Afghan released from Guantanamo Bay after 15 years

ISLAMABAD (AP) — An Afghan detainee who has been held in US custody for nearly 15 years has finally been released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the Afghan Taliban government and an international human rights group said Friday.

The release of Asadullah Haroon Gul was announced by Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Information, who wrote on Twitter that Gul was one of the last two Afghan detainees held in Guantanamo Bay.

The US opened the detention center under President George W. Bush in January 2002 after the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan. It was intended to detain and interrogate detainees suspected of having ties to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban at the time. Dozens of suspects from several countries were later sent there.

The detention center became infamous after reports emerged that inmates were being humiliated and tortured there.

Mujahid said Gul has been handed over to the Taliban government as a result of their talks with US authorities. “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 two remaining detainees, Asadullah Haroon, has been released from Guantanamo Prison,” he said on Twitter.

In some photos shared by Mujahid, Gul was smiling and greeted by Suhail Shaheen, a senior Taliban official based in Doha, Qatar.

Mujahid did not share any further details about Gul’s whereabouts.

Shaheen told The Associated Press that Gul was handed over to their representatives in Doha “after direct involvement with the Islamic emirate”. He said Gul would fly to Kabul soon. He said Gul was detained by US forces in Jalalabad in 2007 and later held without trial for 15 years.

Also on Friday, the UK-based rights group Reprieve said Gul has been released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center without charge. A statement also states that Gul was sent to Guantanamo Bay in 2007. “His family feared for years that he was dead and for the first nine years of his imprisonment he had no access to a lawyer, despite multiple attempts to obtain legal representation,” the statement said.

“Reprieve and the law firm of Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss filed a petition on his behalf in 2016 for habeas corpus, demanding his release,” it added. After years of litigation, they prevailed in October 2021 when the “District Court of the District of Columbia ruled that Asadullah’s detention was not legal because he had only been part of Hezb-e-Islami (HIA), a group he has been formally at peace since 2016 and he was not part of al-Qaeda.” The judge therefore ordered his release, it said.

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

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

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