MIAMI (Reuters) - The Afghan prisoner who died at the Guantanamo detention camp this week had quit the Taliban forces because he considered them corrupt, and he was never “in any way” an enemy of the United States, the man’s lawyer said on Friday.
Awal Malim Gul, 48, collapsed and died on Tuesday after using an exercise machine at the prison camp on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in Cuba. The U.S. military said the death appeared to have been from natural causes but results from an autopsy would not be released at this time because they are part of an ongoing investigation.
Gul’s body was flown to a U.S. military base in Afghanistan on Friday and will be turned over to the Afghan government and then to his family, a military spokeswoman said.
In an announcement of the death, the U.S. military said Gul was a Taliban commander who operated an al Qaeda guest house and admitted providing operational aid to Osama bin Laden.
Gul’s lawyer, federal public defender Matthew Dodge, called those assertions “outrageous.”
“The government has never provided any evidence at all to support this slander. Neither Mr. Gul nor any credible witness has ever said such things,” said Dodge, who represented Gul in a U.S. district court case in Washington challenging his detention.
Gul was part of the U.S.-armed mujahideen forces fighting against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s and continued to run a weapons depot after the Taliban took it over in 1996.
He told U.S. military officers at Guantanamo that he had seen bin Laden three times in Afghanistan during the 1990s but did not interact with him except to once shake his hand.
“At this time we did not know that Osama bin Laden was anti-U.S. It was only three years later when we realized this (in 2000). It was also at this time that I resigned from my job,” Gul told the officers at Guantanamo in 2004, according to a U.S. military transcript.
In that hearing and subsequent ones at Guantanamo, Gull repeatedly said he had tried to resign from the Taliban forces but was told he could not because he was under contract. He said he quit anyway and never fought against U.S. forces.
The documents from Gul’s Washington court challenge are sealed. But Dodge provided Reuters with an unclassified copy of a letter from Taliban leader Mullah Omar, on Taliban letterhead, referring Gul’s resignation request to underlings.
It was written a year before the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
“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 said.
Gul told the officers at Guantanamo that he welcomed the U.S. invasion and thought bin Laden had used the Afghan people for his own criminal purposes.
The Guantanamo transcripts also contain allegations from an unidentified source saying Gul gave aid to al Qaeda members and that bin Laden once visited at a home Gul owned in Jalalabad.
His lawyer said those unsubstantiated allegations formed the basis for the U.S. decision to hold Gul at Guantanamo indefinitely without charges.
“(The government) admitted that it lacked any credible evidence to prove its suspicions in a court of law,” Dodge said.
Gul had been held at Guantanamo since 2002.
“It is shame that the government will finally fly him home not in handcuffs and a hood, but in a casket. ... He deserved better,” Dodge said.
Editing by Eric Beech