ISLAMABAD — An Afghan prisoner held in U.S. custody for nearly 15 years has finally been released from the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the Taliban in Afghanistan and an international human rights group said Friday.
Asadullah Haroon Gul‘s release was announced by Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban-appointed deputy culture and information minister, who wrote on Twitter that Gul was one of the last two Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
The United States opened the detention center under President George W. Bush in January 2002 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan to capture al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. It was intended at the time to hold and interrogate those suspected of having links to al-Qaida or the Taliban, who had sheltered bin Laden.
Scores of suspects from multiple countries were later sent there and the detention center became notorious after reports emerged of detainees being humiliated and tortured.
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.
Mujahid said Gul was handed over to the Taliban as a result of their talks with U.S. 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 remaining two detainees, Asadullah Haroon, was released from Guantanamo prison,” he said on Twitter.
In some photographs shared by Mujahid, Gul is seen smiling and being greeted by Suhail Shaheen, a senior Taliban official who is based in Doha, Qatar. Mujahid shared no further details about the whereabouts of Gul.
Shaheen told The Associated Press that Gul was handed over to their representatives in Doha “following direct engagement” with the Taliban. He said Gul would to fly to Kabul, the Afghan capital, soon.
He said Gul was detained by American forces in the city of Jalalabad in 2007 and was held for 15 years without trial.
Also Friday, the Britain-based rights group Reprieve said Gul was sent to Guantánamo Bay 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,” the statement said.
“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 that 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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