Afghan prisoner freed from Guantanamo Bay after 15 years

Afghanistan announces the release of Asadullah Haroon Gul from US custody on Friday

A US soldier walks past unoccupied detainee cells inside Camp 6 at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. AP
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An Afghan prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay for about 15 years has been released from the detention centre.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government announced the release of Asadullah Haroon Gul from US custody on Friday.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s Deputy Culture and Information Minister, wrote on Twitter that Mr Gul was one of the last two Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

“As a result of the efforts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and its direct and positive interaction with the United States, one of the remaining two detainees, Asadullah Haroon, was released from Guantanamo prison,” he said on Twitter.

Mr Mujahid said Mr Gul was handed over to the Taliban’s government as a result of their talks with US authorities.

In some pictures shared by Mr Mujahid, Mr Gul was seen smiling and being greeted by Suhail Shaheen, a senior Taliban official who is based in Qatar.

Mr Mujahid shared no further details about the whereabouts of Mr Gul.

Mr Shaheen told AP that Mr Gul was handed over to their representatives in Doha “following direct engagement with the Islamic Emirate”.

Mr Gul, who is set to fly to Kabul soon, was detained by US forces in Jalalabad in 2007 and was held for 15 years without trial, said Mr Shaheen.

UK human rights group Reprieve issued a statement also saying Mr Gul was released from Guantanamo Bay without charge, after having been sent there in 2007.

“His 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 said.

“Reprieve and the law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss filed a writ for a petition of habeas corpus on his behalf in 2016, in which they demanded his release.”

After years of litigation, in October 2021, they prevailed when the “the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Asadullah’s detention was not legal because he had only been a part of Hezb-e-Islami (HIA), a group that has been formally at peace since 2016, and he was not a part of Al Qaeda”.

The judge thus ordered his release, Reprieve said.

Reprieve said Mr 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 was also subjected to sleep deprivation, extreme cold temperatures and solitary confinement, the rights group said.

Commenting on Mr Gul’s release, Mark Maher, his lawyer at Reprieve, said Mr 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”.

The US opened Guantanamo Bay under President George W Bush in January 2002 after the September 11 attacks on the US and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.

The detention centre was intended to hold and interrogate prisoners suspected of having links to Al Qaida or the Taliban at the time. Scores of suspects from several countries were later sent there.

Guantanamo Bay became notorious after reports emerged that detainees were being humiliated and tortured there.

Updated: June 24, 2022, 11:38 AM