Guantánamo’s oldest captive, 68, too dangerous to release, board decides

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 a plea for freedom from the prison’s oldest war-on-terror captive, a 68-year-old Pakistani businessman, citing the prisoner’s past ties to al-Qaida and declaring him too dangerous for release.

Saifullah Paracha went before the national security board March 8, saying his preference was to rejoin family in Pakistan or go to the United States, where he lived from 1970 to 1986.

Instead, the board cited his “refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaida” and his “refusal to distinguish between legitimate and nefarious business contacts.”

The board also invoked “the detainee’s past involvement in terrorist activities, including contacts and activities with” Osama bin Laden and the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. It said Paracha had a role in “facilitating financial transactions and travel, and developing media for al-Qaida.”

The April 7 decision obtained by the Miami Herald effectively rebrands Saifullah Paracha as a ‘forever prisoner’ in the war on terror.

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.

Paracha “cannot show ‘remorse’ for things he maintains he never did,” attorney David Remes told the board in March, describing him as a “model prisoner.” On Thursday, Remes said Paracha “will try to address the board’s concerns in his file review in October.”

Paracha went before the board in March by teleconference between the base and Washington, D.C., wearing the white uniform of a compliant prisoner. He said in a statement that he was “duped” into visiting Afghanistan and handling certain finances as part of charity work he did. He said he met bin Laden in Paracha’s role as chairman of a Karachi TV broadcasting studio, and sought an interview, which the studio never did get.

An intelligence assessment prepared for the board said Paracha met bin Laden in the early 2000s and later worked with Mohammed to facilitate financial transactions and develop al-Qaida propaganda. It alleged that before his capture, Paracha — who has never been charged with a crime — did research on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials and “offered operational suggestions to al-Qaida.”

The parole-style board has heard 29 cases, decided 27 and approved 20 captives for release.

Example advice included how to smuggle explosives into the United States, something “that al-Qaida planners probably did not take seriously.”

Paracha denied doing the research in his written submission to the board. “I never worked with anybody to harm anyone in my life.”

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.

Saifullah Paracha’s prison profile cast him as “very compliant” with the prison guards and espousing “moderate views and acceptance of Western norms” in his more than 11 years at Guantánamo. He arrived at the prison with a heart condition but during his stay refused an offer of expeditionary cathederization. In a failed federal court motion, he asked a judge to instead order he be taken to the United States for the procedure.

A 2009-10 Guantánamo review task force listed Paracha as a possible candidate for trial although he has never been charged either in federal court or the military commissions.

The April 7 Periodic Review Board decision, obtained by the Miami Herald Thursday, effectively rebrands him as an indefinite detainee in the war on terror, colloquially known as a “forever prisoner.” The official board language declared that “continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Periodic Review Board scorecard

Cases heard: 29

Cases decided: 27

Detainees retained as “forever prisoners” through the review board: 7

Detainees approved for release through the review board: 20, of whom eight have since been transferred.

Click here for a Miami Herald case-by-case guide, with decisions and other information

Figures accurate as of April 14, 2016

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