Guantánamo Prisoner Dies After Being Held for Nine Years Without Charge or Trial


The Second World War lasted for six years, and at the end of it prisoners of war were released to resume their lives. At Guantánamo, on the other hand, the prison has just marked the ninth anniversary of its opening, and on Thursday the Pentagon announced that Awal Gul, a 48-year old Afghan prisoner, who had been held for nine years without charge or trial and was scheduled to be held forever, died in a shower after suffering a heart attack. Gul had never been held as a prisoner of war, and despite the US government’s assertions that he could be held forever, no one in a position of authority — neither President Bush nor President Obama — had ever adequately demonstrated that he constituted a threat to the United States.

From what is known of Gul’s story, he had run a weapons depot in his home town in eastern Afghanistan, after the end of the Soviet occupation, and had then run it on behalf of the Taliban after their rise to power in 1996. However, in his tribunal at Guantánamo, as I explained in a profile of him two years ago:

Gul said that he had resigned from the Taliban … and, in a volte-face that was typical of Afghan politics, had begun working with the pro-US warlord Hazrat Ali, one of three Afghan commanders who had fought at Tora Bora on the Americans’ behalf [Tora Bora being the site of a showdown, in December 2001, between al-Qaeda and senior Taliban supporters on the one hand, and a proxy Afghan army directed by US Special Forces on the other]. He explained that, on Ali’s advice, he handed himself in to Northern Alliance commanders in Kabul in February 2002, in an attempt to quell rumors about his involvement with the Taliban, but was then handed over to the Americans.

Whether there was any truth to this story had still not been clearly established after nine years, when, as Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a Guantánamo spokesman, explained, Gul had been working out on Tuesday night in Camp 6, and then “went to go take a shower and apparently collapsed in the shower.” Cmdr. Reese added, “Detainees on the cellblock then assisted him in getting to the guard station,” and from there he was taken to a clinic, and then to the Navy base hospital, which is some distance from the prison blocks, where he died despite “extensive life saving measures.”

Unlike the six other deaths at Guantánamo — the three heavily disputed deaths in June 2006, which appear to have involved a secret torture team operating in a secret facility outside Guantánamo’s main perimeter fence rather than the authorities’ claim that the men committed suicide simultaneously, two other alleged suicides in May 2007 and June 2009, and the death by cancer of an unrecognized hero of the anti-Taliban resistance in December 2007 — the death of Awal Gul at least appears straightforward.

Nevertheless, the US government should be ashamed that it has presided over the death of a man whose claims that he was mistakely detained had never been the subject of a judicial ruling, despite the fact that he, along with all the Guantánamo prisoners, had been granted habeas corpus rights by the US Supreme Court two years and eight months ago.

In Gul’s defense, his lawyer, Matthew Dodge, an Atlanta-based federal public defender, said that documents in the possession of the US government proved that Gul “had quit the Taliban a year before the Sept. 11 terror attacks,” as the Miami Herald explained. Dodge and Gul’s other lawyer, Brian Mendelsohn, also stated, “Mr. Gul was kind, philosophical, devout, and hopeful to the end, in spite of all that our government has put him through … The government charged that he was a prominent member of the Taliban and its military, but we proved that this is false. Indeed, we have documents from Afghanistan, even a letter from Mullah Omar himself on Taliban letterhead, discussing Mr. Gul’s efforts to resign from the Taliban a year or more before 9/11/01. He resigned because he was disgusted by the Taliban’s growing penchant for corruption and abuse. Mr. Gul was never an enemy of the United States in any way.”

The lawyers added, “It is a shame that the government will finally fly him home not in handcuffs and a hood, but in a casket.” FBI reports, included in his habeas petition, not only stated that Gul had 18 children (seven boys and eleven daughters), but also described him as “a former Taliban commander,” and noted that, in June 2008, he told a San Diego-based FBI agent that he was “tired from war and thirsty for peace.”

In contrast, US Southern Command responded to news of Gul’s death by issuing a statement claiming that he was “an admitted Taliban recruiter and commander of a military base in Jalalabad,” who “at one point,” as the Miami Herald put it, “allegedly operated an al-Qaeda guesthouse.” The use of “allegedly” in the second part of that claim rather undermines the credibility of that particular allegation, and as for the first, Gul’s time as a recruiter and commander clearly relates to the period before the disillusionment that he expressed, and that was confirmed by the FBI.

