Afghan Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul Freed From Guantánamo, Where 36 Men Now Remain, 20 Approved For Release


Asadullah Haroon Gul (on the right), reunited with his father in Afghanistan on June 25, 2022 after being held in Guantánamo for 15 years without charge or trial.

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Good news from Guantánamo, where the prison’s population has dropped to 36 with the release of the Afghan prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul.

In a deal negotiated with the ruling Taliban government in Afghanistan, Gul was flown to Qatar, where he was welcomed by Taliban representatives who then arranged from him to be flown home to Afghanistan, to be reunited with his family, including his parents, his wife and his daughter, who he has not seen since she was a baby.

Gul’s release brings to an end a 15-year ordeal of imprisonment without charge or trial, which began when he arrived at Guantánamo in June 2007, at the age of 25 or 26, as one of the last detainees to arrive at the prison, having been seized in Afghanistan four months earlier.

Although the Pentagon described him as as a “dangerous terror suspect,” who was “known to be associated with high-level militants in Afghanistan,” and had apparently “admitted to serving as a courier for al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL),” the authorities didn’t even know his hame, describing him only as Haroon al-Afghani (“the Afghan”).

In addition, he was never given a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, a requirement for all prisoners facing a trial by military commission, and in fact he was never given a Guantánamo Internment Serial Number (ISN), his prisoner number, 3148, having been allocated to him at Bagram.

Swallowed up in Guantánamo, Gul subsequently disappeared from view. It took three years before the International Committee of the Red Cross were able to get a letter to his family to explain that he was still alive, and was at Guantánamo, and another six years before he managed to secure legal representation, via lawyers at Reprieve.

By this point, in 2016, Gul had been made eligible for a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established by President Obama to ascertain whether 64 men who had not been put forward for trials, and had not already been approved for release by Obama’s first review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, should be recommended for release. The men in question had to convince the board — made up of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — that it was safe to release them.

Gul had only just met, for the first time, his attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who memorably described him as a “bright-eyed, chatty young man,” but despite her best efforts — and those of Gul — to persuade the board that he should be released, his ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial was upheld in July 2016, and again in April 2017.

By now, of course, Donald Trump was president, and had made it clear that he had no interest in releasing any more prisoners from Guantánamo, and so it took until the start of Joe Biden’s presidency for any further progress to be made.

Throughout this whole period, it had been difficult to work out if Gul had been seized by mistake, or if he had been involved to some extent with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG, or HIA), a militia led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a recipient of CIA funding during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but who had aligned himself with al-Qaeda after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

Crucially, however, Hekmatyar had reached a peace agreement with the Afghan government in 2016, meaning that the US no longer had any justification for holding anyone affiliated with HIG. This was made clear when an HIG-affiliated former Guantánamo prisoner, Hamidullah, was repatriated from the United Arab Emirates, where he had been sent with other Afghans in 2016, in December 2019, and yet, at Guantánamo, the peace deal was treated by the authorities as though it was irrelevant.

In an effort to secure Gul’s release, his attorneys submitted a habeas corpus petition on his behalf to the District Court in Washington, D.C., and last March the Afghan government joined the case, submitting an amicus brief as part of the efforts to secure his release and repatriation, pointing out that HIG “ceased all hostilities with the United States” in 2016, following the peace agreement, and adding that “[d]etainees who are not a member of Al Qaida or the Taliban must be released if their organization is no longer engaged in hostilities with the United States.”

Despite this, when Gul’s case was heard in court, prosecutor Stephen McCoy Elliott claimed that, although the government “does not take lightly the fact that [Gul] has been detained more than 10 years,” we “have been and remain at war with al-Qaeda,” and that, as a result, his “detention, while lengthy, remains justified,” taking a position that, as I stated at the time, thoroughly undermin[ed] the HIG peace deal, and indicat[ed] that, at Guantánamo, as is so often the case, the basis for prisoners’ continued imprisonment works to its own horrible logic, which has nothing to do with external reality.”

In October 2021, Gul finally had his release approved by a PRB, with the board members noting his “lack of a leadership role in an extremist organization and the limited timeframe of his associations with [al-Qaeda] members,” and just weeks later he also triumphed in the District Court, when his habeas petition was granted by Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama nominee, who confirmed that his ongoing imprisonment was unlawful.

Tara J. Plochocki of Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss, who also represents Gul, and who argued his case in court last May, responded to the ruling by stating, “What the ruling means is that Mr. Gul’s detention is illegal. The grant of the writ does not mean the judge can order the government to put him on a plane to Kabul, but the government is required to obey court orders and to comply, it must release him.”

It is reassuring that, despite the change of government in Afghanistan, this has now happened, and Gul has been enthusiastically welcomed back to Afghanistan, and is reunited with his family.

Now all that remains is for President Biden to discover some haste when it comes to also freeing the 20 other men still held who have been approved for release, 15 of whom have had those decisions taken by PRBs since he took office. As I have unfortunately become accustomed to saying, approving men for release means nothing until they are actually freed.

