, the police have killed 15 people each year.
      The statistic does not differentiate between ethnicity and age of the victims. But the cases which make the headlines sound similar.
      In 2019 an officer shoots an Afghan in Stade, who allegedly attacked a colleague with a metal stick.
      In June 2021 a female police office [Addendum: In German the gender of the subject is denoted with a simple word ending, I was unsure if I should retain that information or not in the translation] kills a man from Morocco in Bremen, who is holding a knife in his hand.
      And in Hamburg, in May of 2021 an officer shoots a man from Lebanon, who screamed “Allahu Akbar” and was allegedly brandishing a knife.
      Each one of these cases fits into a schema. Especially since the Black-Lives-Matter protests in the USA such situations – white officers against migrant – stand under suspicion to be the expression of a racist perpetrator-victim system.
      Just two days after the death of Matiullah Jabarkhel dozens of people came together at the crime scene, under the motto “Justice for Matiullah” they held high pictures of Jabarkhel and demanded, that the officer be punished. The foreign advisor of the city, Abdulkerim Demir, stood in front of the demonstrating people and gave an interview, in which he said that Jabarkhel was only buy bread and that the police might have “murdered” him.
      The opposing front formed just as well. The AfD and the extremist rightwing identarian movement mobilized under the motto “The police – Our friend”, in social networks numerous users wrote things like “The monkeys don’t get it any other way.”, “Everything done right.” And “Clear boundary setting by the police officer!”. A representative of the AfD for the Bundestag released a notice to the press: Chancellor Merkel ensured with her immigration policy, that these uncultured, underqualified people believe, they can do everything here.”
      More then three years Matiullah Jabarkhel is now dead, more than three years – until the July of 2021 – the investigation lasted. And still one question remains unanswered: Who is guilty here? The officer, who shot? Or the Afghan, who ran riot on that morning?
      For the reconstruction of the intervention on the 13th of April 2018 and the resulting investigation, the ZEIT had the ability to go through files of the police, coroner’s and forensical reports, talked to brothers of Jabarkhel and his friends. With social workers and translators. The ZEIT also met with officer Lukas Weiler for three long conversations. The officer did not want to see his real name in the news, nor the name of his colleague who was on patrol with him that day, who shall be named Regina Wundrack in this text.
      A few hours after Lukas Weiler leaves the police station on that Friday of April 2018, the father of Matiullah Jabarkhel gets a call from Germany in a small village in eastern Afghanistan. On the other end is a voice he does not recognize. The father, himself a police officer, a slender man with his head half-bald, stands in the living room of the family. He begins to tremble as he listens, finally ends the call and says nothing for a long time. His wife and sons ask, what happened, but he is silent. Then, his four remaining sons tell, he begins to cry terribly.
      On the second to last day of his life, it’s Thursday afternoon, Matiullah Jabarkhel enters the foreign office in Fulda, a large building near the castle garden. He is a slim young man with soft facial features, his hair shaved to a kind of mohawk, short on the sides, long on the top. He walks up to the office and complains, that his social money had not been transferred. The conflict cannot be resolved, Jabarkhel cannot be calmed down, so security notifies a man, who sits a floor higher up: The man, a retired officer, knows Jabarkhel and is able to calm him down and promises, the money will be transferred this afternoon, he could get it soon at his bank.
      Jabarkhel exits the office. One of the last somewhat friendly contacts with a state, where he wanted to build a future.
      Matiullah Jabarkhel grew up in a large, tight-knit family. Six brothers, three sisters, the family of eleven lived in their village near the city Dschalalabad, about 100 kilometers away from the Pakistani border. When the brothers tell of this time, it sounds like a childhood where war comes and goes, but where also a lot os good. Matiullah plays Cricket, he teases his brothers during prayers and he has big plans. He wants to become a police officer like his father. But after one brother dies in the Afghan Army during combat with the Taliban and the family received threats, the father decided: Matiullah will go to Europe.
      Converted, about 10,000 EUR credit the family takes up on itself for this. Matiullah, according to their hopes, will repay the money soon and can support the family financially.
      Iran, Balkan route, traffickers. In October 2015 Jabarkhel, 18 years old, arrives in Gießen. The euphoria of the welcome culture is already slowly fading, but in retrospect it looks like he had a good start. He is moved to Fulda and gets lodgings in a refugee center. There is little space and it’s dirty, says his best friend, who he met there, but Jabarkhel finds himself in these new circumstances, learns a few pieces of German. After a few months, he can move to a better lodging. He was intelligent, says everyone who dealt with him. On photos he poses in front of a Christmas tree.
      On the phone he tells his family with excitement of Germany’s pine forests and the luxury of selecting between countless brands of chocolate at the grocery store. A social worker remembers that he often wears the same T-Shirt, on his breast the words “I Germany”.
      Jabarkhel attends an integration class and learns decent Germany. Like in Afghanistan he plays Cricket in Germany too, apparently, he even travels the country, there is a photo showing him at the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin. He wears a white shirt and is holding a cricket bat in his hand. With the other he forms the victory symbol.
      In that time, a social worker describes his behavior as unremarkable, not warranting further attention. Nothing points towards the looming conflict with the police.

      The office of the attorney Pascal Johann is in a practical building in Frankfurt. Here, at the end of a long corridor, in a conference room, in front of grey curtains, waits Lukas Weiler.
      It is not common, that an accused police officer agrees to an interview with a journalist after a that hotly debated, conflicting intervention. He decided after thinking about it for a short time. He wants to correct something.
      At the meeting with Weiler you meet a man, who strangely enough appears both younger and older, than he really is. Weiler is 39 years old, but he could also be at the end of his 20s. He wears a T-Shirt, worn skater shoes, a fuzzy beard, around his wrist several old entry bands for rock festivals. When he begins to talk, he appears significantly older, than he is, that’s how bureaucratic and complex his words sometimes are. He tries hard to make himself as unattackable as possible.
      Weiler is a police officer more by chance than anything else. A friend dragged him to the entry exam. In his sixteen years of service, he worked undercover in the trainyard district in Frankfurt and as a group leader at the police. He showed young officers the ropes, but his favourite activity on the job was driving on patrol. He doesn’t like offices. He loves being outside, “Help the weak and step on the toes of the evil”, is how he calls it.
      Matiullah Jabarkhel has been in Germany for about a year, when the problems start. Like during an EKG of a stressed heart, one can notice stronger eruptions every time they happen. At the start, he has has difficulties organizing his day to day tasks, then, he the paid out money isn’t enough anymore. A woman who lived in the same building says that the refugees talked about him a lot: “One man told me, that Matiullah told him multiple times, that he was hungry and if he could give him bread.”

      “Please make sure, that the boy stays in Germany”

      Jabarkhel, who always told his best friend that he wanted to become a doctor in Germany, soon only sporadically attends class, the school throws him out due to missing too many classes. His social worker organizes him an apprenticeship instead, but he gets thrown out there too. He takes the train without a ticket and gets letters full of complicated words like reminder and debt collection.
      Apparently Matiullah Jabarkhel becomes more and more desperate. He talks about suicide, and apparently attempts one too. Then, in March 2017, the federal office for migration and refugees denies his request for asylum. Through an attorney he fights the decision, from now on he lives in Germany only with a temporary residence permit, which has to be renewed every few months.
      A short time later Jabarkhel is institutionalized in a psychiatry and receives stationary care: “Crisis intervention due to acute stress reaction, cannabis intoxication with addiction”, the doctors note. Jabarkhel doesn’t make it long, after just three days he releases himself, “because of urgent personal wishes and against professional medical advice”.
      In November 2017, five months before his death, Jabarkhel receives a letter, that for him, must sound like the last friendly offer from a state that wants him gone. In the letter the federal office for foreigners advises a so called “voluntary journey back in his home country.” Germany does not send denied refugees back to Afghanistan, but voluntary trips back home are being organized.
      Jabarkhel reacts with violence. In December, he hits his best friend, with whom he shares a room, with his fist in his face: Brainn trauma, bruising of the cheekbone, police intervention. Shortly after he hits another refugee without any known reason at a bus stop, splitting his lip. On the Christmas eve 2017 he threatens three people living in his home with a knife with a 20cm long blade, because they supposedly do not want to share their food with him. In March of 2018, a month before his death, he threatens a young Iranian woman and shatters her broom.
      The witness statements by his housemates in the investigation after his death sound like a mix of fear and empathy: On one hand the young man terrorizes the whole home, on the other many feel sorry for him. Jabarkhel’s life in Germany, which started out so promising, is completely out of control after one and a half years.
      On the evening before his death an acquaintance spots him at the Fuldau train station, where the pedestrian passage goes into the building. He sits there a lot with other refugees. They talk, joke, kick around empty beer cans and whistle after girls. And not seldomly, the acquaintance says, “they eat glass”, meaning they take drugs – Ecstasy.
      Who had to cross the group on the way to the store or to work, probably often was annoyed by the group of young men. In a lot of German downtowns you can find them, hanging out in groups. They come from Syria, Somalia, Irak or Afghanistan. Sometimes they look sympathetic, sometimes threatening. In their home country they are thought to be the lucky ones that made it, but often enough they are broken people – with differing life stories that all go towards the same end: endless waiting, solitude and lack of perspective. And the feeling of being stranded between worlds, maybe even lost.
      A doctor at one point diagnosed the Uprooted-syndrome in Jabarkhel, which is also called the Odysseus syndrome: A type of collective diagonisis of psychical ailments of refugees, which during their odyssey across the continents have lost everything that made up their world – Friends, family, home, their moral system, the inner compass.
      At some point Jabarkhel couldn’t hold it together anymore. At a school conference, the topic being his missing classes, he called his father. A present translator said that he begged his father to be allowed to return to Afghanistan. The father had said: “Please make sure that the boy stays in Germany. We have sold everything, we have nothing left, we cannot use him here.”
      Jabarkhel, the translator remembers, cried afterwards, “like a small child”.
      Often now, Jabarkhel sits alone in the refugee home and talks to himself about nonsensical things. At night he is rarely home, always out for a long time, can’t sleep anymore, wakes up with headaches, he tells a doctor. Sometimes he punches and kicks the air, as if he was fighting an invisible enemy. At one point during a meeting with his social worker he stands in front of the office and says, “I am Hitler.” Multiple times.
      The man responsible for the refugee home does his best to guide Jabarkhel back to the right path. But he is still responsible for sixty other refugees as well. A lot of other people dealing with Jabarkhel says the same: they want to help, but they have too little time.
      Eight days before his death, 5th of April 2018, Jabarkhel makes a fundamental choice, which shocks the other refugees in the home: he signs the agreement for the voluntary journey back home, against the will of his father. By signing, he agrees to drop the complaint against his denied request for asylum. As if he had given up.

      “The guy just wanted to destroy me”

      Lukas Weiler’s night shift on the 13th of April is almost at its end, when he and his partner Regina Wundrack decide at about 4 AM to go out and control traffic and parked cars. Drivers, who were already getting to work will later tell investigators of a young man in a muscle shirt and Army pants: One window car he hits with his fist, in front of another he jumps directly into the street. It is Matiullah Jabarkhel.
      The refugee home, in which proximity everything happens, is located in Münsterfeld, a former military outpost. Once upon a time, the Americans were stationed here. Today, there are a few apartments, otherwise mostly closed off commercial company grounds and offices.
      Jabarkhel lives in room B39, on photos it looks abandoned. Ten square meters, metal lockers, a dirty refrigerator, cigarette butts on the window rest. At night, the neighbour heard, how Jabarkhel was hitting his head against the wall. “It happened so often, that after some time I recognized the sound”, he said later as a witness. But this time it sounded louder and more desperate. At approximately 4 AM in the morning he hears Jabarkhel run down the metal stairs, sees how he wanders in front of the building, yelling in German: “Fuck Germany, fuck the street, fuck this county!”
      At 4:21 AM an emergency call is received at the police, originating from the bakery opposite of the refugee home. On the phone is the saleswoman, who wants to prepare the store for the first customers: “Here is someone, who is throwing rocks at the window.” In the background you can hear loud banging noises, is how it is written in the investigation files. “Fuck, shit, psychopath!” the woman yells.
      Two minutes later the woman calls again. “A refugee or whatever” is still throwing with rocks, the delivery driver was hit on the head, she needs a doctor.
      It only takes a few minutes until a police car enters the roundabout at the bakery. Not Lukas Weiler and Regina Wundrack are the first ones to arrive, but three colleagues: Driving and at the backseat two women, and riding shotgun one man.
      The man will later say: “A male person” from the direction of the bakery had crossed the street: “My first thought was, that that might be the person that threw the rocks. But he was running pretty normally across the street.” Then the man suddenly attacked.
      With a big rock, that he apparently picked up from the street, Jabarkhel breaks the side window of the car, opens the door and starts attacking the officer wildly with the rock. His colleague behind the wheel does not know how to help herself and hits the gas, dragging Jabarkhel about 200 meters while he wildly hits everything around himself. Then he falls to the ground, gets up and runs away. On a video that the ZEIT has seen you can see silhouettes, probably the male officer and behind him his two colleagues, following Jabarkhel to an unlit parking lot.
      What happens later, will cause a lot of discussion. Three police officers, equipped, against a young man, who isn’t very tall at 1.70 meters nor very muscular – The result should be obvious.
      The three officers from the first car however, are not federal police officers, but so called “Wachpolizisten” (watch police officers). Such officers have a shorter time of education and are mostly used for things like transporting prisoners or guarding objects. On this morning, the three have a task which they cannot handle.
      It only takes a couple of seconds, until Jabarkhel has overwhelmed the male officer, apparently he takes away his baton and assaults the man lying on the floor heavily, his two colleagues unable to help.
      Jabarkhel appeared like a “wild animal” one of the two will later say. She was afraid that her colleague would “lie dead under him”. The colleague himself say: “This guy just wanted to destroy me with an intensity that I have never witnessed in my life.” He describes Jabarkhel like a zombie: “massive, aggressive, dead eyes, unable to feel pain.”
      Most likely there will always be doubts about the story. A coroner will later find cannabis in in a toxicological exam. But that does not explain the behavior. It reminds more of “the influence of certain psychoactive substances”, writes the coroner. But his laboratory cannot check the corpse for such drugs, a sample would have to be sent to a specialized laboratory. Which the state attorney never requested.
      A few seconds after the male officer falls to the ground, Lukas Weiler and his patrol colleague Regina Wundrack arrive at the parking lot, running. The request for help reached them, while they were checking a car. Weiler immediately realizes, that the situation is serious. He jumps over a hedge, which is why he arrives a few seconds before his colleague Wundrack at Jabarkhel.

      Was his behaviour a “suicide by cop”?

