U.S. Repatriates Afghan Whose Guantánamo Detention Was Unlawful

On Friday, the United States complied with a federal court order and released a former Afghan militiaman held at Guantánamo Bay, in a case that reflects Afghanistan’s changing political realities.

Assadullah Haroon Gul, who is in his 40s, was held for 15 years in the military prison under the name of Haroon al-Afghani and has never been charged with war crimes.

A US Air Force plane carrying Mr. Haroon left Guantánamo Bay on Thursday and delivered him to Qatar, which has long served as an intermediary between US and Taliban interests. Qatari officials then handed Mr Haroon over to Taliban government officials in Doha, according to a senior US official.

Shortly after, Afghan government media published images of Taliban officials in Qatar greeting Mr Haroon.

When US-allied Afghan forces captured Mr Haroon in 2007, he was believed to be a commander of the Hezb-i-Islami militia, which fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda against the US invasion from Afghanistan. Then, in 2016, the militia made peace with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, a US ally, questioning that Mr Haroon could lawfully be held as part of an enemy force at Guantánamo Bay. Last year, the Ghani government filed a petition in a US court asking for his return.

But by the time a federal judge, Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled that his continued detention was unlawful, the Taliban had toppled the Ghani government, leaving the Biden administration with the enigma of know how to get Mr. Haroon home.

In most cases, the law requires the Secretary of Defense to certify to Congress his or her satisfaction with security arrangements, which typically require surveillance of the former detainee, restriction of movement, and intelligence sharing. with US counterterrorism officials. But when a court orders a release, as in Mr Haroon’s case, such certification is not required. Instead, the transfer was approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who sent Congress notice of the pending release last month.

Still, some security assurances have been obtained, said J. Todd Breasseale, acting Defense Department press secretary.

“They largely mirror those arrangements for further court-ordered repatriations to their home countries,” he said. A State Department official declined to provide details, but said Mr Haroon’s repatriation “does not reflect recognition of the Taliban”.

Republican members of Congress decried the release. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida called Mr Haroon’s release “reckless” and “unconscionable”. Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma accused the Biden administration of “repopulating the ranks of terrorists” by repatriating Mr Haroon.

Seven senators have proposed legislation that would block further transfers of Guantánamo detainees to Afghanistan.

The transfer reduced the number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay to 36, 20 of whom could be released if the State Department finds nations to receive them.

Two other Afghan citizens are currently being held at Guantánamo Bay. One is an indefinite prisoner called Mohammed Rahim, who is in his 50s and has repeatedly been deemed too dangerous to be released.

The other is Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Iraqi who in the 1990s fled Saddam Hussein’s regime and settled in Afghanistan, where he was granted citizenship. He rose to a prominent role in the insurgency that resisted the US invasion in 2001. Mr. Hadi recently brokered a plea deal with Pentagon prosecutors that gives the State Department two years to find a nation to receive him and provide him with medical care in case of deterioration. spinal disease which left him partially paralyzed.

Mr Haroon was born to an Afghan family who fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan during a civil war, according to court documents. He is married and has a daughter, who was born after his capture. They live in Afghanistan. A brother and his mother live in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Tara J. Plochocki, one of Mr Haroon’s lawyers, last year described her client as ‘desperate to go home’ to ensure her daughter gets an education. The Taliban banned women and girls from going to school the last time they were in power.

On Friday, Ms Plochocki credited the State Department’s efforts “over the past two months” for arranging the transfer and said the decision in the case “shows that no one, not even the US government, and not even in time of war, is above the law”. .”

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