US: Afghan national freed from Guantanamo Bay after 15 years

An Afghan prisoner held in the United States for nearly 15 years has been released from Guantanamo Bay detention center after a federal court ruled he was unlawfully detained, the US Department of Defense said Friday.

Asadullah Haroon Gul’s release was first announced earlier today by the Taliban in Afghanistan and an international human rights group.

From Kabul, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban-appointed deputy culture and information minister, tweeted that Gul was one of the last two Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Photographs of Gul being greeted by senior Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar, were posted on Twitter later in the day. Mujahid thanked Qatar for facilitating Gul’s release, without giving further details.

The United States opened the detention center under President George W. Bush in January 2002 after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan to capture al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It was intended at the time to detain and interrogate people suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, who had sheltered bin Laden.

However, dozens of suspects from several countries were later sent there and the detention center became notorious after reports of detainees being humiliated and tortured.

Gul was greeted upon his arrival in Doha by senior Taliban figure Suhail Shaheen, who said he would return to Afghanistan soon.

In a statement, the Department of Defense said Gul’s release was in line with the Washington District Court’s ruling that the United States “no longer has a legal basis to justify the continued detention” of Gul. . He thanked Qatar for their help without providing details. .

Earlier Friday, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized the Biden administration for allowing Gul’s transfer.

“The terrorist organization that now controls Afghanistan cannot and will not guarantee that Gul, or any future detainees who are released, will not return to the battlefield and possibly kill Americans or other innocent civilians,” Rubio said, referring to the Taliban who seized power in Afghanistan last August.

Mujahid said Gul was handed over to the Taliban following their discussions with US authorities, which he described as “direct and positive interaction with the United States”.

Shaheen told The Associated Press that Gul’s freedom came “as a result of direct engagement” with the United States. He said Gul was detained by US forces in the city of Jalalabad in 2007 and held for 15 years without trial.

The remaining Afghan at Guantanamo Bay is Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani, who is accused of working with bin Laden as a “procurement specialist”. Al-Afghani was captured by Pakistani authorities and then handed over to the CIA, which transferred him to the detention center.

UK rights group Reprieve said “Gul’s family feared his death for many years and for the first nine years of his captivity he had no access to a lawyer, despite multiple attempts to obtain legal representation”.

“Reprieve and the law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss filed” a petition on his behalf in 2016 and “demanded his release,” he added. After years of litigation, in October 2021 they prevailed when a Washington court ruled that Gul was not part of al-Qaeda and ordered his release.

According to the statement, Gul “suffered severe physical and psychological torture while in detention, including being beaten, hung by the wrists, deprived of food and water, and prevented from praying. He was subjected to sleep deprivation, extremely cold temperatures and isolation.”

Commenting on Gul’s release, his attorney at Reprieve, Mark Maher, said Gul “missed his daughter’s entire childhood and he will never get back what was taken from him, but he is now at least able to rebuild his life with his family, who I’ve waited so long to see him.”

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Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Washington contributed to this story.

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