The Southcom statement also claimed that Gul “admitted to meeting with Osama bin Laden and providing him with operational assistance on several occasions,” but Gul himself told his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004 that, although he had seen bin Laden on three occasions, “the first time in 1990 in a gathering for ‘rich Saudis” who had come to build a hospital and school,” he was “unaware that the al-Qaeda founder was anti-American,” and had not been involved in providing any kind of operational assistance.

Gul’s lawyers called the Southcom statement “outrageous,” and explained:

The government, through this post-death statement, makes claims more outlandish even than the government lawyers in Mr. Gul’s habeas case. We now hear for the very first time in the nearly 10 years since Mr. Gul’s arrest, that (1) he operated a guesthouse for Al-Qaeda members, and (2) that he admitted providing bin Laden operational support on several occasions. Over the course of almost 3 years in court, the government has never provided any evidence at all to support this slander. Neither Mr. Gul not any credible witness has ever said such things.

Other allegations are equally worthless. Responding to an allegation that he had trained on Stinger missiles (portable surface-to-air missiles used to bring down planes and helicopters), Gul stated that he had indeed trained to use them, but had done so in the 1980s, when the US supplied the missiles to Afghan mujahideen resisting the Soviet occupation.

The Miami Herald also revealed that, last March, District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer had heard oral arguments from both sides in Gul’s habeas corpus petition, but for some reason had failed to reach a decision in his case.

The final blow, however, came from Matthew Dodge, who explained that President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, comprising over 60 career officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence services, who reviewed all the Guantánamo cases in 2009, had designated Gul as one of 48 prisoners who should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, meaning that, even if his habeas petiton had been granted by Judge Collyer, the decision taken by an unaccountable executive Task Force would have led to an appeal, almost certainly consigning him to continued indefinite detention, possibly for the rest of his life.

How this is supposed to constitute anything resembling justice or fairness is beyond me, and I can only conclude that, not only was Awal Gul betrayed by the US authorities, but also that any of the other 47 men designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial (whose identities have not been publicly disclosed, although they are known to their lawyers) must be reflecting today that, a year from now, or five years from now, or ten, 15 or 20 years from now, they too might die of a heart attack in the living grave of Guantánamo, only to have the US government respond by wheeling out whatever untested allegations it has on file that can be brandished to create the illusion that they were beneath contempt.

I never met Awal Gul, of course, and, as I have stated, I have no idea whether or not his story was true, but even the US government never attempted to claim that he was actually involved in any terrorist activities, and I can only state, in closing, that his sad and lonely death, in a place increasingly shorn of all hope, is a depressing indictment of the US government’s ongoing and apparently permanent inability to treat the men at Guantánamo with anything other than heartless disdain.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.

72 Responses

  1. Carlyle Moulton says...

    I think that it’s a fairly safe to bet that Aafia Siddiqui will not get out of FMC Carswell psychiatric prison alive, that relatively soon she will die either from alleged suicide or from a mysterious medical condition. She will never again get to speak to her lawyers, to any of her family or to anyone independent of the US authorities. The US simply cannot allow her to tell the story that she would tell.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Carlyle. I’d seen a link to this speech, but didn’t have the time to investigate further. I’m still in Poland, where I’ve been touring my film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo” for the last week, and haven’t had much time to do any reading or research. It’s all been very worthwhile, however, and I’ll be reporting developments very soon.
    I very much hope that your second comment will not prove to be accurate, but I completely understand your fears …

  3. Carlyle Moulton says...


    I also hope my predictions in comment 51 are wrong.

    However it seems clear that senior people in the American government have made an irreversible decision to protect the illusions that the US does not torture and does not kidnap innocent people by sacrificing those innocent people that it has kidnapped, tortured and imprisoned.

