US detention of Afghan man at Guantanamo is illegal, says court

Assadullah Gul has spent 14 years at the Guantanamo detention center without being formally charged and tried. He is one of the 39 remaining detainees and underwent physical and psychological torture

October 22, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Assadullah Gul Gitmo
Parents of Assadullah Gul with photos of their son in their home in Shamshatu refugee camp in Pakistan. (Photo: Aftab Khan)

A district court in the US ruled on Wednesday, October 20, that the detention of Assadullah Gul in Guantanamo (Gitmo) is illegal and asked for him to be released. Gul, an Afghan national, has been in detention for the past 14 years without any charge or trial. 

Gul is one of the 39 remaining detainees at the Guantanamo detention center and one of 13 who has been cleared by the military review board for transfer. It is not certain whether the US government will release him or file an appeal against the court’s verdict. Nevertheless, Gul is the first person in more than a decade to win his habeas corpus petition in a US court.   

His petition was filed by rights group Reprieve in a D. C. district court in 2016. The petition was based on a 2008 judgement by the US supreme court which had ruled that Guantanamo detainees have the right to petition under the writ of habeas corpus. Prior to the ruling, detainees at Gitmo did not have any legal right under the system created by the US during its so-called global war on terror to keep “enemies” in prison for indefinite periods. 

Human rights groups welcomed the judgement, but also expressed the view that real justice would be only achieved with action against those who have created this system which deprives people of their freedom and rights without any accountability. 

According to a press release issued by Reprieve, Assadullah suffered “physical and psychological torture during his 14 year detention without charge or trial including being beaten, hung by his wrists, deprived of food and water, and prevented from praying. He has been subjected to sleep deprivation, extreme cold temperatures and solitary confinement.”

Gul was arrested in 2007 for his alleged links with Al-Qaeda, however, the US government has failed to establish his links with the group. It has also been established that Gul was a member of Hezb-e-Islami, which had signed a peace deal with the Afghan government in 2016 and has ceased to exist since then. At the time of his arrest, Gul was living in a refugee camp in Pakistan and had gone to Afghanistan for some work. Demands for his expeditious repatriation to Afghanistan are also being raised now.

US president Joe Biden has promised to shut the Guantanamo detention center established under the George Bush administration illegally in Cuba in 2002. Similar promises were also made by former president Barack Obama. More than 740 people have been detained at Gitmo since its establishment. Most of them have spent decades there without being charged or tried. They also have also faced various forms of torture.

One of the lawyers fighting Gul’s case, Mark Maher, was quoted in the Reprieve press release after the US court verdict saying that though it is well known that “Guantanamo was built on the shakiest of legal foundations,” this has never been clearer than it is today.