Pakistani held for 16 years at Guantanamo prison approved for release

Saifullah Paracha, a 73-year-old Pakistani businessman, has been approved for release after more than 16 years in the notorious U.S. Guantanamo prison, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Paracha, the oldest among the prisoners, has been held on suspicion of ties to al-Qaeda but has never been charged with a crime, the report said. He was cleared by the prisoner review board along with two other men, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represented him at his hearing in November, was cited as saying.

The notification is a first step before the US government negotiates a repatriation agreement with Pakistan for Paracha’s return to his country of origin. “The Pakistanis want him back, and our understanding is that there are no impediments to his return,” Ms. Sullivan-Bennis said, adding that she thinks he will be returned home in the next several months.

The other two men who were notified that they have been approved for release were identified as Abdul Rabbani, 54, also a citizen of Pakistan, and Uthman Abdul al-Rahim Uthman, 40, a Yemeni, according to The New York Times. None of the three men has ever been charged with a crime.

Rabbani was captured in a security-services raid in Karachi in 2002 with his brother, who is also held in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the newspaper said Paracha suffers from a number of ailments, including diabetes and a heart condition.

The United States captured him in Thailand in 2003 and has held him at Guantanamo since September 2004.

Authorities say the former businessman and longtime legal resident of New York was an Al-Qaeda “facilitator” who helped two of the conspirators in the 9/11 plot with a financial transaction. He admitted to safeguarding about $500,000 for them but says he didn’t know they were Al-Qaeda and denies any involvement in terrorism.

Paracha made his eighth appearance before the review board in November following developments in a legal case involving his son, Uzair.

Uzair Paracha was convicted in 2005 in federal court in New York of providing support to terrorism. The conviction was based in part on testimony from the same witnesses held at Guantanamo whom the United States relied on to justify holding the father.

A judge threw out those witness accounts in March 2020 and the government decided not to seek a new trial. Uzair Paracha was then released and sent back to Pakistan.

Saifullah Paracha is one of 40 prisoners still held at Guantanamo. About nine of them have been cleared for release.

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