    In any case I do not believe that the Americans see any Muslim or Arab as truly innocent. Unless they go to extremes to distance themselves from the actions of the terrorists from within their culture they are deemed by the Americans to bear collective guilt for every “terrorist” action by other Muslims and Arabs. Aafia Siddiqui is not just a Muslim but an extremely devout one and in the view of Americans this makes torturing her and convicting her with fabricated evidence justifiable.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sadly, it’s hard to argue with that, Carlyle. America seems to be as unmoored from the rest of world opinion right now as it did in the worst days of Bush and Cheney.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Also on Common Dreams, momo wrote:

    when is enough enough? our politicians are criminal stooges for a corporate elite that effectively bribes them to kill and imprison men, women and children around the world and siphon wealth from the productive classes to that elite. bush, cheney, obama, bernanke, giethner, paulson, blankfein… need i go on? they should all be tried in international courts for a host of crimes from economic fraud perpetrated with intent to impoverish billions of people, to theft and destruction of natural resources, to human rights violations and murder – all, ultimately, in pursuit of personal wealth.
    i am ashamed to be an american — not because i have taken any active part in these crimes, but because, like most of you, i have not taken an active enough part in stopping them, no matter what the personal cost.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Smarter replied:

    I feel with you. Very much so: The shame of not knowing what to do efficiently, or not being able to do enough to stop my every move of consumption exploiting people and planet, paying less than real costs. “Externalizing” the real cost by postponing them into the future or after the “creditors” – the poorest people and the ecosystems on the planet – dies.

    Yet we ARE waking up. Momo – no more time to save. Just do right.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    momo replied:

    agreed. but it’s important that we act collectively and not feel as individuals an onus to be morally perfect and beyond reproach as the only — or even an effective — route to counter the world’s evils; it’s true, they’ve got us right where they want us, but we’re smarter and more decent than they are, and in the end i’m confident that’s worth something.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    oxygen wrote:

    add me in also and how is everyone? I am just morphing over from the huffpost where apparently she’s sold out and I thought she wasn’t -had been there since she opened in 05

    by allowing this type of torture and detention we are lowering the whole world’s standards and it is going to come back to haunt all of us – why doesn’t Obama care ? I voted for him and now am very disappointed in him and his leadership examples

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    bardamu wrote:

    If the US government had legal cases against these people, they would try them, and do so publicly: it would be the easiest, most straightforward way to pretend to be humane.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Galenwainwright wrote:

    Yet at the same time, the US is all happy-happy at the prospect of having former General Omar Suleiman, one time ‘go-to’ man in Egypt for torture of both Egyptian citizens and CIA rendition victims, as new Vice President, and as appointed/anointed President to be.

    It’s getting to the point I want to puke every time I hear the word ‘democracy’…

    Non Serviam – I will not serve.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    genie wrote:

    It is sad how the U.S. government uses any connection to the Taliban to charge Afghanistan and Iraqis as having a connection to terrorist. This prisoner was accused of being connected to the Taliban due to having helped them during the war against Russia just as humanitarian Rafil Dhafir was charged with being connected to the Taliban due to being a history buff and interviewing a Taliban leader during the war against Russia.Dhafir got 22 years. (America donated millions of our tax revenue to the Taliban government shortly before 9-11.) All these things need to be made public for people to be outraged. But Americans would need to let go of their belief that the U.S. officials in government are infallible unless they raise their taxes to help the poor. It is OK for their government to raise taxes to kill and maim the poor in Iraq and Afghanistan and imprison and torture innocent Afghans and Iraqis.Americans don’t care about anything but their tax money not going to the American poor. The Bush/Cheney wars are the first time taxes went down during war let alone two wars. What ever happened to shared sacrifice.Most Americans know those wars were counterproductive. All the dead soldiers, civilians and innocent prisoners lives have been wasted.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Angry Kraut wrote:

    “The Second World War lasted for six years, and at the end of it prisoners of war were released to resume their lives.”

    Well, not quite.

    * Stalin hung on to his German PoWs for some time — some of them were held in Russia as long as ten years.

    * About 700,000 Germans died of hunger and exposure after the war in Eisenhower’s concentration camps, while donated food rotted in warehouses, as documented by James Bacque in “Other Losses”.

