AARP next? Guantánamo’s oldest captive, 69, offers to retire, gets parole board do-over

Saifullah Paracha poses for the International Red Cross at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. This photo is courtesy the Paracha family via attorney David Remes.
Saifullah Paracha poses for the International Red Cross at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. This photo is courtesy the Paracha family via attorney David Remes.

The Guantánamo parole board has agreed to revisit a plea for freedom from the prison’s oldest war-on-terror captive, a 69-year-old Pakistani businessman who pledges to close his businesses to assure the U.S. government that he has no evil intent.

In April, the Periodic Review Board declared Saifullah Paracha a “forever prisoner,” too dangerous to release. It cited his “refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaida” and his “refusal to distinguish between legitimate and nefarious business contacts” as reasons not to release him.

Paracha’s lawyers have long described him as a once-wealthy Karachi-to-New York import-export specialist who was lured to a Bangkok meeting in July 2003, ostensibly to see some Kmart buyers. It was an FBI-orchestrated sting, and Paracha was flown to Afghanistan for 10 months and then to Guantánamo, where he has been described as an agreeable, rule-observing prisoner.

In September, he wrote the panel through his attorney David Remes that, to reassure them, “Mr. Paracha will wind down his business affairs and retire when he returns to Pakistan. Mr. Paracha resolved to retire even apart from the board's concern. He accepts that he is too old and his health too precarious to go back into business. He feels the tug of family.”

Paracha has diabetes and a heart condition that at one point caused the military to airlift a mobile catheterization lab to the remote Navy base, for a procedure that the one-time Queens, N.Y., businessmen ultimately spurned. He has a wife, daughter and son in Karachi.


Last month, the board concluded that “a significant question is raised as to whether the detainee's continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted.”

No date has yet been set for his new, full hearing. But the decision demonstrates that, even as the board has yet to decide two first-round cases, it is plunging ahead with follow-on reviews. Some like Paracha have been granted full hearings, in which he can address the board at an office building near the Pentagon by video teleconference from Guantánamo. Others are getting file reviews.

An intelligence assessment prepared for the board in June said Paracha’s “extensive extremist business contacts that he established before his detention could provide him opportunities to reengage upon release should he choose to use them.”

It also said the he met Osama bin Laden in 1999 or 2000 and later worked with the accused plotter of the Sept. 11 attack, Khalid Sheik Mohammed to “facilitate financial transactions and propaganda.”

Paracha is among Guantánamo’s better known low-value war-on-terror detainees, in part because his capture demonstrated the far-flung nature of the Bush administration’s battlefield and the captives it called “enemy combatants.” Also, his eldest son, Uzair, 36, is in the second decade of a 30-year prison sentence on a federal court conviction for trying to help an al-Qaida operative travel to the United States.

Remes told the Herald that Paracha, who early on his detention wrote letters to all 535 members of Congress, has yet to apply for AARP membership. After more than 13 years in U.S. military custody, “he really has no active businesses,” said Remes, adding that the family owns office space in Pakistan that provides an income.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg