On Friday, the United States complied with a federal court order and released a former Afghan militiaman held at Guantánamo Bay, in a case that reflects Afghanistan’s changing political realities.
Assadullah Haroon Gul, who is in his 40s, was held for 15 years in the military prison under the name of Haroon al-Afghani and has never been charged with war crimes.
A US Air Force plane carrying Mr. Haroon left Guantánamo Bay on Thursday and delivered him to Qatar, which has long served as an intermediary between US and Taliban interests. Qatari officials then handed Mr Haroon over to Taliban government officials in Doha, according to a senior US official.
A Qatari plane was to transport both the prisoner and the Taliban envoys to Kabul. The official, who was not authorized to be identified by name, said the repatriation ended with the transfer to the Taliban.
When US-allied Afghan forces captured Mr Haroon in 2007, he was believed to be a commander of the Hezb-i-Islami militia, which fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda against the US invasion from Afghanistan. Then, in 2016, the militia made peace with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, a US ally, questioning that Mr Haroon could lawfully be held as part of an enemy force at Guantánamo Bay. Last year, the Ghani government filed a petition in a US court asking for his return.
Report from Afghanistan
But by the time a federal judge, Amit P. Mehta of the US District Court in Washington DC, ruled that his continued detention was unlawful, the Taliban had toppled the Ghani government, leaving the Biden administration with the enigma of who how to make Mr. House Haron.
In most cases, the law requires the Secretary of Defense to certify to Congress his or her satisfaction with security arrangements, which typically require surveillance of the former detainee, restriction of movement, and intelligence sharing. with US counterterrorism officials. But when a court orders a release, as in the case of Mr Haroon, or a detainee is serving a sentence for war crimes, no such certification is required. Instead, the transfer was approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who sent Congress notice of the pending release last month.
It was unclear whether security guarantees had been taken.
On May 4, the Justice Department filed a notice in Mr. Haroon’s federal court case regarding the potential transfer. “The U.S. government is pursuing a strategy of outreach and meeting logistical requirements to effect the repatriation of petitioners to Afghanistan,” he said.
The transfer reduced the number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay to 36, 20 of whom could be released if the State Department finds nations to receive them. Another Guantánamo prisoner, like Mr. Haroon, does not need the Secretary of Defense’s approval to leave but currently has nowhere to go.
They are 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 that because he cooperated with the United States government and sometimes provided evidence against other detainees, he cannot be repatriated. He recently filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration in federal court seeking a finding that his continued detention is unlawful.
Mr Haroon was born to an Afghan family who fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan during a civil war, according to court documents. He is married and has a daughter, who was born after his capture. They live in Afghanistan. A brother and his mother live in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Tara J. Plochocki, one of Mr Haroon’s lawyers, last year described her client as ‘desperate to go home’ to ensure her daughter gets an education. The Taliban banned women and girls from going to school the last time they were in power.
Lawyers for Mr Haroon say he rose above his circumstances to study economics at a college in Peshawar and gained fluency in five languages - the fifth being English, which he has learned from his American captors. They described his affiliation with the Hezb-i-Islami movement as the inevitable result of growing up in refugee camps sponsored by that movement.