A 73-year-old from Pakistan who is the oldest prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre was notified on Monday that he has been approved for release after more than 16 years in custody at the US military base in Cuba, his lawyer has said.
Saifullah Paracha, who has been held on suspicion of ties to al-Qaeda but never charged with a crime, was cleared for release by the prisoner review board along with two other men.
As is customary, the notification did not provide detailed reasoning for the decision and concluded only that Paracha is “not a continuing threat” to the US, reports the AP.
This does not mean his release his imminent. But it is a crucial step before the US government negotiates a repatriation agreement with Pakistan for his return.
Paracha’s attorney said she thinks he will be returned home in the next several months. “The Pakistanis want him back, and our understanding is that there are no impediments to his return,” she said.
Paracha, who lived in the US and owned property in New York City, was a wealthy businessman in Pakistan. Authorities alleged he was an al-Qaeda “facilitator” who helped two of the conspirators in the 9/11 plot with a financial transaction. He says he didn’t know they were al-Qaeda and denies any involvement in terrorism.
He was captured in Thailand in 2003 and has been held at Guantanamo since September 2004. He is one of 40 prisoners still held at Guantanamo, down from a peak of nearly 700 in 2003.
The US has long asserted that it can hold detainees indefinitely without charge under the international laws of war.
Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, a Yemeni who has been held without charge at Guantanamo since it opened in January 2002, was also notified that he had been cleared, according to his attorney, Beth Jacob.
“He is happy, relieved and hopeful that this will actually lead to his release,” Jacob said.
With this latest review board decision, there are now about nine men held at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release, including one who has been approved since 2010.
Given that, Jacob was only cautiously optimistic about the timing of her client’s actual release. “I’m just hoping that in 11 years he’s not just still sitting with his clearance still in Guantanamo,” she said.
President Joe Biden’s administration has said it intends to resume efforts to close the detention centre, a process that former president Barack Obama was unable to complete and former president Donald Trump halted.