In a piece last week, I noted that a former Taliban commander, Awal Gul, died of an apparent heart attack at Guantanamo on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The Taliban have now released a statement online concerning Gul’s death, calling him “the prominent Jihadi commander of Nangarhar province” and lamenting the “martyrdom of the eminent commander.”
Much of the press coverage of Gul’s death centers on his lawyer’s claim that Gul had “quit” the Taliban a year before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Well, given the praise heaped on him, the Taliban apparently do not consider Gul a quitter.
And as I noted in the LWJ article, Gul’s own testimony before his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Gitmo also conflicts with the notion that he was no longer a Taliban commander. Gul did try to claim that he resigned his post — a common cover story used by detainees, by the way — but conceded that he was still employed by the Taliban and paid by the Taliban on 9/11. During his CSRT hearing, Gul claimed he left the Taliban’s ranks only one month after the terrorist attacks in the US.
US military and intelligence officials clearly did not believe Gul’s story, however. He was accused of meeting with and assisting Osama bin Laden after 9/11. In declassified memos, US officials allege that Gul received $100,000 from bin Laden to assist Arabs fleeing Afghanistan. This is just the sort of mission you’d expect “the prominent Jihadi commander of Nangarhar province,” which is on the border with Pakistan and where Osama bin Laden reportedly escaped from in late 2001, to be given.
Also, the Obama administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force evidently did not believe that Gul had renounced the Taliban. According to Gul’s own lawyer, Gul was one of 48 detainees the task force said should be held indefinitely without trial because he was too dangerous to release but couldn’t be prosecuted. This is inconsistent with the idea that Gul was a reluctant Taliban commander when he was detained.
Finally, the Taliban need to update their talking points with respect to Guantanamo. The Taliban claim the detainees “are deprived of the right to have access to lawyers to defend them.” This isn’t true. The detainees have the right to challenge their detention in a US District Court, and they are given access to a lawyer when filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. They have had this right for several years. (Not all detainees want an attorney, however.) Gul himself had a lawyer and his habeas petition was pending at the time of his death.
The Taliban also try to blame Gul’s death on “the bestiality of the brutal Americans.” In reality, Guantanamo has long been compliant with the Geneva Conventions — copies of the relevant portions are posted in all of the detainees’ camps, including Camp 6, where Gul was reportedly detained. I was there in December 2009 and saw it with my own eyes. The Red Cross also has access to the detainees and has had access since Gitmo’s very beginning.
There is no evidence that Gul was tortured to death, or anything like that. The military says that he had been exercising on an elliptical machine shortly before he collapsed in the shower.