US repatriates Gitmo prisoner back to Afghanistan after court rules he was illegally detained

Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul, also known as Haroon Al-Afghani, was born in Afghanistan and has been held in Guantanamo Bay since 2007.

“The Department of Defense, with support from other parts of the US government, moved him from Guantanamo, facilitating his repatriation to his home country, Afghanistan,” an administration official said. “He flew on an American plane to Doha and then we worked with the Taliban and the Qatari government to facilitate his transfer to Kabul.”

Later on Friday, the Pentagon confirmed the handover.

“The Department of Defense announced today the transfer of Asadullah Haroun al-Afghani, also known as Gul, from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center to facilitate his repatriation to Afghanistan, his home country,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

“The Department of Defense, in coordination with other departments of the U.S. Government, transferred Mr. Goole pursuant to the U.S. District of Columbia Habeas Corpus Order, ruling that the United States no longer had legal grounds to justify the continued detention of Mr. .Gul,” the message says.

The transfer also comes as the country’s Taliban leadership is preventing girls older than grade 6 from going to school, and the country is facing an economic and food crisis that is expected to kill thousands.

U.S. diplomats stationed at the U.S. Afghan Affairs Office in Doha discussed the topic, which they considered an area of ​​mutual interest, with Taliban officials to figure out the logistics of how to make this work work, the official explained. No higher-level engagement with the Taliban was required, the official said.

Late last year, a federal judge ruled that Gul’s detention was unlawful, and the Periodic Review Board, which is a group of officials from various US national security agencies, also gave permission for his transfer. These two decisions prompted the Biden administration to start working on Gul’s repatriation.

Gul, an Afghan national who grew up mostly in a refugee camp in Shamshato, Pakistan, was accused of being a member of an extremist group called Hezb-e-Islami/Gulbuddin, which at the time was known as the HIG. It has since become known as Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA). The US government considered the HIA to be a “related force” to al-Qaeda.

Gul admitted that at the time he was a member of the HIG, now known as the HIA, but his lawyers claimed that the group made a peace treaty with the Afghan government in 2016.

Gul has been in detention at Guantanamo Bay since June 2007.

“The court has decided that we need to move this person somewhere, and the most possible option, the most realistic option, as a rule, will be repatriation, and here it looks like it could very well be repatriation,” said a source familiar with the matter. .

Several factors have played a role in the administration’s efforts to repatriate Gul to Afghanistan, even though the Taliban currently control the country. One such factor is that after the US withdrawal last fall, there were no US troops left in Afghanistan.

The Taliban also assured the US government that Gul would not pose a threat to the US homeland or American allies, the US official said.

“We had conversations about how important it is that this person does not pose a threat to the US or our allies. We received assurances in return,” the official said.

Gul’s transfer to Afghanistan comes as tensions remain high between the US and the Taliban over Mark Frerichs, a veteran and contractor kidnapped in Kabul in late January 2020, who is believed to be held by the Haqqani network, which is a close associate of the Taliban. .

“We also need to find a way to bring Mark home. We are working hard on this. We hope that in the coming weeks there will be good news that he will finally return home, ”the official explained.

The Periodic Review Board, which first determined that Ghoul should be allowed to leave prison, is a government agency created during the Obama administration to determine whether inmates held in prison are guilty or not. The Biden administration continues to rely on the board to dictate which prisoners should be sent home.

With the transfer of Gul, 36 prisoners remain in the prison, more than a dozen were admitted to the transfer.

“They will continue their efforts to do what follows these recommendations, which is to reach out to countries, whether in their countries of origin or where it is not possible or not available or appropriate to other countries, and seek to develop arrangements for repatriation or transfer that are mutually acceptable.” – said a source familiar with the situation.

Ellie Kaufman of CNN contributed to this report.

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