Former Businessman and Oldest Detainee Seeks Release from Gitmo
By Camille Marrero
Today Saifullah Abdullah Paracha went before the Guantanamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) to plead his case for release from the detention facility. A Pakistani national, Paracha was captured in Thailand, transferred to Afghanistan, and brought to Gitmo in September 2004. Paracha, who will turn 70 years old in August, is the oldest detainee at Gitmo.
The U.S. government claimed that Paracha worked with Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM)—accused for planning the 9/11 attacks—to facilitate financial transactions and develop a media program. Paracha allegedly conducted research on explosive materials and offered advice to al Qaeda on how to smuggle explosives into the United States.
The U.S. government also argued that Paracha and his son Uzhair tried to help an al Qaeda operative to travel to the United States in 2003. Uzhair is serving a 30-year sentence after being convicted in U.S. federal court for his participation in these activities.
In March 2016 Paracha had his first PRB hearing. The PRB, set up by President Obama and codified by Congress, is made up of senior government officials who evaluate “whether certain individuals detained at [Guantanamo] represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States such that their continued detention is warranted.”
At his 2016 hearing, Paracha’s private counsel argued that Paracha harbors no animosity towards the United States and has no sympathy for terrorism or radical Islam. He emphasized Paracha’s strong and positive connection with the United States. Paracha came to America when he was 24, went to college, got married and lived in the United States for over a decade. His private counsel also explained that Paracha’s only desire was to reunite with his wife, children, and extended family to live a normal peaceful life.
During his initial hearing, Paracha spoke about the many businesses he owned prior to his detention. These included travel agencies, export-import businesses, real estate, and a television production company. Paracha denied ever researching explosives and explained that he was never aware that his business associates were members of al Qaeda because they concealed their true identities. He expressed regret over trusting these individuals and allowing them to invest in his businesses.
On April 7, 2016, the PRB concluded that Paracha should remain in detention to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. It based its determination on Paracha’s past contacts and activities with senior al Qaeda members. The board expressed concerns about Paracha’s inability and refusal to distinguish between legitimate and nefarious business contacts, his indifference toward the impact of his prior actions, and his lack of a plan to prevent exposure to avenues of reengagement.
The PRB conducted a file review on September 28, 2016. Paracha’s private counsel argued that Paracha fully accepts that he may have helped enable al Qaeda to carry out the 9/11 attacks, and that this possibility will haunt him for the rest of his life. The PRB ordered a full review of Paracha’s file based on new information that raised a significant question over the need to continue his detention.
During today’s hearing, Paracha’s personal representative said that Paracha plans to retire from his former business practices and would like to return to his family in Pakistan.
Paracha is one of the 26 detainees that remain in indefinite detention at Gitmo. With a total population of 41 detainees, every year American taxpayers cover a bill of over $10 million per detainee to keep Gitmo running. This amount is significantly greater than the estimated $78,000 it costs to keep detainees in a maximum security federal prison.
A recent budget proposal from the Trump Administration includes a request for funding to design construction projects to support the detention operations at Guantanamo. We urge President Trump to reconsider any expansion of the detention programs at Gitmo. It serves as a powerful propaganda symbol to terrorist groups and hinders our ability to engage key allies in counterterrorism efforts.