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U.S. Repatriates Afghan Whose Guantánamo Detention Was Unlawful

The United States on Friday complied with a federal court order and released a former Afghan militia from detention in Guantanamo Bay, in a case reflecting Afghanistan’s changing political realities.

Assadullah Haroon Gul, who is in his 40s, was held for 15 years in a military prison known as Haroon al-Afghani and was never charged with war crimes.

A US Air Force plane aboard Mr Haroon took off from Guantanamo Bay on Thursday and delivered him to Qatar, which has long served as an intermediary for the United States’ interests with the Taliban. According to a senior US official, Qatari officials then handed Haroon over to representatives of the Taliban government in Doha.

A Qatari plane was said to transport both the prisoner and Taliban envoys to Kabul. The official, who was not authorized to be identified by name, said the repatriation was completed with the handover to the Taliban.

When Afghan forces allied with the United States 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 US invasion of Afghanistan. . Then, in 2016, the militia made peace with the government of US ally President Ashraf Ghani, casting doubt on whether Mr Haroon could be legally detained as part of an enemy force in Guantanamo Bay. Last year, the Ghanaian government petitioned the US court to demand his return.

But by the time a federal judge, Amit P. Mehta of the US District Court in Washington DC ruled that his continued detention was illegal, the Taliban had deposed the Ghanaian government, puzzling the Biden administration as to how they could get Mr. Haroon home.

In most cases, the law requires the Secretary of Defense to confirm to Congress his satisfaction with security arrangements, which typically require monitoring the former detainee, limiting his travels and sharing intelligence with US counterterrorism officials. But when a court orders a release, as in the case of Mr. Haroon, or a detainee completes a war crimes conviction, no such certification is required. Instead, the transfer was approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who last month notified Congress of the pending release.

It is not known whether any security guarantees have been put in place.

On May 4, the Ministry of Justice filed in federal court of Mr. Haroon case of possible transfer. “The US government is pursuing an outreach and logistical compliance strategy to facilitate the petitioner’s repatriation to Afghanistan,” it said.

The transfer reduced the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to 36, 20 of whom could be released if the State Department finds countries to host them. Another detainee at Guantánamo, such as Mr Haroon, does not require the Defense Secretary’s permission to leave, but currently has no place to go.

He is Majid Khan, 42, a Pakistani citizen who pleaded guilty to serving as a courier for Al Qaeda and served his sentence in March. His lawyers say he cannot be repatriated because he cooperated with the United States government and in some cases provided evidence against other detainees. He recently filed suit against the Biden administration in federal court, finding his continued detention to be illegal.

Mr Haroon was born to an Afghan family who had fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan during a civil war, according to court records. He is 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 year, Tara J. PlockockicHaroon, one of Mr Haroon’s lawyers, described her client as “desperate to go home” to ensure his daughter receives an education. The Taliban banned women and girls from going to school the last time they were in power.

Mr Haroon’s lawyers say he rose above his circumstances to study economics at a university in Peshawar and was fluent 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 consequence of growing up in refugee camps sponsored by that movement.

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