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U.S. Repatriates Afghan Whose Guantánamo Detention Was Illegal


The US on Friday complied with a federal court order and released a former Afghan militiaman from detention in Guantánamo Bay, in a case that reflects the changing political realities of Afghanistan.

Assadullah Haroon Gul, who’s in his 40s, was held for 15 years on the military prison under the name Haroon al-Afghani and was never charged with any war crimes.

A U.S. Air Force plane carrying Mr. Haroon departed from Guantánamo Bay on Thursday and delivered him to Qatar, which has long served as go-between on United States interests with the Taliban. Qatari officials then handed Mr. Haroon over to Taliban government representatives in Doha, in line with a senior U.S. official.

A Qatari aircraft was to move each the prisoner and the Taliban envoys to Kabul. The official, who was not authorized to be identified by name, said the repatriation was accomplished with the handoff to the Taliban.

When Afghan forces allied with the US captured Mr. Haroon in 2007, he was considered a commander of the Hezb-i-Islami militia, which fought alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Then, in 2016, the militia made peace with the federal government of President Ashraf Ghani, a U.S. ally, casting doubt on whether Mr. Haroon could legally be held as a part of an enemy force at Guantánamo Bay. By last yr, the Ghani government had filed a petition in U.S. court searching for his return.

But by the point a federal judge, Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., ruled that his continuing detention was illegal, the Taliban had ousted the Ghani government, leaving the Biden administration with the conundrum of how one can get Mr. Haroon home.

In most instances, the law requires the secretary of defense to certify to Congress his satisfaction with the safety arrangements, which usually require monitoring of the previous detainee, restricting his travel and sharing intelligence with U.S. counterterrorism officials. But when a court orders a release, as in Mr. Haroon’s case, or a detainee completes a war crimes sentence, no such certification is required. As a substitute, the transfer was approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who sent notice to Congress of the pending release last month.

It was not known if any security assurances were arranged.

On May 4, the Justice Department filed notice in Mr. Haroon’s federal court case of the potential transfer. “The U.S. government is pursuing a method for outreach and meeting logistical requirements to effect petitioner’s repatriation to Afghanistan,” it said.

The transfer reduced to 36 the variety of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, 20 of whom might be released if the State Department finds nations to receive them. One other prisoner at Guantánamo, like Mr. Haroon, doesn’t require the defense secretary’s approval to depart but currently has no place to go.

He’s Majid Khan, 42, a Pakistani citizen who pleaded guilty to serving as a courier for Al Qaeda and accomplished his sentence in March. His lawyers say that because he cooperated with the US government and in some instances provided evidence against other detainees he can’t be repatriated. He recently filed suit against the Biden administration in federal court searching for a finding that his continued detention is illegal.

Mr. Haroon was born to an Afghan family that fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan during a civil war, in line with court filings. He’s married and has a daughter, who was born after he was captured. They live in Afghanistan. A brother and his mother live in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Last yr, Tara J. Plochocki, one in every of Mr. Haroon’s lawyers, described her client as “eager to get home” to be certain his daughter gets an education. The Taliban barred women and girls from going to highschool the last time they were in power.

Mr. Haroon’s lawyers say that he rose above his circumstances to check economics at a university in Peshawar and gained fluency in five languages — the fifth being English, which he learned from his American captors. They described his affiliation with the Hezb-i-Islami movement as an inevitable end result of growing up in refugee camps that were sponsored by that movement.

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