      He hits Jabarkhel with his baton on his upper arm, he remembers. Jabarkhel immediately stopped assaulting his colleague and turned towards Weiler. Weiler moved back and tripped, losing his baton. Jabarkhel runs past Weiler, away from the parking lot, some stairs down towards the street. Weiler pursues.
      Near the bakery, Jabarkhel stops. Weiler says, he hit Jabarkhel with a load of pepper spray straight into his face. From behind his colleague Wundrack sees, how Jabarkhel shudders, wipes his face with his hand and continues running. Later it will come out, that the pepper spray was most likely defective.
      He ordered Jabarkhel to stop and drop the baton, says Weiler. But he didn’t react, instead kept on running.
      Weiler pulls his gun and keeps up the pursuit.
      In Hessian law about public security it’s clearly stated, when police officers are allowed to use their firearms: They can “only be used against persons to stop an immediate danger either against body or life.”
      Was Weiler in immediate danger?
      Jabarkhel and Weiler ran for about 100 meters when the officer overtake the Afghan. He wants to arrest him together with his colleague Regina Wundrack, but she is too far away. She can only see, that the two are facing each other, Jabarkhel with his back towards her. A person living nearby later would state as a witness that he heard someone yell “Stop moving, stop moving or I will shoot!”
      When he yelled that, says Weiler, Jabarkhel looked at him.
      What happens then, to this day cannot be determined without any doubts. Weiler and Jabarkhel are about two to three meters apart. Weiler says, Jabarkhel fixated his eyes on him, and then ran towards him. He, Weiler, moved back and shot at the legs of the attacker. Regina Wundrack, who was standing a few meters behind Jabarkhel, describes however, that there was no movement of the Afghan towards Weiler, when he started shooting. Another witness could only approximately see what happened and remembers “lightning” in the darkness, the muzzle fire of the shots.
      Did Weiler shoot to soon?
      The state attorney will later say, that “on the first impression” shooting “could be determined as not needed”, because Jabarkhel and Weiler were static. On the other hand, the attorney says, Jabarkhel was “without a doubt” still holding the baton, and it is unclear, “if his manner, words or behavior indicated another looming attack of the killed.” Factoring in Jabarkhel’s previous behavior, it cannot be assumed, that he was thinking about “capitulation”.
      Thomas Feltes has researched cases like the one from Fulda for years, cases, in which often young men against all rationality and a stronger power on the side of the police, riot and risk the lives of the officers – and their own. Feltes works as a police researcher at the Ruhr university Bochum. The case Jabarkhel, he says, fits a trend: About three quarters of those shot and killed by the police are mentally ill.
      For this task, Feltes says, officers are not well prepared. He recommends, that the officers retreat to deescalate the situation and play for time, for example until the civil reinforcement can arrive, like the psychological service. In most cases however, they do the opposite, and attempt to resolve the situation with force. Especially when it comes to the mentally ill, it can lead to catastrophe. The larger the built up pressure, the larger the sense of danger of the mentally ill – and the fiercer their resistance.
      But Feltes also says, that the concrete situation is hard to estimate in this case. Who can say, if Weiler had another choice? Wnad what would have happened if he let Jabarkhel run? Would he have attacked someone else?
      That Jabarkhel might have been mentally ill, will also play a role in the investigation of the federal police. The officers will introduce a “suicide by cop” theory. Most of the studies on the topic come from the USA. According to it, Jabarkhel provoked until a police officer would shoot him.
      In Germany, only few researches have investigated the topic of suicide by cop. One of them is Dietmar Heubrock. The law psychologist from Bremen has written a guide for officers, that if you read it, you have to think of Matiullah Jabarkhel. Heubrock says, the provoked self killing often was “a spontaneous decision”. A lot of perpetrators are under the influence of drugs and were mentally ill. The need to force the decision of suicide on someone else, often has cultural reasons – in Arabian cultures suicides are a grave sin.
      And still: it only is a theory. Under experts, a controversial one. It could be used to justify the behavior of the police in retrospect, because he didn’t want it any other way.

      “I would have done the same with any other violent perpetrator”

      On that morning in Fulda, Weiler apparently shoots three times. They miss. Then his gun fails to load, later an unfired bullet will be found on the street. According to Weiler Jabarkhel charges Weiler, as soon as he realizes that he cannot shoot, and starts beating him with the baton.
      For a few seconds, Weiler and Jabarkhel are out of the view for his colleague. Weiler says, he was running backwards up the slight hill, trying to solve his failure to load and stop the bleeding Jabarkhel.
      A person living close by, who was watching from his terrace, recalls Weiler’s calls: “Stop, stop”. But Jabarkhel was “still charging him, aggressively, he didn’t stop, nothing”, says the man later during a reconstruction of the scene. Regina Wundrack too sees them both again, and she too sees how Jabarkhel is charging her colleague with the baton.
      Then Weiler fixes his failure to load, ejecting the unfired bullet. And fires from a short distance, until he has an effect, just how he learned it: He fires until Jabarkhel stumbles backwards and falls to the ground. At the end, Weiler goes to his knees too. “Shit, I shot a person”, he says, his colleague hears as she comes running. Weiler himself, cannot remember anymore.
      In his report the coroner will later list all shot wounds: Neck, rib, right upper thigh, between the shoulder blades. In total, eleven shots were fired, four hit Jabarkhel, from a maximum distance of 2.5 meters. The entry wounds fit into Weiler’s testimony; the coroner writes.
      At 4:49 AM the female emergency doctor determines Matiullah Jabarkhels death. Cause of death: Bleeding out due to shot wounds with disconnection to vital organs.
      In the conversations at the law firm in Frankfurt, Weiler appears distanced and analytical, when talks about the details. He is surprised how you function in such a situation. Again and again he says, he worked through the escalation protocol: Baton, pepper spray, threat of shooting, shooting the legs, final shots at torso. In the end, he had no other choice. “If I didn’t act the way I did, I would’ve been lying on the street, and maybe someone else too.”
      There are other theories on why officers shoot migrants. They too, come from the USA, but in contrast to suicide by cop they don’t focus on the mental state of the victim, but of the shooter. Studies regarding the so called shooter bias imply: police officers in a dangerous situation tend to shoot someone with darker skin – because there is a deep connection in their brains that is being accessed. Black equals dangerous. Arabian equals dangerous.
      You can absolutely ask yourself if Lukas Weiler would’ve shot eleven times in the same situation if the perpetrator was white an German. But at the same time, police researcher Thomas Feltes warns the same way he did before, to explain a situation like Fulda with a singular cause – too complicated is the situation to be explained by something like shooter bias.
      If you ask the Fulda police president Günther Voß for Weiler’s track record, he describes him as a very good colleague. No wrong behavior on his track record, in conversations the officer doesn’t say anything, which could even generously be understood as racist. He seems reflective, provocative questions he answers smartly and attempting to calm the conversation. During the investigation of the ZEIT, we receive a screenshot from an anonymous sender, showing the Facebook page of Weiler, under a slightly different name. You can see, what groups he has subscribed to. A Biergarden [Addendum: Imagine Oktoberfest, but way smaller, usually local annual celebration of something with the excuse to consume beer], a DIY workshop for children.
      Under that, a red logo with the words “Protect home country – Stop asylum fraud!”, the title of the page: “No more asylum homes in Germany”, next to it another site, that Weiler has subscribed to: “AfD party in the German Bundestag”
      Weiler reacts shocked, if you confront him with that screenshot. He confirms, that it is his profile. That he subscribed to those groups, he was not aware of that. He is almost never on Facebook, he does not support a political stance like that. Maybe he added the sites on accident, when he read comments related to the case. “I would’ve done the same with every different perpetrator as well – the skin colour was and is not a factor for me at all.”
      One week after his death Matiullah Jabarkhel’s coffin lands in Kabul. The two older brothers pick him up and drive him home in a rented ambulance. When the family opens the body bag and sees the wounds all over his body, the mother faints. When the coffin is moved to the graveyard two hours later, she feverishly holds on to it, the brothers say.
      Hundreds show up for the burial. The parents almost collapse there, also because some guests say: You shouldn’t have sent him to Europe, he’d still be alive then.

