Today in Washington D.C. District Judge Amit P. Mehta is hearing the habeas corpus application of Asadullah Haroon, the last “low value” Afghan detainee in Guantánamo Bay.
This is not a trial – he has never been charged with an offence. His lawyers are challenging the legality of his detention without trial.
This is the first such habeas hearing for two years, the first under the Biden administration, and comes three weeks after the President declared an end to hostilities in Afghanistan (and nine months after he stated his intention to close Guantánamo). Whatever legal justification may have existed to hold Asadullah Haroon evaporated with that announcement. He is a prisoner of war, and that war is over.
Asadullah Haroon was raised in an HIA (Hizb Islami) refugee camp, and as a result was a member of the group. HIA struck a peace deal with the Afghan Government in September 2016. The U.S. has released 206 of 207 “low value” Afghan prisoners from Guantánamo. Asadullah Haroon is the only one who remains.
This is also the first time in Guantánamo’s 19-year history that a detainee’s government has intervened in court, The Afghan government has submitted an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief, noting that “his continued detention is detrimental to relations between Afghanistan and the United States, compromising compliance with the letter and spirit of two different peace accords.”
At the first, classified, session of the hearing this morning, Asadullah Haroon made a statement to the court. Here is what he told his lawyers he would say:
“Hi Judge. I am Asadullah. Thank you for hearing my case. Thank you to the court for the opportunity to speak I have waited so long for justice. I have always been clear that I was a part of HIA. I admit that. I understand I was detained for being a part of HIA. But HIA is at peace now. It has been at peace for many years. I do not understand why I am still here when all of the other HIA members have all been released.
“I am not a terrorist. I am an Afghan. This is why I became a member of HIA. I was always with HIA from when I was a young child in a refugee camp. We wanted the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, and so did the US. Other groups had the same goal too. But I was always with HIA.
“I have only seen my daughter Maryam in person as a baby. She is now a young woman. Maryam wants to be a doctor, and I want to help her achieve that goal. I hope that I will be released in time to be a father to her.
“Every day I wake up I think perhaps this is my last day in Guantánamo, and every evening I go to bed I find I am still here. I just do not know why.
“I have been detained for 14 years. On Wednesday we have Eid al Fitr, which a big family celebration. I have been missing from this celebration with my wife and my family for all these years.
“Like I said before I understand the US detained me for being HIA. I do not have any hard feelings against anyone. When I was young I learned that the US was a country of law. My attorneys tell me that justice is possible and with much respect I ask you to finally give me justice and send me home to my daughter. Thank you very much.”