Epitaph for a Prisoner

I never knew him, but this work of writing about the prisoners has brought them to life for me.  I grieve today in my way for Awal Gul, who just died at Guantanamo.

Matthew Dodge and Brian Mendelsohn, his US lawyers, are probably the people here who knew him best.  They say:

“Mr. Gul was kind, philosophical, devout, and hopeful to the end, in spite of all that our government has put him through. He was in American custody from December 25, 2001, until now. The government charged that he was a prominent member of the Taliban and its military, but we proved that this is false. Indeed, we have documents from Afghanistan, even a letter from Mullah Omar himself on Taliban letterhead, discussing Mr. Gul’s efforts to resign from the Taliban a year or more before 9/11/01. He resigned because he was disgusted by the Taliban’s growing penchant for corruption and abuse. Mr. Gul was never an enemy of the United States in any way.”

Dodge and Mendelson also say that Mr. Gul “passed away on February 1, 2011, from an apparent heart attack, although we have no way of knowing whether the government is telling us the truth.”

The most shocking things that Dodge and Mendelson report are this:

“The Department of Defense’s press release earlier today is outrageous for a couple reasons. The government, through this post-death statement, makes claims more outlandish even than the government lawyers in Mr. Gul’s habeas case. We now hear for the very first time in the nearly 10 years since Mr. Gul’s arrest, that (1) he operated a guesthouse for Al-Qaida members, and (2) that he admitted providing bin Laden operational support on several occasions. Over the course of almost 3 years in court, the government has never provided any evidence at all to support this slander. [Andy Worthington reports that Mr. Gul actually worked “with the pro-US warlord Hazrat Ali, one of three Afghan commanders who had fought at Tora Bora on the Americans’ behalf.”]  Neither Mr. Gul nor any credible witness has ever said such things. Indeed, this is why the government placed Mr. Gul in the group of prisoners set for ‘indefinite detention;’ it admitted that it lacked any credible evidence to prove its suspicions in a court of law. The government never even made these claims until now, when Mr. Gul is not alive to defend himself.”

They conclude this tragic story:

“Beginning in the early 1980’s, Mr. Gul was a member of local forces who were allied with the United States against the Soviets. From 1989-1996, he continued to run the local weapons depot in his hometown, not unlike a police commander, which he used to keep the peace. In 1996, the Taliban swept through eastern Afghanistan and took over his city at the barrel of a gun. Mr. Gul was given two options: flee with your family to Pakistan or stay home and operate the depot at the command of the Taliban. It must be remembered that the Taliban was initially greeted warmly by many Afghans, and even the American government, as a source of hope. Mr. Gul stayed home. The Taliban soon proved themselves to be as corrupt and abusive as we can imagine. Mr. Gul discovered this change over time and resigned from the Taliban more than one year before September 11, 2001. He was arrested in December 2001 when he voluntarily traveled to meet American military officials. He had nothing to hide then and has nothing to hide now. We shared all the evidence from Afghanistan that proves his innocence with the government and the federal court. Mr. Gul hoped for justice in heaven. He found none on Earth.”  You can read the lawyers’ statement here and a report from the Center for Constitutional Rights here.

May Awal Gul rest in peace.  May his family and friends who have been deprived of his presence for all these years find some kind of solace, maybe that at least this is a day that he did not spend in that hell.

May all of us find the courage to work, not talk and lament, but work to see that the remaining prisoners be restored to their loved ones.

Close Guantanamo now.  Stop torture now.


One Response to “Epitaph for a Prisoner”

  1. No War No Torture » Blog Archive » How the Fate of the Uyghurs Affects Us All Says:

    […] “Can it really be that the frequenter-of-a-suspicious-guest-house is more fearsome than those POWs of yesterday [from WWII], whom we held in camps all across America? That the Uighur is? What shall we say when the Guantánamo prisoner’s fifteenth year comes? His twenty-fifth? When a prisoner dies of old age, as Awal Gul did last February? Sooner than you think, a new MP will arrive for duty at the base, to guard a man who has been at Guantánamo since before that MP was born. (That MP is in the Boy Scouts today, but he’ll be eighteen in a few years.) What possible national interest will be served by that ironic custody? […]

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