      Every side sees itself as the victim and everyone else as the perpetrator

      A short time later the father dies, aged 55, heartattack. His wife is brought to the hospital as well two days later, with high blood pressure and vertigo. Two weeks later she dies too, stroke. That’s how the brothers of Matiullah Jabarkhel describe it. The parents, they say, couldn’t handle the death of their son.
      In Fulda photos soon begin to circulate, that apparently were taken in Afghanistan: the in white cloth wrapped face of Jabarkhel, his skin dotted with blue spots.
      Lukas Weiler is driving in his car at that time, passing a protest banner. At one of the main roads he read in big letters: “What happened to Matiullah?” He asked himself at that time, why no one cared, what happened to the officer, says Weiler.
      About a year passes, the state attorney stops the investigation, result: No credible belief in a crime. “For an alternative series of events of the final shooting, partly how the public calls it, an “execution” of Jabarkhel, there is simply not enough proof.” Writes the state attorney.
      It doesn’t lead to the calming of the conflict. Not it only really begins. Exactly one year after Jabarkhe’s death in April 2019, people once again demonstrate, one of them would later be indicted. Another one supposedly yelled: “Cops murder, the state deports, what a bunch of racists!” another one held a protest sign high: Who do you call when cops murder?
      If you talk with people from the left who attended the protests, then you often get counter questions for your questions. If you didn’t see what happened in Hanau? Or in Halle? If you’ve heard of the NSU 2.0? In chat groups, where police officers apparently exchanged racist messages, colleagues of Lukas Weiler were in them as well.
      Two activists from Frankfurt publicize a blog post, title: “Police kills refugee, demonstrators demand resolution and are defamed”, they write, Jabarkhel had been killed with 11 shots. The police office accuses the two activists of libel. Reason: It was eleven shots, of which only four hit. But only people who know the investigation file know that.
      And so the fronts harden. The leftists complain about racism and police violence, without considering in detail, the actions of the police officer. And the Fulda police searches the home of a journalist, because people shared the blog post in his Facebook group. Which causes the leftists to think that they were right.
      On one side the apparently white, strong state. On the other the weak refugee and his supporters. Every side sees itself as the victim and the other as the perpetrator. And every side can call upon a theory that supports them. Here the suicide by cop hypothesis, there the shooter bias.
      While the storm rages outside, Lukas Weiler attempts to understand his feelings. To get away from it all, he goes patrolling. For the left a scandal – How can it be, that an accused is still on the job? For Weiler, the day to day becomes more and more difficult, both at work and at home. He talks with a police doctor and a psychiatrist, “Work accident support” is written in the document handed to him by the relevant authority, in bold letters the diagnosis: “post traumatic stress disorder” and “problems dealing with depressive symptoms and symptoms of bitterness”.
      At least the investigation is behind him. But then in 2019, the video appears, which shows his colleagues following Jabarkhel to the parking lot. A group of young adults filmed the video and only now informed the police. The state attorney reopens the case, asks the new witnesses, it’s apparent, how complicated the case is, how difficult a final verdict will be.
      In July of 2019 the investigation is closed again. The German attorney of the family Jabarkhel appeals. The investigation is re-reopened. And finally closed for good. There will not be a case.
      The brothers of Matiullah Jabarkhel say, they don’t understand how the officers got away with it. If you talk to them through a video call, they cry a lot, and hold each other in their arms, interrupt the interview again and again.
      Lukas Weiler says, he has the feeling of being publicly shamed, even though he was only doing his job. He has decided to stop doing patrols. He, that always wanted anything but a job behind a desk, requested to be retrained to an emergence call responder, where he would sit at a desk, in front of him a phone, and take emergency calls.
      Cooperation: Amdadullah Hamdard
      Behind the story: To contact the family of the dead Matiullah Jabarkhel in rural Afghanistan, the author of the story talked to Amdadullah Hamdard, a local employee of the ZEIT. He visited the family in May 2021. It was his final mission for the ZEIT. In August Amdadullah Hamdard, who was on the death list of the Taliban, was shot in front of his house.

      8 votes
    2. What's something about yourself that you had to face?

      We tell our self stories of who we are to build a narrative, motivate us, make us feel good, etc. What's something you learned about yourself that didn't sit well with you once you realized it?...

      We tell our self stories of who we are to build a narrative, motivate us, make us feel good, etc. What's something you learned about yourself that didn't sit well with you once you realized it? How'd you react to the feeling/behavior?

      I'm not sure if this is my imposter syndrome/anxiety speaking, but I've had to face some not nice things about myself that I personally think I have strong data for. I don't think it's weak to admit an insecurity or flaw. I have flaws, I'm allowed to vocalize them. I think, maybe, I can also vocalize how in over my head I am to try and "fix" or improve it. I think facing my own music is a way I can take my behaviors into consideration when I approach specific situations.

      For example, I'm a pot head, I know I have trouble with my marijuana usage/depend on it to get out of my low moods; so, when I'm ready to quit or slow down, maybe it isn't best to drive that route home where that dispensary is/ try to avoid looking at that billboard (among many other things I can do to get to the root cause of the low moods).

      I have other flaws that are related and unrelated. What I'm saying is that I know myself, I'm not invincible just because I'm aware of my short-comings. I try my best to consider my short-comings while approaching specific situations. But they are short-comings nonetheless; something that will always need to be considered, maybe to varying degrees depending on my experience with it.

      25 votes
    3. Birthdays!

      What's your favorite memory from a birthday (yours or someone else's)? This could be a favorite experience, gift, interaction, cake, anything! It can be more than one! I'll go first. My favorite...

      What's your favorite memory from a birthday (yours or someone else's)? This could be a favorite experience, gift, interaction, cake, anything! It can be more than one!

      I'll go first.

      My favorite memory of my own birthday was in high school when my friends surprised me with a grocery bag filled with my favorite treats (various sour candies! XD!). For some reason, it made me feel seen.

      A funny memory of my birthday was when my family treated me to IHOP for breakfast and later on that day my friends surprised me and took me to IHOP... the same one!

      My favorite birthday memory in general was my significant other's. I got us tickets to a comedy show in Madison Square Garden/a weekend in NY (we were living in the west coast at the time). NYC in December: walking in Central Park, bars, donuts & pizza, good public transportation, making a little snow man, walking.

      Oh, and you could also state if you had a horrible birthday experience.

      11 votes
    4. Tildes Screenless Day Discussion Thread - October 2021

      What is a "Screenless Day"? Tildes "Screenless Day" is a simple event aimed at encouraging people to take a temporary step away from toxic or consuming aspects of technology and spend their time...

      What is a "Screenless Day"?

      Tildes "Screenless Day" is a simple event aimed at encouraging people to take a temporary step away from toxic or consuming aspects of technology and spend their time and energies elsewhere.


      When is it?

      It takes place over the weekend starting on the first Friday of each month. Participants will choose that Friday, Saturday, or Sunday to take as their screenless day -- whichever works best for their schedule.

      Some people might not be able to participate in that window, and that's fine too. They can choose to shift their day earlier or later as needed. It is also completely fine (and encouraged!) to take personal screenless days separate from the event if you like. This thread will be posted the first weekend of each month, but it is open for comments the entire month.


      Does it have to be truly "screenless"?

      "Screenless" is an ideal, not a mandate. The spirit of the day is to deliberately step away from toxic or consuming aspects of technology, and what that means is different for each person. Thus, it is up to each participant to determine what "screenless" means to them. Some might only choose to not use social media for a day; some might choose to eliminate all "screens" but still use their ereader; some may maintain some screen use but only for necessity (e.g. work; classes; GPS; etc.). Some might get rid of screens entirely, or go fully "unplugged" for the day.


      How do I participate?

      You do not have to do anything formal at all to participate -- simply take your screenless day in whatever way is best for you!

      If you’d like to, use this thread to share plans for your upcoming screenless day or summaries/reflections about it once it’s over.


      Can I chat in this thread if I'm not participating?

      Yes! The more, the merrier! Discussion from anyone, participant or non-participant alike, is welcome. Though, do understand that it might take a bit longer than normal for some people to respond. :)

      7 votes
    5. For those living in a different country than they grew up in, what's it like?

      In the discussion "Does the internet feel American centric to you?", various people mentioned living in different countries. In particular @Adys mentioned living in 5 different European countries...

      In the discussion "Does the internet feel American centric to you?", various people mentioned living in different countries. In particular @Adys mentioned living in 5 different European countries and offered to give advice to those who are interested in moving to another country. I'd love to hear what the challenges are, and in particular how you get the courage to speak to native speakers in a language you don't speak very well.

      For me, my spouse and I are considering (someday) buying property in Greece. Her family is of Greek descent, though she was born and grew up in the states. We're both learning Greek now and hope that in the future we can get back there and possibly even have a vacation home there one day. She has relatives who have homes there and in the states.

      16 votes
    6. What Guantánamo made out of them

      By Bastian Berbner and John Goetz, published 1 September, 2021 The man who called himself "Mister X" in Guantánamo wore a balaclava and mirrored sunglasses when he tortured. The person he was...

