US repatriates Gitmo prisoner back to Afghanistan after court ruled he was detained unlawfully

The prisoner, Asadullah Haroon Gul, also known as Haroon Al Afghani, was born in Afghanistan and has been held in Guantanamo prison since 2007.

“The DOD, supported by other parts of the US government, moved him out of Guantanamo Bay, facilitating his repatriation to his native Afghanistan,” the administration official said. “He flew on an American plane to Doha and then we worked with the Taliban and the government of Qatar to facilitate his transfer to Kabul.”

Later Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that the transfer had taken place.

“The Ministry of Defense today announced the transfer of Asadullah Haroon al-Afghani, also known as ‘Gul’, from Guantanamo Bay detention center to facilitate his repatriation to his native Afghanistan. “, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“The Department of Defense, in coordination with other U.S. government departments, transferred Mr. Gul pursuant to the U.S. District of Columbia’s order granting his writ of habeas corpus, finding that the United States did not no legal basis to justify the continued detention of Mr. Gul,” the statement added.

The transfer also comes as the country’s Taliban leaders have barred girls above grade 6 from attending school and the country faces an economic and food crisis that is set to kill thousands.

US diplomats who work at the US Office for Afghan Affairs in Doha spoke with Taliban officials on this topic – which they considered an area of ​​mutual interest – to work out the logistics to make it work, explained the manager. No higher-level engagement with the Taliban was required, the official said.

Late last year, a federal judge ruled that Gul’s detention was unlawful and the Periodic Review Committee, which is a panel of officials from various US national security agencies, also cleared him for detention. transferred. These two decisions prompted the Biden administration to begin work on repatriating Gul.

Gul, an Afghan national who grew up largely in a refugee camp in Shamshato, Pakistan, has been accused of belonging to an extremist group called Hezb-e-Islami/Gulbuddin, known as HIG in the era. It has since become known as Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA). HIA has been deemed an “associate force” of al-Qaeda by the US government.

Gul admitted he had been a member of the HIG, now known as the HIA, at the time, but his defense lawyers argued that the group entered into a peace treaty with the Afghan government in 2016.

Gul has been detained at Guantanamo since June 2007.

“A court has decided that we have to move this individual somewhere and the most feasible option, the most realistic option will usually be repatriation and here it looks like it may well turn out to be repatriation,” said a source familiar with the matter. .

A few factors played into the administration’s efforts to repatriate Gul to Afghanistan, even as the Taliban currently controls the country. One of these factors: there are no American soldiers left in Afghanistan after the United States withdrew from the country last fall.

The Taliban also assured the US government that Gul would not emerge as a threat to the American homeland or to US allies, the US official said.

“We had conversations about the importance of this individual not posing a threat to the United States or our allies. We received reassurances in return,” the official said.

Gul’s transfer to Afghanistan comes as tensions between the United States and the Taliban remain high over Mark Frerichs, a veteran and contractor who was abducted in Kabul in late January 2020, is believed to be held by the Haqqani network, which is a close affiliate. of the Taliban.

“We also need to find a way to bring Mark home. We are working diligently on it. We hope there will be good news in the coming weeks to finally bring him home,” the manager explained.

The Periodic Review Committee, which first determined that Gul should be allowed to leave, is a government entity created during the Obama administration to determine whether or not inmates held at the prison are guilty. The Biden administration continues to rely on the council to dictate which prisoners should be sent home.

With Gul’s transfer, 36 inmates remain at the prison, with more than a dozen cleared for transfer.

“It will be continued efforts to do what comes after these recommendations, which is to approach countries, whether it is their country of origin or where this is not possible or available or advised by others country and seek to find mutually satisfactory repatriation or transfer arrangements,” the source familiar with the matter said.

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.

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