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October 01, 2018

Oldest Guantanamo “Forever Prisoner” Gets New Shot at Transfer

By Joy Bagwell

The Guantanamo Bay Periodic Review Board (PRB) convened last Tuesday to determine whether 71 year-old Pakistani businessman Saifullah Paracha should be transferred out of the detention facility. Paracha is Guantanamo’s oldest prisoner and has been indefinitely detained since 2004 without charge. The board has twice determined that Paracha’s continued detention was required to “protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States” that could not be mitigated.

The audio feed was accidentally disconnected for the first few minutes of Tuesday’s hearing, preventing listeners from hearing the allegations against Paracha. According to the U.S. government’s unclassified summary, he once worked with Osama bin Laden and accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammed to facilitate al Qaeda’s financial transactions and propaganda.

Paracha’s attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, highlighted his old age, health concerns, and desire to return to his family. She noted that “the government's own declassified documents … describe[] Paracha as one of the, if not the most peaceful of detainees …” Paracha, she said, was “grateful for … the opportunity that you have thus given him to demonstrate that he poses no threat to the security of our country.”

His personal representative said that Paracha complies with detention center rules, respects staff, tutors fellow detainees in a wide variety of subjects, and has not indicated any allegiance to or support for extremism. The personal representative also stressed that he shows an acceptance of cross-cultural views, holds an overall positive view of the United States, and only worked with Osama bin Laden for financial reasons.

Any PRB determination in favor of transfer must be made by a unanimous vote by representatives from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This rigorous process has helped ensure that rates of detainees engaging in post-release terrorist or insurgent activities are remarkably low. As of July 15, 2018, only 4.6% of detainees transferred out of Guantanamo since 2009 are confirmed to have engaged in such activities.

Even if the PRB clears Paracha for transfer, there is no guarantee that the administration will move him out of the prison. The five detainees who have been cleared for transfer—three by an interagency detention task force in 2010 and two by PRBs in 2016—remain in custody at Guantanamo Bay. The PRB has not cleared a single detainee since President Trump took office.