      By Bastian Berbner and John Goetz, published 1 September, 2021

      The man who called himself "Mister X" in Guantánamo wore a balaclava and mirrored sunglasses when he tortured. The person he was torturing was not supposed to see his face. Now, 17 years later, Mister X is standing at a potter's wheel in his garage in Somewhere, America. A bald man with a greying beard, tattooed on the back of his neck. His hands, big and strong, mould a grey-brown lump of clay. The pot won't turn out very nice, you can already tell. He says that's the way it is with his art, he's more attracted to ugliness.

      Mister X thought long and hard about whether he wanted to receive journalists and talk about what happened back then. It would be the first time that a Guantánamo torturer has spoken publicly about what he did. The meeting on this day in October 2020 was preceded by numerous emails. Now, finally, we are with him. An interview of several hours is already behind us, in which Mister X told us about his cruel work. We told him that the man he maltreated at that time would also like to talk to him. Mister X replied that on the one hand he had longed for such a conversation for 17 years - on the other hand he had dreaded it for 17 years. He asked for half an hour to think it over. He said he could think well while making pottery.

      The man who would like to talk to him is called Mohamedou Ould Slahi. In the summer of 2003, he was considered the most important prisoner in the Guantánamo Bay camp. Of the almost 800 prisoners there, according to all that is known, no one was tortured as severely as he was.

      There are events that determine a biography. Even if they do not last that long in terms of lifespan, in this case barely eight weeks, they unfold a power that makes everything before fade into oblivion and captivates everything after.

      Back then, in the summer of 2003, Mister X was in his mid-thirties and an interrogator in the American army. He was part of the so-called Special Projects Team whose task was to break Slahi. The detainee had so far remained stubbornly silent, but the intelligence services were convinced that he possessed important information. Perhaps even information that could prevent the next major attack or lead to Osama bin Laden, who was then the world's most wanted terrorist: the leader of Al-Qaeda, the main perpetrator of the attacks of 11 September 2001.

      The team's mission was to defeat evil. To achieve this, it opposed him with another evil.

      Mister X always tortured at night. With each night that Slahi's silence lasted, he tried a new cruelty. He says torture is ultimately a creative process. Listening to Mister X describe what he did can leave you breathless, and sometimes Mister X seems to feel that way himself as he tells the story. Then he shakes his head. Pauses. Runs his hand through his beard. Fights back tears. He says, "Man, I can't believe this myself."

      The way he speaks, you don't get the impression that it was all so long ago. In fact, it's not over at all. Mister X says there is hardly a day when he does not think about Slahi or when he does not haunt his dreams. Slahi was the case of his life, in the worst sense of the word.

      There was a moment back then that not only burned itself into his memory, it also poisoned his soul, Mister X says. That night he went into the interrogation room where Slahi, small and emaciated, sat in his orange jumpsuit on a chair, chained to an eyelet in the floor. Mister X, tall and muscular, had thought of something new again. This time he pretended to go berserk. He screamed wildly, hurled chairs across the room, slammed his fist against the wall and threw papers in Slahi's face. Slahi was shaking all over.

      Mister X says the reason he never got rid of that moment was not that he saw fear in Slahi's eyes, but that he, Mister X, enjoyed seeing that fear. Seeing the trembling Slahi, he says, felt like an orgasm.

      Mohamedou Slahi is 50 years old today. In December 2020, two months after our visit to Mister X, he is standing on the Atlantic beach. In front of him the waves break on the Mauritanian coast, not far behind him begins the endless expanse of the Sahara. Slahi wears a Mauritanian robe and a turban, both in the bright blue of the sky above him. With narrowed eyes, he looks out to sea and says that if he were to sail off here on a steady westerly course, he would arrive where he was held for 14 years, at the south-eastern tip of Cuba.

      Slahi has been free again for five years. But like Mister X, he too cannot shake off his time in Guantánamo. He now lives again in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, on the edge of the desert, the place where the USA had him kidnapped a few weeks after 11 September 2001. Unlike then, he is now a celebrity. He is approached on the street, he zooms out of his house into universities and onto podiums around the world to denounce human rights abuses by the United States. He says that when he closes his eyes at night and sleep comes, sometimes the masked man comes again.

      When one of the authors of this article first visited him in 2017, Slahi expressed a wish - he would like to find his torturers. At the time, he had already written a book about his time in Guantánamo. In the last sentence, he had invited the people who had tortured him to have tea with him: "My house is open."

      The trauma of 11 September 2001

      At that first meeting and again now, in December 2020, he says that during the torture period in Guantánamo he felt one thing above all: Hate. Again and again, he imagined the cruel way in which he would kill Mister X. He said that he had to kill him, his family and everyone else. Him, his family and everyone who meant something to him. But then, in the solitude of his cell, while thinking, praying and writing, he realised that revenge was not the answer. So he decided to try something else: Forgiveness.

      In the silence of his cell, he forced himself to think that this big, strong man, Mister X, was in fact a small, weak child. A child to whom he, Mohamedou Slahi, patted his head and said: What you did is bad, but I forgive you. The process of re-educating himself took several years. But at some point, still sitting in his cell in Guantánamo, he had managed to convince himself so much of the sincerity of this thought that he really felt the need to want to forgive.

      When Slahi expressed a desire to speak to Mister X, he said he hoped it would bring peace to his still troubled soul. In the best case scenario, he could replace the old, painful memories of that time with new, good memories.

      Thus began our search for Mister X.

      How must one imagine a man torturing another? In American files, for example in a Senate investigation report, there is a list of what Mister X did. They are descriptions of the crudest psychological and sometimes physical violence.

      When you meet him, something strange happens: you don't connect the image that all the reports have created in your head with the man sitting in front of you. We know for sure that he is Mister X. Former colleagues of his have confirmed his identity to us. But the Mister X we meet is: a subtle art lover. An educated man interested in history. All in all, a pretty nice guy. After spending several days with him, one cannot escape the impression that he is apparently also a very empathetic person.

      Mister X tells us that he occasionally invites homeless people to the restaurant, also that it happens that he cries in front of the TV when he sees reports from disaster areas. It is precisely because he can empathise so well that he has been so good as an interrogator, as a torturer. You have to put yourself in the other person's shoes. What causes him even greater pain? What could make him feel even more insecure? Where is his weak point? But precisely because of empathy, he says, he was also broken by what he had done at the time.

      Shortly after he left Guantánamo in the winter of 2003, Mister X began to drink. It was not unusual for him to drink three bottles of red wine a night. He spent more and more time in bed and spoke less and less with his wife and children. He hardly found any sleep any more. He toyed with the idea of killing himself, he says. A doctor diagnosed him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The torturer, of all people, had suffered the kind of trauma one would expect to find in his victim.

      There are many studies on the psychological suffering of torture victims. War refugees from Syria, refugees who were mistreated in Libyan camps, Uighur prisoners from China - in such people, depression, addictions, concentration problems, sleeping problems and suicidal thoughts are increasingly observed.

      Mister X also suffered from all these symptoms.

      One could see the distraught Mister X as the personification of the trauma that has gripped the entire United States since 11 September 2001. After that primal experience, the country that wanted to defend the values of the West in the fight against terror betrayed precisely those values. Rule of law. Justice. Democracy. And since that primordial experience, the country has been ravaged more than ever by an omnipresent violence perpetrated by broken people. Spree killings, assassinations, hate crimes. Maybe the whole US has some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome?

      For 17 years, Mister X says, he has been working through the guilt he has brought upon himself. He has taken medication, undergone therapy and looked for a new job. For 17 years he has been trying to make up for his mistake. A few things have helped him. A little. But not really. Maybe also because he had secretly known all these years that in order to really come clean with himself, he would have to do one thing urgently. "The decent thing to do would be to tell Slahi to his face that I regret what I did to him. That it was wrong."

      In that sense, Slahi's offer to talk to us reporters is a gift. An opportunity to draw a line under the matter. But there's a thought that's been troubling Mister X and making it difficult for him to accept the offer.

