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After Years of Captivity, Two Ex-Guantanamo Inmates Return Home

Voice of America
12 Feb 2024

Islamabad - Taliban authorities in Afghanistan said Monday that two of its nationals who were detained and rendered to the United States-run prison in Guantanamo Bay more than 20 years ago had returned home.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said on his X social media account that Abdul Karim and Abdul Zahir landed in Kabul early morning from Oman, where they had been transferred in 2017 and held under house arrest until now.

Abdul Mateen Qani said that senior Taliban officials were among those "who greeted and welcomed" the two men at the international airport in the Afghan capital.

"They both spent more than 20 years in trouble, and the Islamic Emirate facilitated their return," Qani added. Both Zahir and Karim had been under surveillance without the right to travel for seven years in the Gulf kingdom, he said.

Afghan security personnel arrive at the Kabul airport as they prepare to welcome two former prisoners held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, in Kabul, Feb. 12, 2024. Afghan security personnel arrive at the Kabul airport as they prepare to welcome two former prisoners held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, in Kabul, Feb. 12, 2024.

Zahir, a resident of the Afghan province of Logar, was arrested by American forces just outside Kabul in May of 2002 before being transferred to Guantanamo.

Karim, a resident of the southeastern Afghan province of Khost, was moved to the prison in 2003 after having been arrested in neighboring Pakistan by local authorities before being handed over to U.S. custody.

President George Bush's administration opened the controversial Guantanamo detention center just months after the U.S.-led coalition forces invaded then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to punish them for sheltering al-Qaida planners of the September 2001 terrorist strikes on America.

The detention center located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was originally designed to detain and interrogate individuals who were suspected of having links to al-Qaida operatives and their Taliban hosts and who were captured by U.S. forces during their two-decade-long "war on terror" operations in Afghanistan.

However, the prison received many suspects from several other countries over time.

Human rights groups have, from the outset, criticized the U.S. military prison and demanded its closure, citing reported abuses, torture, and prolonged detentions of inmates, many without charges or trial.

Guantanamo Bay has been the subject of extensive litigation. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court found that detainees were entitled to minimal protections under the Geneva Conventions, despite the assertions of the George W. Bush administration. The United Nations has demanded the closure of Guantanamo Bay, as has Amnesty International, which found in 2005 that the facility "has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law."

Most of the inmates, including senior Taliban leaders, have been released over the years. One Afghan prisoner, Muhammad Rahim, remains in detention at Guantanamo.

The Taliban reclaimed power in Kabul in August 2021 when all U.S.-led coalition forces withdrew from the country after battling Taliban insurgents in the years that followed the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Islamist rulers have reimposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, barring women and girls from work and receiving an education beyond the sixth grade, deterring the global community from recognizing the de facto government in Afghanistan.

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