Asadullah Haroon Gul, a “No-Value Detainee,” and One of the Last Two Afghans in Guantánamo, Asks to Be Freed

22.4.20

A photo of Guantánamo prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul, taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Guantánamo, and made available by his family.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

With the prisoners at Guantánamo currently cut off more than ever from the outside world, as the coronavirus threat has brought visits from their attorneys to an end for the foreseeable future, the only way we can hear anything from any of the 40 men still held is if they have written to their attorneys, or if their attorneys have notes from previous meetings with their clients that have been unclassified after being reviewed by the Pentagon’s censorship team.

If any attorneys have any words of their clients that they’d like to share with the world, we’ll be happy to publish them, but in the meantime we’re delighted to cross-post below an article by Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo, and one of the last prisoners to arrive at the prison, in 2007, whose previous missive about Guantánamo — about the threat the coronavirus poses to the men still held — was the subject of our last article, just a few weeks ago.

In this second article, published in Afghanistan Times, Gul specifically focuses on his status as one of the last two Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo (mistakenly describing himself as the last Afghan in the prison, and overlooking Muhammad Rahim, who was the last prisoner to arrive at the prison, in March 2008), and also ties this in with descriptions of some of the other Afghan prisoners held and freed. He also makes a useful distinction, regarding the 40 men still held, between those regarded as “high-value detainees” (HVDs) held in the secretive Camp 7, and the rest — himself included — who he describes as “no value detainees” (NVDs).

Afghan prisoners formerly comprised the largest group in Guantánamo by nationality, with 219 of the 779 men held by the US military throughout the prison’s long history having been Afghans — all now released except for Gul and Rahim. And while it is not quite appropriate to conclude, as he does, that the 217 Afghan prisoners released were all NVDs, it is not far from the truth. None were Al-Qaeda, although a handful held senior positions within the Taliban, although they, of course, should have been held as prisoners of war, under the Geneva Conventions, rather than being held as “enemy combatants” without rights.

The same is true of all the prisoners held, of course, but especially so in the case of the Afghans whose country was invaded. Sadly, US intelligence was so poor that, of the 219 Afghans held, the overwhelming majority were nobodies — random Afghans obliged to fight with the Taliban, the wrong suspects swept up in a variety of largely ill-conceived raids, and, in perhaps dozens of cases, people who were working with the Americans, but had lies told about them by rivals, and who ended up being sent to Guantánamo because the US authorities, with total contempt for justice, had no interest in establishing the truth about those they were holding.

Gul mentions some of these men, the truth of whose stories I helped to expose from 2007, when my book The Guantánamo Files was published, until their eventual release, although he doesn’t mention a particularly outrageous example of this, which involved Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, a lorry driver who had helped a number of prominent anti-Taliban figures escape from a Taliban jail, but who had ended up in Guantánamo because rivals had lied about him. Despite persistently calling for the US authorities to call Afghan officials to find out who he was, Hekmati died of cancer at Guantánamo in December 2007, with the US still maintaining, after his death, the lies they had told about him while he was alive, a situation that I ended up exposing, with Carlotta Gall, in a front-page story for the New York Times in February 2008.

Another sad piece of information in Gul’s article is his revelation that he has “never been visited by an Afghan delegation,” a shameful state of affairs, but one that presumably reveals that his own government knew that he was a nobody, but wasn’t even prepared to advocate for his release. I hope Afghan government officials are finally paying attention to Gul’s cries for help from Guantánamo, and I hope you all have time to read his words, and will share them if you find them useful.

I Am A Serial Number
By Guantánamo ISN 3148 (aka Asadullah Haroon), Afghanistan Times, April 5, 2020

The Guantánamo military base is almost invisible to the world; the detainees held here have totally vanished from the world. We are nameless, faceless, referenced by an internment “serial number” – as if we are pieces of hardware, no longer human. A name makes a person individual and unique.  Serial numbers are for inanimate objects. I am No. 3148. It is easy to mistreat something called No. 3148. A number does not have dignity.

Importantly, then, I am also Asadullah Haroon, the Afghan citizen from Nangarhar. My wife waits year after year for news that her husband is coming home. My infant baby, Mariam, is now a teenager.

Twenty-three of us “nobody numbers” remain here in Guantánamo. None is Afghan but me, so there is nobody who speaks either Pashto or Dari and I am in danger of losing my language. At least No. 1094, No. 1460 and No. 1461 are Pakistani, and we can speak some Urdu. No. 1460 was so badly tortured, though, that he would rather live in another block essentially alone with his sad thoughts. [Note: No. 1094 is Saifullah Paracha, well-known to “Close Guantánamo” readers, No. 1461 is Ahmed Rabbani, who has also spoken regularly about his imprisonment, and No. 1460 is his brother Abdul Rahim].

Closing out the “no value detainees” (the NVDs) we have No. 27, No. 28, No. 38, No. 63, No. 242, No. 244, No. 309, No. 569, No. 682, No. 685, No. 694, No. 708, No. 841, No. 893, No. 1016, No. 1017, No. 1453, No. 1457, and No. 1463.

At its peak, there were some 760 “no value detainees” at Guantánamo — the largest group were Afghan, some 219 of us NVDs. Thus far, 218 Afghan NVDs have been released, and just one remains — me.

Some will think that because I am still here after 13 years, I must be guilty of some crime — even though I have been held without charges or a trial. But then prejudiced people thought that everyone here was a “terrorist.” We are prisoners of a war that has long since ended. And even those who take sides in a war, one in which their country is invaded and the invader kills children with drones, have done nothing wrong. The only way to commit crimes in a war is to do what the U.S. has done, and deliberately kill civilians and torture prisoners of war like me.

As the faceless and numbered men told their stories, the world began to understand what terrible mistakes had been made in sweeping up so many people and bringing them half way around the world to this Cuban prison.

There was No. 1154, Dr. Ali Shah Mousovi, a paediatrician from Gardez, who fled the Taliban and worked for the United Nations. His wife, an economist, and three small children, waited for years before he was released without charge.

There was No. 1009, Haji Nusrat Khan, an 80-year-old from Sarobi, who was brought to Guantánamo on a stretcher. A stroke had left him paralyzed and bedridden. “Look at my white beard. The Americans took me from my home and country with a white beard,” he said. “I have done nothing at all. I have not said a word against the Americans.” He, like, all the rest, was never charged. His old age didn’t safeguard him from “countless humiliations”: he was beaten, injured, stripped naked in front of female soldiers. On one occasion, soldiers tied him tightly to a wooden board and left him lying on the ground for some time. One of the soldiers finally glanced down and asked how he was doing. When the interpreter translated. Nusrat began to laugh. “You must be an idiot to ask me this,” he said. “I am a paralyzed old man, and you have tied me like a dog on the floor. Look at me. How do you think I am doing?” Soon after his release, Nusrat died in his Sarobi home.

There was No. 1001, Hafizullah Shabaz Khail, a University-educated pharmacist and a staunch supporter of Hamid Karzai’s ascendancy. There was No. 1021, Chaman Gul, who worried incessantly about his aging mother. And No. 560, Afghan Wali Mohammad, who used humour to mask his pain. There was No. 1002, Afghan school teacher Abdul Matin, accused of owning a Casio watch. The list goes on. After years of mistreatment, mental anguish and incalculable indignities, 218 of 219 have been released because they were no threat to anyone, although no doubt some suffer profound depression after their experience.

That means the U.S. has released 99.5% of the Afghan NVD’s. That leaves only me. I am No. 3148, Asad Haroon, and I have watched the others go home. I try to keep busy so I don’t go mad. Sometimes I wonder whether my government has totally forgotten me — I have never been visited by an Afghan delegation. I worry that my countrymen do not care about me. I am nobody — I admit it. I was taken from my home country of Afghanistan all those years ago, flown to this dreadful place, and forgotten. I see the others being released and, while I am happy for them and for their families, it deepens my gloom.

As prisoners are released every day as part of the peace agreement, or to let them go home to help their families during the crisis of this virus, I ask myself the same question every day: Will I ever see my wife and daughter again? Will my respected father and my dear mother still be alive even if I do come home?

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

14 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a cross-post, with my own introduction, of an article in the Afghan media by Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans in Guantánamo, and one of the last prisoners to arrive, in 2007. Gul recently wrote an article about the threat the prisoners face from the coronavirus, which I cross-posted a few weeks ago.

    In this second article, Gul urges the Afghan government to recognize that he is, as he puts it, a “no value detainee”, as he – like the majority of the 40 men still held – has never been charged, and he also reflects on the cases of some of other 218 Afghans held, most of whom, as he states, and as I have reported over the years, were mistakenly held.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Barbara Bendzunas wrote:

    Beyond my understanding how they justify this.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I agree, Barbara. The judicial system on the mainland is a disgrace too, of course, with so many people losing years – decades – of their lives via plea deals, when they may not have been guilty, because of over-punitive sentences if they proceed to a trial and lose, but at Guantanamo the key element that separates it from the rest of the judicial system is the complete lack of any process.

