September 28, 2022
An Afghan prisoner held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay for roughly 15 years has been released, the Department of Defense said on Friday.

An Afghan prisoner held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay for roughly 15 years has been released, the Department of Defense said on Friday.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy culture and information minister, first announced the transfer of Asadullah Haroon al Afghani, also known as “Gul,” back to his home country of Afghanistan. The minister said Haroon was one of the last two Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

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He left Guantanamo Bay on Thursday and traveled to Qatar on a U.S. Air Force plane, where he was then handed over to Taliban government officials in Doha, according to the New York Times.

Haroon was captured in 2007. The United States accused him of being the commander of the Hezb-e-Islami militia, which fought alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda against the U.S. invasion, but his detainment became questionable in 2016, when the military made a peace deal with the then-government of Afghanistan.

Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled that his detention was unlawful, but it was after the Taliban had retaken control of Afghanistan, thus presenting the Biden administration with a difficult path to navigate as it related to his return.

United Kingdom-based rights group Reprieve said in a statement that Haroon’s family “feared him dead for many years” and claimed, “For the first nine years of his captivity, he did not have access to a lawyer, despite multiple attempts to obtain legal representation.”

“Asadullah has 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,” the group alleged. “He has been subjected to sleep deprivation, extreme cold temperatures and solitary confinement.”

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President George W. Bush opened the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 following the attacks on Sept. 11. At its peak, the facility housed nearly 800 detainees, according to NBC News. President Barack Obama promised to shut down the facility during his campaign, though his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. However, during his administration, the number of detainees shrunk from 245 to 41.

President Joe Biden has taken some steps to close the detention facility, though there are roughly three dozen remaining, about half of whom are eligible for transfer.

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