* * * * *

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009 (out of the 532 released by President Bush), the 196 prisoners released from February 2009 to January 2017 by President Obama, the one prisoner released by Donald Trump, and the first three prisoners released by President Biden, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else – either in print or on the internet – although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Filesand for the stories of the other 390 prisoners released by President Bush, see my archive of articles based on the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011: June 2007 – 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (herehere and here); July 2007 – 16 Saudis; August 2007 – 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 – 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 – 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 – 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 – 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 – 2 Algerians1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 – 2 Algerians; September 2008 – 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 – 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik2 Algerians; 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan), repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 – 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 —1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani); 4 Uighurs to Bermuda; 1 Iraqi; 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad); 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni; 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); 2 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland; May 2010 — 1 Syrian to Bulgaria, 1 Yemeni to Spain; July 2010 — 1 Yemeni (Mohammed Hassan Odaini); 1 Algerian1 Syrian to Cape Verde, 1 Uzbek to Latvia, 1 unidentified Afghan to Spain; September 2010 — 1 Palestinian, 1 Syrian to Germany; January 2011 — 1 Algerian; April 2012 — 2 Uighurs to El Salvador; July 2012 — 1 Sudanese; September 2012 — 1 Canadian (Omar Khadr) to ongoing imprisonment in Canada; August 2013 — 2 Algerians; December 2013 — 2 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 Uighurs to Slovakia; March 2014 — 1 Algerian (Ahmed Belbacha); May 2014 — 5 Afghans to Qatar (in a prisoner swap for US PoW Bowe Bergdahl); November 2014 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fawzi al-Odah); 3 Yemenis to Georgia, 1 Yemeni and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia, and 1 Saudi; December 2014 — 4 Syrians, 1 Palestinian and 1 Tunisian to Uruguay4 Afghans2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman; September 2015 — 1 Moroccan and 1 Saudi; October 2015 — 1 Mauritanian and 1 British resident (Shaker Aamer); November 2015 — 5 Yemenis to the United Arab Emirates; January 2016 — 2 Yemenis to Ghana1 Kuwaiti (Fayiz al-Kandari) and 1 Saudi10 Yemenis to Oman1 Egyptian to Bosnia and 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; April 2016 — 2 Libyans to Senegal9 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia; June 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Montenegro; July 2016 — 1 Tajik and 1 Yemeni to Serbia, 1 Yemeni to Italy; August 2016 — 12 Yemenis and 3 Afghans to the United Arab Emirates (see here and here); October 2016 — 1 Mauritanian (Mohammedou Ould Slahi); December 2016 — 1 Yemeni to Cape Verde; January 2017 — 4 Yemenis to Saudi Arabia8 Yemenis and 2 Afghans to Oman1 Russian, 1 Afghan and 1 Yemeni to the United Arab Emirates, and 1 Saudi repatriated to Saudi Arabia for continued detention; May 2018 — 1 Saudi to continued imprisonment in Saudi Arabia; July 2021 — 1 Moroccan; March 2022 — 1 Saudi (Mohammed al-Qahtani); April 2022 —1 Algerian.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

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 struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — 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.

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9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, celebrating the release of another prisoner from Guantanamo — Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan held without charge or trial since 2007, who was approved for release last year by a Periodic Review Board, and who also had his ongoing imprisonment judged as unlawful by a District Court judge reviewing his habeas corpus petition.

    Gul was flown to Qatar, where Taliban officials arranged for him to be flown back to Afghanistan, to be reunited with his parents, his wife, and his daughter, who he hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

    With Gul’s release, 36 men are still held at Guantanamo, and 20 of them, like Gul, have been approved for release. Unfortunately, though, as I have become accustomed to saying, approving men for release means nothing until they are actually freed.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    David Barrows wrote:

    Finally, one of our victims of torture is going to be united with his family. How many survivors of Guantanamo have actually been able to go back to their families instead of being marooned in another country?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s a very good point, David – and even when former prisoners are returned to their home countries they are rarely welcomed openly on their return.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Katya Michos wrote:

    KUDOS, Andy! You are an inspiration. Keep up the good work.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Katya. I appreciate the support!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Meagan Murphy wrote:

    Excellent article. What angers me is that in 2016 it was made clear that the HIG was on peace terms with the US and so keeping him in Guantanamo was illegal. I also am glad you pointed out how GTMO logic is not the same as “real life”. I hope Biden hastens the release of the 20 approved to go to where they have been approved to go. Assadullah’s story is better than those who have to go and live where they don’t want to, after having been wrongfully tortured and more than likely innocent of anything. I’m glad I get to know he’s with his dad, wife and daughter. Thanks for your writing.
    May Guantanamo close tomorrow and all the victims be greatly financially compensated for lost time and wrongful torture.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts and your supportive words about my writing, Meagan.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish translation, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘El prisionero afgano Asadullah Haroon Gul fue liberado de Guantánamo, en donde ahora quedan 36 hombres, 20 aprobados para ser puestos en libertad’:

  9. Talented Artist Khaled Qassim Approved For Release From Guantánamo: But When Will He Be Freed? – OpEd - Yerepouni Daily News says...

    […] As a result, it is hard not to conclude that President Biden isn’t prioritizing their release — as though there is nothing untoward about continuing to hold men approved for release indefinitely. While it is commendable that there are now just four men explicitly held indefinitely without charge or trial as “forever prisoners” (down from 22 when he took office), it must also be remembered that he has released just four men since he became president — the last two of the 38 men approved for release by PRBs under Obama, a mentally ill Saudi, and an Afghan with the distinction of being the only man in over a decade to have a court order his release. […]

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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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