      Mister X still thinks Mohamedou Slahi is a terrorist. And for one of the most brilliant in recent history. A charismatic. A manipulator. A gifted communicator who already spoke four languages, Arabic, French, German and English, and taught himself a fifth, Spanish, in Guantánamo.

      Slahi was probably the smartest person he had ever met, Mister X says. So smart that Slahi managed to fool his interrogators, just as he now manages to make millions of people around the world believe he is innocent. Mister X says he knows this person's psyche better than that of his own wife. For weeks he did nothing but put himself in this man's shoes and one thing was clear: Slahi was a brilliant liar.

      He looks his tormentor in the face

      In 2010, a US federal judge ruled that Slahi must be released because the US government's alleged evidence against him was just that, not evidence: Evidence. The government appeals.

      In 2015, the book Slahi wrote in prison is published: Guantánamo Diary. It is extensively redacted, but the message is clear: the US tortured an innocent man. The book becomes a bestseller.

      In 2016, Slahi is released, after 14 years without charges. In Mauritania, he is received like a hero.

      In 2019, it is announced that Guantánamo Diary will be made into a film. Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch will star, and Oscar-winner Kevin Macdonald will direct.

      In 2020, the Guardian's website will publish the trailer for a documentary in which one of Slahi's guards travels to Mauritania and former enemies become friends.

      Apparent friends, says Mister X. He doesn't buy any of this "forgiveness stuff" from Slahi. The film scenes - the walk in the Sahara sand, Slahi laughing and helping his guard into a Mauritanian robe - , Slahi has really staged all that masterfully. Slahi who generously forgives, the decent David who rises above the corrupt Goliath - the narrative of a hero.

      That is what makes Mister X hesitate for so long: Slahi, he fears, could also use him for his production. He could show the whole world: Look, now not only an insignificant guard apologises, but also my torturer, and I forgive him too! Slahi would become an even greater hero.

      Is Mister X's urge to face his victim stronger than his fear of being instrumentalised?

      Mister X has made a small, ugly potty. It must now dry. He puts it aside, wipes his hands on a towel and looks serious. He is silent for a long time and then says, "I'm going through with this now. Oh God."

      The picture jerks, the sound wobbles, and for a brief moment hope is written on Mister X's face that technology will save him from his courage. Then the face he knows so well appears before him on the computer screen - narrow as ever, but aged. The man on the screen, unlike Slahi in 2003, has hardly any hair left. And Slahi now wears glasses, with black rims.

      It is late in Mauritania, almost midnight, but Mohamedou Slahi has stayed awake. He also has a visit from a member of our team. By phone, we have been keeping Slahi updated from the US for the past few hours: There is a delay; Mister X needs a little more time.

      Now a picture is also building up on the monitor in Mauritania. The greying beard, the bald head, the tattoos on the back of his neck.

      Mohamedou Slahi looks his tormentor in the face. No mask, no sunglasses.

      Mister X: Mister Slahi. How are you doing?

      Mohamedou Slahi: How are you, sir?

      Mister X: Not bad, and you?

      Mohamedou Slahi: I am very well.

      Mister X: That's good.

      Mohamedou Slahi: Thank you for asking.

      Mister X: Yes, sir. I was extremely hesitant to make this call. But let me explain a few things to you.

      The first time Mister X saw him was on 22 May 2003. Mister X was standing in an observation room in Guantánamo, looking through a pane of glass that was a mirror from the other side. There, in the interrogation room, Slahi was being questioned by two FBI agents. For half a year they had spoken to him almost every day - without the slightest success. In a few days, it had already been decided, the military would take over, Mister X and his colleagues.

      There was a table in the middle of the room, on one side the agents, on the other Slahi. The FBI had brought cakes. One of them, blond and tall, obviously the boss, was leafing through a Koran and saying something about a passage. Then Slahi stood up. He wore no handcuffs, no chains. He walked around the table, took the Koran from the agent's hand and said, no, no, he got it wrong, he had to see it this way and that way. In the end, Mister X watched as the agents hugged Slahi like a friend. "I couldn't believe it," he says.

      The FBI agent who leafed through the Koran is Rob Zydlow. We spoke to him as well. He lives in California, he retired a few months ago. He thinks failure is a harsh word. But, yes, in Slahi's case, his plan didn't work. He tried the nice way, but no matter whether he brought home-made cakes, as he did that day, or burgers from McDonald's, whether he watched animal documentaries with Slahi or let him teach him Arabic, Slahi just didn't talk. He would always just say, "I'm innocent."

      Slahi, on the other hand, says today that the FBI cake tasted good, that he liked the documentary about the Australian desert best, and that Rob Zydlow's attempt to learn Arabic was simply ridiculous. It was true that the FBI people had been reasonably nice to him for months, but he did not owe those agents any answers. On the other hand, they owed him answers. Why had the US had him kidnapped?

      Slahi did not know that on that day, behind the glass, the man he would meet a little later as Mister X was watching. He did not know that in the Pentagon a document was just being passed from one office to the next, signature by signature, all the way to Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, giving examples of what methods this man could use to get the prisoner Mohamedou Slahi to talk. It was a paper that provided a framework, but still left the torture team plenty of room to come up with their own ideas.

      Rob Zydlow says he sensed a real hunting fever in the army people who took over.

      Mister X says he went to the army shop and bought a bluesuit. Slahi was a man-catcher, as his dealings with the FBI agents proved. So, that was the logic, Slahi would now not be dealing with a human being, but with a figure from a horror film.

      "What we did to you was wrong".

      In high school, Mister X was in the drama club. Even today he plays Dungeons & Dragons, a board game with elves, orcs and dragons, he reads comics and loves science fiction. While some of his colleagues were boring in their interrogation methods back then - question, question, question - he really immersed himself in the roles.

      On the evening of 8 July 2003, Mister X put on his overalls, black military boots, black gloves and a black balaclava, along with mirrored sunglasses. He had Slahi brought into the interrogation room and hooked to the eyelet in the floor, but the chain was so short that Slahi could only stand bent over. Then Mister X switched on a CD player and heavy metal music filled the room, deafeningly loud.

      Let the bodies hit the floor
      Let the bodies hit the floor
      Let the bodies hit the floor
      Let the bodies hit the floor

      Mister X put the song on continuous loop, turned off the lights, turned on a strobe light that emitted bright white flashes, and left the room. For a while, he says, he watched from the next room. But the music was so loud that he couldn't think. So he went outside for a smoke.

      Slahi says he tried to pray, to take refuge in his own thoughts. He did not talk.

      Mister X was trying out new songs. The American national anthem. A commercial for cat food that consisted only of the word "meow". Mister X turned up the air conditioning until Slahi was shaking all over. Mister X turned up the heating until Slahi had sweated through his clothes. Mister X put his feet up on the table in front of Slahi and told him that he had had a dream. In it, a pine coffin had been lowered into the ground in Guantánamo. There had been a number on the coffin. 760, Slahi's prisoner number. Then there was his outburst, which he could not get rid of later.

      No matter what he did, Slahi remained silent.

      Mister X: It is difficult for me to have this conversation because I am not convinced of your innocence. I still believe that you are an enemy of the United States. But what we did to you was wrong, no question about it. Nobody deserves something like that.

      Mohamedou Slahi: I can assure you that I have never been an enemy of your country. I have never harmed any American. In fact, I have never harmed anyone at all. Never.

      Whether Mohamedou Slahi was a terrorist, as Mister X thinks, or completely innocent, as Slahi himself claims, will probably never be clarified. Perhaps he was something in between, a sympathiser. In the search for concrete criminal acts, for terrorist actions by Mohamedou Slahi, we have spoken to many people who were close to him or who know his case well. There were constitutional protectors in Germany, where Slahi lived for eleven years, intelligence officers in Mauritania and the USA, investigators and several members of the Special Projects Team. We read German and American files. After years of research, we found - nothing.

