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March 08, 2016

GTMO’s Oldest Detainee Gets Review Board Hearing

This morning 68-year-old Saifullah Abdullah Paracha, the oldest remaining Guantanamo detainee, received a Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearing. The government says that Paracha worked with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM)—accused mastermind of the September 11th attacks—to arrange financial transactions prior to his detention. He also allegedly researched explosives and offered suggestions to members of al Qaeda on how to smuggle these weapons into the United States.

In 2003, he and his son Uzhair allegedly attempted to assist an al Qaeda operative to travel to the United States. Uzhair was convicted in U.S. federal court for his actions and is currently serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison. Since then, Congress has enacted laws that ban Guantanamo detainees from being transferred to the United States to stand trial in federal court.

The government reports that Paracha has been a very compliant detainee, even assisting other detainees in improving their English skills and learning business methods. He also regularly cooperated with interrogators up until 2015, but avoided offering any information that would incriminate either himself or his son, Uzhair. During these interrogations, he has never indicated any allegiance or support for extremism. At the same time, he has never shown any regret for the actions the government alleges he committed.

His private counsel, David Remes, argues that it is impossible for Paracha to feel regret for acts that he never engaged in. While Paracha acknowledges his involvement in various plots coordinated by al Qaeda, he maintains that he undertook them for purely financial reasons. Remes insists that Paracha “harbors no animosity to the U.S.”

In fact, Paracha has requested to be relocated to the United States if released from Guantanamo. He lived in the United States from 1970 to 1986 and married his wife here. However, Guantanamo detainees are currently barred from being transferred to the United States under any circumstances. Unless Congress enacts different legislation, it would be impossible for Paracha to be resettled here.

Returning to Pakistan is another possibility for Paracha. However, the U.S. government is concerned that former business contacts of his with ties to terrorist networks would lure him into reengagement. Paracha has also said he would consider relocating to any English-speaking country.

There are 91 detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay. The Department of Defense recently released their plan to finally close down the detention facility. The plan includes an increase in the rate of PRB hearings for eligible detainees, though there are currently only three more hearings scheduled for this year.