Oldest Guantanamo inmate released after nearly 20 years

Saifullah Paracha. Pic: Clive Stafford Smith (Twitter)

The oldest inmate at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp – 75 year old Pakistani national Saifullah Paracha – has been released back home after nearly 20 years of detention without trial.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement over the weekend: “Mr. Saif Ullah Paracha, a Pakistani national, who was detained in Guantanamo Bay, has been released and reached Pakistan on Saturday, 29 October, 2022. The Foreign Ministry completed an extensive inter-agency process to facilitate repatriation of Mr. Paracha. We are glad that a Pakistani citizen detained abroad is finally reunited with his family.”

Businessman Paracha was arrested in 2003 in Thailand and accused of financing Al Qaeda, which he has always denied.

Paracha, who studied in the U.S., had an import-export business supplying major American retailers.

U.S. authorities accused him of having contact with Al Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

In 2008, Paracha’s lawyer said he had met bin Laden in 1999, and again a year later, in connection with the production of a television programme.

But in May, the U.S. approved Paracha’s release concluding only that he was “not a continuing threat” to the U.S.

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Legal NGO Reprieve, which represented him, tweeted: “This is a huge win but Saifullah Paracha, 75, returns to his family a frail old man, after being taken in the prime of his life. That injustice can never be rectified.

“Thank you to everyone who helped campaign for Saifullah’s release. He once described life at Guantánamo as ‘being alive in your own grave.’

“The U.S. embrace of indefinite detention without trial has done lasting damage. We can only begin to repair it when we #CloseGuantánamo

“Saifullah was a successful businessman and philanthropist, kidnapped by U.S. personnel while in Thailand on a business trip. He was rendered to Bagram air base, a U.S. black site notorious for horrific torture of detainees. A year later, he was flown to Guantánamo in shackles.

“His health severely deteriorated during U.S. custody, including two heart attacks. He was unanimously cleared for release in May 2021 by U.S. security agencies but has only now been released and repatriated to Pakistan.”

Out of the 780 inmates held at Guantanamo during the US’s so-called “war on terror”, 732 were released without charge. Many of them were imprisoned for more than a decade without legal means to challenge their detention.

Among the roughly 40 inmates left are several men who are accused of having direct roles in 9/11 and other Al Qaeda attacks.

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