      Mohamedou Slahi grew up two hours' drive from Nouakchott, in the sandy foothills of the Sahara. His father tended the camels, his mother the twelve children. He was an exceptionally good student - just like his cousin Mahfouz, who was the same age. As teenagers, in the mid-eighties, the cousins shared a room. Late into the night, they read books about Islam and longed to join the thousands of young men from all over the Islamic world and travel to Afghanistan to fight the infidel Soviet occupiers. But they were too poor to make such a journey. Then Slahi got a scholarship to study in Germany.

      In 1990, at the age of 19, he enrolled in electrical engineering in Duisburg. Five years later, now a graduate engineer, he started a job at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronics. He now built microchips for the renowned German research institution, earning 4000 marks a month.

      That was one life of Mohamedou Slahi. The other had begun during his studies.

      1990: Stay in an Al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. Weapons training, oath of allegiance to Emir Osama bin Laden.

      1992: second trip to Afghanistan, where the Islamists were on the verge of overthrowing the Afghan government. Slahi was deployed in an artillery unit. After two months, he returned to Germany, allegedly, as he would later say, because the Islamists had disappointed him with their fighting among themselves - it was not at all the paradisiacal reign of God on earth that he had imagined.

      At that time, there was still a kind of community of interest between Al-Qaida and the West; after all, Bin Laden's people had helped to drive the Soviet occupiers out of Afghanistan.

      If you ask Slahi what his relationship with Al-Qaeda was like in 1992 after his return to Germany, he says: "That chapter of my life was closed. I cut all ties. I stopped reading the magazines, stopped informing myself about Al-Qaeda's activities, had no more friends in the organisation, no more contacts, with anyone, no phone calls, nothing."

      If this were true, Slahi would have turned her back on the organisation before turning against the US.

      But it isn't true. Slahi kept in touch: with his cousin, with whom he used to share a room and who had since become a confidant of Osama bin Laden under the name Abu Hafs al-Mauritani - once the cousin even called him on bin Laden's satellite phone; with a friend in Duisburg who was involved in the attack on the synagogue on Djerba in April 2002; with another friend who was later convicted of planning an attack on La Réunion. And Slahi, in Duisburg in October 1999, had three overnight guests, one of whom was Ramzi Binalshibh, who would later become one of the key planners of 9/11. Binalshibh later told his American interrogators that the other two visitors were two of the hijackers. At the meeting in Duisburg, Slahi advised them to travel to Afghanistan.

      Slahi's involvement with Al-Qaeda

      Slahi did not break off all contacts. On the contrary, the list of his friends and acquaintances reads like an extract from Al-Qaeda's Who's Who.

      If you ask Slahi about these contacts, he confirms everything, but acts as if it is an insult that you bring up these little things at all. These were his friends, and what his friends believed or did had nothing to do with him.

      All those contacts and friendships - it is not hard to imagine that hunting fever broke out among Mister X and his colleagues. It's hard to imagine what Slahi might know. Even if he himself was perhaps hardly involved.

      Perhaps he would lead the investigators to his cousin, bin Laden's confidant. It was suspected that the cousin and Bin Laden were on the run together.

      I wonder how many lives could be saved if only he finally came clean?

      Mister X says that as a team they felt they were fighting on the front line of the war on terror. He says he was aware that if he got anything of significance out of Slahi, President George W. Bush would be informed personally.

      For weeks, Mister X worked his way around Slahi. To no avail. Then he got a new boss, a man called Richard Zuley, known as Dick.

      Mister X says of him today, "Dick is a diabolical motherfucker."

      Richard Zuley himself says, "All Mister X got out of Slahi was petty stuff. Slahi had everything under control, we had to change that."

      Zuley now lives in a row house on Chicago's north side. For years he worked here as a police officer; now, in retirement, he spends a lot of time at the airfield where his small plane is parked. When Zuley talks about how he took over Slahi's interrogations, he smiles. "There was then no question about who was in charge."

      Zuley suggested to Slahi that the latter's mother could be raped if he didn't talk. And under Zuley's command, Slahi was beaten half to death. That was one day in late August 2003. When Mister X saw Slahi's bloody and swollen face, he says, he was shocked. For him, this raw physical violence went far beyond the limits of what was permissible and was also not compatible with Rumsfeld's list. Mister X confronted his boss - and was taken off the case the same day.

      When asked why, Zuley replies, "I used people who were effective." One senses no sense of injustice, only pride that he managed to break Slahi.

      Slahi was moved to a new cell that evening. "There was nothing in the cell," Slahi remembers, "no window. No clock. Nothing on the wall that I could look at. It was pure loneliness. I don't know how long it lasted, I didn't even know when it was day and night, but eventually I knocked and said I was ready to talk."

      After months of silence, Slahi was now talking so much that Zuley had paper and pens brought to him, and later a computer. Slahi wrote that he had planned an attack on the CN Tower in Toronto. He listed accomplices. He drew organigrams of terror cells in Europe. Slahi says it was all made up.

      In fact, intelligence agencies soon raised doubts about the veracity of the information Zuley's team passed on to them. In November 2003, Zuley ordered a lie detector test on Mohamedou Slahi. The latter recanted his confession and the machine failed.

      Mohamedou Slahi: You know so little about me. Obviously your government has given you very little information ...

      Mister X: Let me make something clear.

      Mohamedou Slahi: May I please finish my sentence?

      Mister X: Excuse me, please continue.

      Mohamedou Slahi: The military prosecutor who was going to charge me, Stuart Couch, was going to ask for the death penalty at the beginning, but then he realised that I am innocent.

      Stuart Couch is now 56 years old and a judge. An accurately dressed man with a military short haircut and a fierce southern accent. On a Sunday morning in January 2021, we have an appointment at a hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia. Couch talks about his Christian family and his time as a soldier in the Marines, which shaped him. He paints a picture of himself as a man who was shaped by a strong belief in values and rules. Rules that demanded a lot of him when he had to make the most difficult decision of his career in spring 2004.

      The US government had given him, the military prosecutor, the task of indicting the most important prisoner in Guantánamo Bay, Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Of course, this was a potential death penalty case, says Couch. After all, it had to be assumed that Slahi had recruited the later hijackers for al-Qaida - at the meeting in the Duisburg flat.

      There was a lot of circumstantial evidence for Slahi's involvement with Al-Qaeda, namely the many friendships and contacts. Couch assumed that with all the smoke, it was a matter of time before the fire was encountered. "My grandfather used to say, 'If you lie down with the dogs, you'll get fleas.' And man, Slahi must have lain with a lot of dogs."

      But Couch found no fire - not a shred of evidence. Instead, he found something else. On a site visit to Guantánamo, he heard loud music blaring from an interrogation room in a hallway. Let the Bodies hit the floor. Through the crack in the door he saw bright flashes of light. Inside, a detainee was chained to the floor in front of two speakers.

      "What I did was torture. No doubt about it"

      The scene repelled him as a human being and as a Christian, he says. As a prosecutor, he immediately understood: if they did the same to Slahi, he had a huge problem. What he had said or would still say would have no relevance in court. "Under torture, people tell everything, whether it is true or not, the main thing is that the torture stops," says Couch.

      He began investigating what was going on at Guantánamo. Shortly after Slahi's confession reached him, he had certainty: it was worth nothing.

      Stuart Couch says he wrestled with himself for days. Not pressing charges would mean possibly letting a terrorist get away with it. He consulted with his priest. Then he told his superior that he was withdrawing from the case.

      The case never went to trial. Nevertheless, Slahi remained in prison for another twelve years. Only in October 2016 was he released, one of the last decisions of the Obama administration.

      Asked today if Stuart Couch believes Slahi was a terrorist then, he replies, "I don't know."

      Mister X says he is sure. All you have to do is look at the way Slahi communicates. He plays games - no innocent man does that.

      In fact, watching Slahi talk to Mister X, one sometimes gets the impression of watching a shrewd politician. Mister X says a total of six times that the torture should not have happened. Slahi never responds to this. Instead, he talks about other things - his innocence, criticism of America. Once he starts talking about Chalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of 9/11, who is still in Guantánamo. Another time about the US war in Afghanistan.

      Mister X: I won't say anything about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, nor about politics. I can only talk about the techniques I used. That they were wrong and I should never have done it. They should never have been abused. They should never have been beaten. That's not who we are. That's not who I am.

      Mister X tells Slahi that he painted him, six years after that August day in 2003. Bleeding Slahi in oil with a busted lip and a swollen eye. Now, during the conversation, he asks us reporters to send a photo of the painting to Mauritania via WhatsApp.

      Mohamedou Slahi: Ah, wow. This prisoner in the picture looks much better than the real prisoner back then. (Slahi laughs)

      Mister X: You actually didn't look very good that day. And this painting is not meant to ... it's to reflect what happened to you that day.

      Mister X painted the picture when he had just resigned from the army. His post-traumatic stress disorder had become so bad that he could no longer work. The alcohol had stopped helping, the medication was no longer working either. So now painting. He says he had hoped that the artistic confrontation would trigger a catharsis. But it only brought pain. So he destroyed the painting again. Only the photo is still there.

      Mister X: I have to live with this shame. Maybe this is a small victory for you, that I have to live with my behaviour.

      Mohamedou Slahi: Um, I don't know ... I always had the impression that you were an intelligent person. And it was hard for me to understand how you could do such a thing to me.

      Slahi asks exactly the question that determines Mister X's life. After art failed to give him an answer, he tried science. He enrolled in Creative Studies at university. He studied how creativity is used for evil purposes, for cigarette advertising, weapons of mass destruction, torture. He read study after study in search of an explanation for why he was capable of so much cruelty. From all that reading, he took away: The tendency to cruelty is in all human beings. It asserts itself when the circumstances allow it. The circumstances in his case were: a country that craved revenge. A president who demanded success. A superior who spurred on the interrogators.

      "My country made me do some pretty shitty things, and I did them," says Mister X. "I hate myself for it. And I hate my country for making me this monster." He speaks out, "What I did was torture. One hundred percent. No doubt about it."

      The few studies that exist on people who have tortured suggest that there are two types of torturers. The ones who live on afterwards as if nothing had happened. And the others who break. Scientists suspect that it is the worldview of the torturer that determines which category he or she will fall into.

      For example, if a person tortures, like Richard Zuley, in the belief that it is morally right to torture one individual in order to possibly save thousands, then he is more likely to escape unscathed.

      If, like Mister X, he tortures in contradiction to his own humanism, then shame and guilt are more likely to trigger trauma. The symptoms then often resemble those of torture victims, only one thing is sometimes added: a deep mistrust in institutions. Those who have been forced to do abysmal things in the name of a system, an ideology, a country, their trust in this system, this ideology, this country is sometimes shaken by this.

      Can there ever be reconciliation?

      Mohamedou Slahi, the victim, on the other hand, has managed something that therapists very rarely see. Victims are often stuck in a situation of helplessness and hopelessness. Slahi has broken out of this helplessness. He has made himself an actor.

      You can watch numerous videos of Slahi's performances on the net. The audience is often visibly moved when he talks about how he received his guard in Mauritania. Actress Jodie Foster, who won a Golden Globe for her role as Slahi's lawyer in the film The Mauritanian, said of him in a statement at the awards ceremony: "You taught us so much: what it means to be human. Joyful of life. Loving. Forgiving. We love you, Mohamedou Ould Slahi!"

      It is always this one thing that touches people, what they admire him for: that he is willing and able to forgive.

      In a way, Slahi says in one of our interviews in Mauritania, forgiveness is also a form of revenge for him. He is taking revenge on his tormentors and all the people who fought the American war on terror for 20 years: before the eyes of the world public, he exposes the actions of those who thought they were the good guys as evil. And he stylises himself, the supposedly so evil, as the good guy.

      Mohamedou Slahi: I want to tell you: I forgive you, just as I forgive all those who have caused me pain. I forgive the Americans ...

      Mister X: Yeah ...

      Mohamedou Slahi: ... With all my heart. I want to live in peace with you.

      Mister X: It is important for me to clarify that I did not ask for your forgiveness. I have to forgive myself.

      It doesn't work for Mister X, he rebuffs Slahi. The two do not find each other. One last try: Slahi tries another subject.

      Mohamedou Slahi: How are you today? Are you married? Do you have children?

      Mister X: I'm not going to talk about my family or where I live, what I do or don't do. That's how it is, mate.

      The conversation lasts 18 minutes and 46 seconds and ends with frustration on both sides.

      Mohamedou Slahi: Anyway, I wish you all the best.
      Mister X: You too.
      Mohamedou Slahi: I think you are what you do. I forgive you with all my heart, even if you don't ask me to.
      Mister X: It's okay. I have nothing more to say. Goodbye, Mister Slahi.
      Mohamedou Slahi: Bye.
      When the video link ends, the two are left unreconciled, the weak, self-doubting perpetrator, and the strong victim.
      When one person tortures another, it's quite intimate. Tears. Screams. Pain. Fear. Nudity. A torturer sees things that otherwise only the partner sees, if at all. Mister X and Mohamedou Slahi are familiar with each other and strangers at the same time. They know everything about each other - and nothing. In this conversation, in which there seems to be nothing in common, it becomes clear that there is one thing they do share: Eight weeks in Guantánamo in the summer of 2003 have made them who they are today.
      Mohamedou Slahi lives largely from his story, from what was done to him. His suffering has brought him not only pain and nightmares, but also wealth and prestige. He married a human rights lawyer who worked in Guantánamo and had a child with her. He has turned his destiny around.
      In Mister X's life, almost everything has turned into its opposite. He no longer votes for the Republicans, as he used to, but for the Democrats. He is no longer for the death penalty, but against it. He is no longer sure he wants to continue living in the USA, but is thinking of emigrating.

      For several years, Mister X has been teaching young soldiers and FBI agents interrogation techniques. At the beginning of the course, there are always people who say: torture should be allowed. He then says, no, absolutely not. Torture exacts a high price. Not only of the person who suffers it. But also on the one who commits it. Sometimes he talks about himself.

      Source: https://www.zeit.de/2021/36/folter-guantanamo-mohamedou-ould-slahi-gefangener-folterer-gespraech-terrorismus/komplettansicht

      Translated with DeepL: https://www.deepl.com/

      10 votes
    7. Tildes Screenless Day Discussion Thread - September 2021

      What is a "Screenless Day"? Tildes "Screenless Day" is a simple event aimed at encouraging people to take a temporary step away from toxic or consuming aspects of technology and spend their time...

      What is a "Screenless Day"?

      Tildes "Screenless Day" is a simple event aimed at encouraging people to take a temporary step away from toxic or consuming aspects of technology and spend their time and energies elsewhere.


      When is it?

      It takes place over the weekend starting on the first Friday of each month. Participants will choose that Friday, Saturday, or Sunday to take as their screenless day -- whichever works best for their schedule.

      Some people might not be able to participate in that window, and that's fine too. They can choose to shift their day earlier or later as needed. It is also completely fine (and encouraged!) to take personal screenless days separate from the event if you like. This thread will be posted the first weekend of each month, but it is open for comments the entire month.


      Does it have to be truly "screenless"?

      "Screenless" is an ideal, not a mandate. The spirit of the day is to deliberately step away from toxic or consuming aspects of technology, and what that means is different for each person. Thus, it is up to each participant to determine what "screenless" means to them. Some might only choose to not use social media for a day; some might choose to eliminate all "screens" but still use their ereader; some may maintain some screen use but only for necessity (e.g. work; classes; GPS; etc.). Some might get rid of screens entirely, or go fully "unplugged" for the day.


      How do I participate?

      You do not have to do anything formal at all to participate -- simply take your screenless day in whatever way is best for you!

      If you’d like to, use this thread to share plans for your upcoming screenless day or summaries/reflections about it once it’s over.


      Can I chat in this thread if I'm not participating?

      Yes! The more, the merrier! Discussion from anyone, participant or non-participant alike, is welcome. Though, do understand that it might take a bit longer than normal for some people to respond. :)

      11 votes