    * Many Russian soldiers that had been captured by German forces and were working in Germany wanted to stay in Germany (for very good reason), but the Anglo-Saxons gave them back to Stalin in “Operation Keelhaul”; most did not survive.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    abuelo wrote:

    thanks again Andy. Your stories should be a lot better known than they are. Maybe only a small number of u.s. people care much about these prisoners. But they should be able to see the disasters down the road: everything about our “justice” system lies in rags, shreds, and tatters. Nothing is left. we do not have a right to a trial by a jury of our peers, no presumption of innocence, no habeas- what we now have seems to be in no way I can see different from the Moscow trials. No wait- there is a difference- rigged and predetermined they were, but at least they held their show trials. our fellow citizens have taken all this without a murmur, probably because all our victims so far are Muslims, and have had that terror label around their necks, and too many people are willing to accept these presidential decrees as an acceptable alternative to jurisprudence as we once knew it.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    redjeff wrote:

    It seems that if you are Taliban, or were Taliban, or know somebody who was Taliban, or know how to spell “Taliban”, you too could be an enemy of the United States, which means you need not be charged, only punished. Guilt, nay, death by association.
    It’s too late for justice on this issue, and Americans will pay 1000 times for what they have done in Guantanamo, Bagram, and an archipelago of black sites around the world, to people who happened to be “driving while Muslim”. We could and should immediately release all remaining prisoners to whereever in the world they wish to live, dismantle all the prisons, starting with Guantanamo, and turn the land of the naval base back over to Cuba. End the Empire.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    wolfgang wrote:

    This is what happens when you, the voters, proceed to select and elect those with no moral compass to the Congress and the Executive.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Reverend_Boomerang wrote:

    I have to live with the double shame of knowing that these atrocities are committed on my native soil and with my Amerikan dollars. How I have been punked by two different governments that are supposed to be polar opposites yet are exactly the same. How I have been lied to, used, ashamed and how sick I am of it all! I wish I had words to express my disgust and disillusionment but hard as I try, I can’t come up with any so I hang my head low in shame and in sorrow for the human race.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Chelseagirl wrote:

    This is terribly sad.

    Well, we have Bush and Obama to thank for this man dying in that stink pit without a trial.

  18. Ihsan khan says...

    Ya Allah give him the Highest place in Jannat

    I want to say to the Human right agency that is this the right of a human such as Malim Awal Gul,that he was held in jail for 9 years and nothing was proved against him.
    America the president of America the Human rights did nothing for his poor 17 children and 3 wives and an Old weak,tired mother who all wait for him for 9 years what will they do after them and who will take care of them.

    Please help his family and investigate about his profile of life about his death from America and the President.

  19. The Only Way Out Of Guantánamo Is In A Coffin - OpEd says...

    […] Algerian who was repatriated against his will in January. Since then, an Afghan prisoner, Awal Gul, died in February after taking exercise, and on Wednesday the US military announced that another Afghan prisoner, Inayatullah, who was 37 […]

  20. Statement by Lawyers for Adnan Latif, the Latest Prisoner to Die at Guantánamo says...

    […] Last May, when the eighth prisoner died at Guantánamo – a man named Hajji Nassim, known to the US authorities as Inayatullah, who had serious mental health problems – I wrote an article entitled, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin, which was horribly accurate, as the last two prisoners to leave Guantánamo had left in coffins. The other, Awal Gul, had died in February. […]

  21. geral says...

    Cold blooded murder by the most ruthless homicidal sociopaths on earth: fbi/cia/dod.

    For Our Brothers:

    See my reports on USA’s efforts at
    *world inhumane domination; note that all USA prisoners of war are microchipped

    and most are targeted for assassination (usually by drones) after learning of
    activities and associates of the subject.

    United States assassins now use torture & threat of torture (fear) pervasively:



    The united states of america is now forever known as the BEAST, the BrainEntrAinmentSTate, a country w/o conscience, a people w/o heart who are cursed with a national character predominantly w/o soul :

    America is Dead:

  22. – Guantanamo’s secretive review boards says...

    […] the men designated for on-going detention in March 2011 – who now number 46 men, because two have died – and 25 others, who were among 36 men recommended for prosecution by the task […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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