Afghan national held in Guantanamo Bay for 15 years released

An Afghan prisoner held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay for roughly 15 years has been released, the Department of Defense confirmed on Friday.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy culture and information minister, first announced the transfer of Asadullah Haroon al Afghani, also known as “Gul,” back to his home country of Afghanistan. The minister said Haroon was one of the last two Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

He left Guantanamo Bay on Thursday and traveled to Qatar on a U.S. Air Force plane, where he was then handed over to Taliban government officials in Doha, according to the New York Times.

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 elaborating.

In a statement, the Department of Defense said Gul’s release was in accord with district court in Washington’s decision that the United States “no longer has a legal basis to justify the continued detention” of Gul. It thanked Qatar for its assistance without providing any details.

Earlier Friday, Republican Sen. 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 ensure Gul, or any future detainees who are released, will not return to the battlefield and potentially kill Americans or other innocent civilians,” Rubio said, referring to the Taliban who seized power in Afghanistan last August.

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 later handed over to the CIA, which transferred him to the detention center.

UK human rights group Reprieve said Gul’s “family feared him dead for many years and for the first nine years of his captivity, he did not have 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,” it added. After years of litigation, in October 2021, they prevailed when a Washington court ruled that Gul was not part of al-Qaida and ordered his release.

According to the statement, Gul “suffered severe physical and psychological torture during his detention, including being beaten, hung by his wrists, deprived of food and water, and prevented from praying. He has been subjected to sleep deprivation, extreme cold temperatures and solitary confinement.”

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




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