Guantánamo’s oldest ‘forever prisoner’ loses 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 rejected an offer by the prison’s oldest war-on-terror captive, a 69-year-old once wealthy Pakistani businessman, to retire upon release from 14 years of U.S. detention.

Forever prisoner Saifullah Paracha got to Guantánamo on Sept. 19, 2004, more than a year after he was seized by U.S. forces. Last year, he offered through his attorney to close his businesses upon his release to assure the U.S. government he had no evil intent. He has never been charged with a crime, and spoke to the board in March by video link to an office building near the Pentagon.

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

In a decision released this week, the board cited his “continued refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaida” as a reason for his continued detention. It also cited Paracha’s “indifference to the impact of his prior actions and the lack of evidence of significant mitigation measures.”

The board likewise upheld the detention of the prison’s youngest captive, Hassan bin Attash, 31 or 34 of Yemen. His older brother Walid is on trial as an alleged plotter of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Guantánamo ‘forever prisoner’ Hassan bin Attash in a photo from his 2008 prison profile provided to McClatchy by WikiLeaks.

No captive has been cleared by the board during the Trump administration. Of Guantánamo’s 41 captives, 26 are held as indefinite detainees in the war on terror, forever prisoners; 10 are charged with or convicted of crimes at the war court; and five were cleared for release to other countries but had no conmpleted transfer deals before President Barack Obama left office.

A June intelligence assessment prepared for the board called Paracha a “very compliant” captive who has “espoused moderate views and acceptance of Western norms.” It also said that he met Osama bin Laden in 1999 or 2000 and later worked with external operations chief Khalid Sheik Mohammad to facilitate financial transactions and propaganda.”

His attorney David Remes has said that Paracha “cannot show ‘remorse’ for things he maintains he never did.”

The insignia of the Periodic Review Board bureaucracy at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo in a Miami Herald file photo. CAROL ROSENBERG

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.

He 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, and turns 70 in August.

See the Miami Herald’s guide to the Periodic Review Board process, and decisions.

In September, his attorney wrote to the panel that, to reassure, “Mr. Paracha will wind down his business affairs and retire when he returns to Pakistan.” Remes added: “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.”


An unidentified U.S. military officer helping Paracha make his case before the Periodic Review Board at a March hearing said the Pakistani “does not plan to make contacts with people he knew before [Guantánamo] but instead plans to be a father and supporter for his wife and children.”

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.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg