According to media outlets such as Al-Jazeera and The New York Times, a United States judge has ruled that the country has no legal authority to hold an Afghanistan man in the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Asadullah Haroon Gul, detained without trial for 14 years since his capture in Afghanistan, won the decision through lawyers who argued that habeas corpus (which examines the legality of detainment, usually without trial) was violated. This is the first U.S. case in over a decade that has successfully invoked habeas corpus, with the last concerning the right of those imprisoned at Guantanamo to be allowed this defense through a supreme court ruling.
Gul, who was identified as a member of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, or Hezb-e-Islami, was detained in 2007. He returned to Afghanistan because of the group’s’ loose association with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s efforts to undo the West’s occupation of the country. This is despite evidence that he was returning for business purposes, having lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan with his family (almost certainly due to the war), with no apparent involvement in any terrorist activities. Regardless, he was handed over to the U.S. military, which kept him at Guantanamo Bay with other terrorist suspects.
Hezb-e-Islami made peace with the Afghan government in 2016. This strengthened the case that he should be released and repatriated, given his “lack of leadership in extremist organizations” and “lack of clear ideological basis for…prior conduct,” according to a U.S. military review board last month. Since Guantanamo Bay’s purpose was to imprison Al-Qaeda and other terrorist affiliates, presiding judge Amit Mehta ruled in favour that habeas corpus was violated and for his release.
Despite the positive ruling, it is unlikely that Mr. Gul can return home anytime soon because of the recent developments in Afghanistan, and the precedent procedures for release from Guantanamo prison. The Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan after western forces left the country. With the western supported government soon collapsing, it is unlikely that even with U.S. or global recognition of the Taliban controlled Afghan state, that it would want an individual it is politically unaligned with to return. Geopolitics aside, the U.S. judiciary has no power in forcing the government to release Mr. Gul by a certain date, despite unlawful detainment, other than to make them acknowledge their obligation to release him sometime in the future.
With the Biden administration’s promise to close Guantanamo and remedy the backlog of repatriation for prisoners it holds (currently 12 out of 39 prisoners), the facility’s continued human rights violations is frustrating. While encouraging to see a U.S. judge acknowledgement this unlawful detainment by, the lacking urgency to correct a wrong in a place decried for barbaric torture on inmates is sadly typical of American leadership.
To the current administration’s credit in pursuing the end of the prison, the previous president made no effort to solve this travesty either. However, it should not be difficult or take long to come up with fair recompense for someone who lost their family and freedom, as Mr. Gul did because of the false and unwise circumstances that lead to his imprisonment. Still, the decision to acknowledge this as unlawful is at least a step in the right direction, that only now demands a just outcome.
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