    Men can be sent to Guantanamo and waste away there forever without anyone having properly examined the alleged cases against them, or with knowledge that they were wrongly detained, or not particularly significant, ignored. In Gul’s case, he’s one of only a few prisoners – the last to arrive, in 2007 and 2008 – whose case was never even cursorily reviewed after his arrival at Guantanamo, via a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), and he’s the only prisoner who wasn’t even assigned a Guantanamo serial number. His number, 3148, is from Bagram.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Always saddens me. Human beings reduced to numbers, indefinitely detained without charges, without trial and almost no one cares…

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the indifference from Americans, and around the world, is a depressing outcome of the Trump years, Natalia. The conclusion would have to be that, the worse the president, the more contemptuous he is about justice and the law, the more the terrible crimes he is responsible for can end up completely forgotten. And that’s a damning conclusion about responsibility and amnesia in this supposed information age.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    We are releasing convicted persons from stateside prisons during this outbreak of Covid 19 …There are those in GTMO that deserve the same consideration at least.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I agree, Jan, but as far as I know the question of releasing low-level, high-risk Guantanamo prisoners hasn’t even been presented as a viable topic in the US mainstream media. A brief flurry of activity after a sailor tested positive a month ago, and since then just tumbleweed blowing.

    I was surprised to hear you say that some prisoners on the US mainland at high risk from the virus were being released, because of, you know, the US’s obsession with punishment – as much punishment as possible, yes sir! – but the Guardian tells me that, along with Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, “released from federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement,” the otherwise execrable Bill Barr “ordered the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) earlier this month to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible high-risk inmates, beginning at three prisons identified as coronavirus hotspots,” with the Bureau of Prisons saying it “had moved more than 1,000 inmates to home confinement since 26 March.”

    The Guardian also reported that, as of April 16, “473 federal inmates and 279 Bureau of Prisons staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus at facilities across the US”, and “eighteen inmates have died.”

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/17/michael-cohen-trump-ex-fixer-prison-release-coronavirus

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    That said, Jan, the coronavirus situation in US prisons is generally appalling, as ACLU research indicated yesterday. From the Guardian:

    “America’s addiction to mass incarceration could almost double its number of deaths from coronavirus, with jails acting as incubators of the disease and spreading a further 100,000 fatalities across the US.

    “The startling warning comes from groundbreaking modeling by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and academic researchers, released on Wednesday.

    “The analysis found that unless instant action is taken to reduce jail populations, a terrible price will be paid. Jails, which house men and women not yet convicted, will act as mass vectors of the contagion.

    “As many as 99,000 more people could die in the US as a result of the virus being contracted behind jail walls, the study predicts. Of those, 23,000 are projected to succumb behind bars and 76,000 in surrounding communities as a result of inmates spreading the virus upon release.”

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/22/coronavirus-us-jails-incarceration-death-toll-study

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    In the UK, meanwhile, Jan, where we were experts in imprisonment before the USA was even dreamt of, plans to release, with electronic tags, 4,000 elderly, at-risk prisoners who are just months away from the end of their sentences were temporarily put on hold last week after the incompetent prison service – or, more probably, its outsourced administrators – released six men by mistake.

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/18/uk-coronavirus-prison-plan-suspended-after-six-mistakenly-released

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevi Brannelly wrote:

    what the actual hell? speaking of which, has CV19 hit gitmo?

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    A sailor contracted the virus and was put in isolation a month ago, Kevi, but we’ve heard nothing else since. Attorneys can’t visit the prison right now, so I’m not sure how much information is actually even getting out of the prison.

    See this: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2020/04/01/the-coronavirus-and-guantanamos-extraordinarily-vulnerable-prison-population/

  12. Ellen Kaufmann says...

    Please provide a snail mail address. I will send a small donation. I am a member of No More Guantanamos in Western Mass.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Ellen,
    Great to hear from you.
    British banks no longer take US checks, but if you send a check to Debra Sweet at the World Can’t Wait, she’ll get it to me.
    The address is:
    305 West Broadway #185
    New York, NY 10013
    Please make it it out to WCW, and explain that it’s for me in a covering note. I’ll let Debra know to watch out for it.
    Thanks for this!
    Best,
    Andy

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Spanish readers can find a Spanish version of this article here, courtesy of the World Can’t Wait: http://worldcantwait-la.com/worthington-asadulla-harroon-gul-detenido-sin-valor-gitmo.htm

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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