Guantanamo’s oldest inmate Saifullah Paracha freed after 19 years

Businessman Saifullah Paracha, who was arrested in 2003 and accused of financing al-Qaeda, was never charged like most prisoners.

Pakistan-Guantanamo Prisoner
Like most prisoners at Guantanamo, Paracha - aged 74 or 75 - was never formally charged and had little legal power to challenge his detention. [File: Counsel to Saifullah Paracha via AP Photo]

The oldest inmate at the United States-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba Saifullah Paracha has been released to his home country Pakistan after nearly 20 years of detention without trial, the South Asian country’s foreign ministry said.

“The Foreign Ministry completed an extensive inter-agency process to facilitate the repatriation of Mr Paracha,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

“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 the armed group, but he has maintained his innocence.

Guantanamo Bay
A man dressed as a detainee holds a sign calling attention to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay during a demonstration outside the White House in 2016. [File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

In May, the US approved Paracha’s release concluding only that he was “not a continuing threat” to the US.

Like most prisoners at Guantanamo, Paracha – aged 74 or 75 – was never formally charged and had little legal power to challenge his detention.

The secretive US military prison was established in the wake of 9/11 to hold suspected al-Qaeda members captured during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

But of the 780 inmates held 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.

Nearly 40 prisoners remain in the world’s most infamous detention facility, which has become a symbol of human rights abuses.

Map showing where Guantanamo Bay is
(Al Jazeera)

Paracha’s return home on Saturday comes after US President Joe Biden last year approved his release, along with that of another Pakistani national Abdul Rabbani, 55, and Yemen native Uthman Abdul al-Rahim Uthman, 41.

Biden is under pressure to clear out uncharged prisoners at Guantanamo and move ahead with the trials of those accused of having direct ties to al-Qaeda.

Among the roughly 40 inmates left are several men who allegedly had direct roles in 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks.

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

US authorities accused him of having contact with al-Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

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

Reprieve, a UK-based human rights charity, described Paracha as a “forever prisoner”.

Since it first opened, Guantanamo has become notorious for human rights abuses and the fact that the US administration did not consider its prisoners to be entitled to any protection according to international laws.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies