A former Taliban commander died Tuesday evening at Guantanamo after suffering an apparent heart attack or similar ailment. US Southern Command released a statement on Thursday explaining that the detainee, a 48-year-old Afghan named Awal Gul, “collapsed in the shower after exercising on an elliptical machine” and “extensive” efforts by medical personnel failed to save him.
Southcom describes Gul as “an admitted Taliban recruiter and commander of a military base in Jalalabad.” The military’s statement continues: “While in Jalalabad, Awal Gul associated with senior members of Hezb-e-Islami Khalis and operated an al-Qaida guesthouse. Gul also admitted to meeting with Osama Bin Laden and providing him with operational assistance on several occasions.”
One of these occasions allegedly occurred after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. According to a declassified memo produced at Guantanamo, Osama bin Laden met with Gul after the battle of Tora Bora at Gul’s house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
“As of late November 2001,” the memo also reads, “Osama bin Laden gave the detainee 100,000 United States Dollars to pass to Arabs attempting to flee to Pakistan.”
On another occasion, Gul allegedly “attended a meeting in March 2000 for Terrorist Leaders hosted by Osama bin Laden.” An unnamed source cited in the US government’s memo reportedly “stated that he was told [Gul] worked with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and helped many of them.” This same source allegedly “stated the detainee was a commanding Emir in Jalalabad, Afghanistan and vicinities.”
A longtime jihadist commander
Gul admittedly joined the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s, according to the government’s declassified files. Gul was trained on how to use US-supplied Stinger missiles, but claimed during his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) hearing at Guantanamo that he failed the training course.
Gul was originally recruited for jihad by Hezb-e-Islami Khalis (HIK) in 1981, according to the US government’s declassified memos. The HIK was a well-known mujahedin group that counted Jalaluddin Haqqani among its more infamous members. Like Haqqani, Gul was not originally a member of the Taliban but joined the group in the mid-1990s after Afghanistan fell to Mullah Omar’s forces.
Gul admittedly agreed to serve the Taliban for several years. He was in charge of Military Camp #4, which was a “staging area for Mujahedin arriving from Kabul, Afghanistan to fight in Jalalabad, Afghanistan” and “had a tank unit, personnel and ammunition.” At the beginning of Gul’s tenure at Camp #4, the base had 250 men. During his CSRT hearing, however, Gul claimed that the number of men at the camp dropped to 75 over time.
Matthew Dodge, Gul’s lawyer, claimed in an interview with the Miami Herald after Gul’s death that the former Taliban commander had resigned his post from the Taliban “because he was disgusted by the Taliban’s growing penchant for corruption and abuse.” The newspaper reported that Dodge claims documents “prove” Gul “quit the Taliban a year before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.”
Gul offered a similar story, with important differences, during his testimony at a CSRT hearing at Guantanamo. Gul did claim that he submitted his resignation to the Taliban on multiple occasions prior to September 11, 2001, but said “they rejected it over and over again.” Gul also claimed that he finally quit the Taliban after the September 11 attacks, not one year before.
A member of Gul’s tribunal asked him about his job on September 11, 2001. The DoD’s transcript of Gul’s hearing reads:
Tribunal Member: What was your job when you learned about September 11th?
[Gul]: I was working in an office.
Tribunal Member: For whom?
[Gul]: A Taliban organization, I had put my resignation in a long time ago.
Tribunal Member: What was your job?
[Gul]: I was doing just the inventory, what was out, what was in. …Pots, pans, rugs; it was a storage area that I was working in. That was just the title of the job. I was just working in that office. I didn’t have any function. It was some kind of function for me, I had already put in my resignation and since they did not accept it, they put me in a low job and that’s why I was working there as an inventory person.
Gul conceded that he was still being paid by the Taliban at the time.
Tribunal Member: So your job was with the Taliban military at the beginning?
Tribunal Member: Were you still being paid when working in the warehouse? Was the Taliban military still paying you?
[Gul]: Yes. The Taliban was paying my salary.
Gul also said that while he had put his resignation in, he was still working for the Taliban when it lost control of Afghanistan.
Tribunal Member: When did you turn yourself in? How soon after September 11th?
[Gul]: It was a month after the Taliban fell.
Tribunal Member: So you worked for the Taliban until the Taliban fell, and then you started to work for Hazrat Ali for a month?
[Gul]: Yes. That’s how it was, but I had put my resignation in.
Tribunal Member: But you continued to work for the Taliban until it fell in Jalalabad?
[Gul]: Yes. That was one month’s time.
Gul explained to the tribunal that his resignation could only be accepted by Mullah Omar, who was like “a King” and “all of the military was under him.” It is not clear why Mullah Omar would concern himself with a supposedly unimportant Taliban member’s resignation.
It is clear from the US government’s declassified files that military and intelligence officials did not believe Gul was a reluctant Taliban member who was merely a low-level warehouse clerk when he was detained. And neither did the Obama administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force. The Miami Herald reports that the task force included Gul among the 48 detainees that are to be held indefinitely without trial.
In its January 22, 2010 final report, the task force described those 48 detainees as “too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution.” The 48 detainees are allowed to challenge their detention in a DC District Court.
Gul’s challenge was reportedly pending at the time of his death.