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U.S. Releases Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner

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GUANTÁNAMO BAY, CUBA — The United States has released the U.S. military’s oldest prisoner of war on terrorism, a 75-year-old businessman detained for almost 20 years as a suspected al-Qaeda sympathizer, but has been charged with a crime. Never.

A man named Saifla Paracha, a former legal resident of New York, was one of Guantánamo’s most unusual and better-known “prisoners for eternity.” Military prosecutors never tried to bring him to justice, but until last year a review board considered it too dangerous to release him.

His transfer on a covert military mission announced by the Pakistani government on Saturday culminated in months of negotiations to arrange his return.The Pentagon declined to comment. It’s unclear if Biden administration officials imposed any security restrictions on Paracha, but lawyers quickly released a photo of the former prisoner sitting at a McDonald’s in Karachi, Pakistan.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan said in a statement on Saturday “We have completed an extensive interagency process to expedite the repatriation of Mr. Paracha,” it said.

Paracha arrived in Guantánamo in the early days of the detention operation, where hundreds of young people captured abroad were crammed into solitary confinement cells on the beachfront property.

Shortly before he left, the 21st Commander of Prison Operations, General Michigan’s National Guard, took charge, and the number of detainees had been reduced to 30. Of those, 21, he has been approved for transfer to foreign control with a security regime that satisfies the Secretary of Defense. For example, participation in rehabilitation programs.

In Guantanamo, Mr. Paracha stood out among mostly young Muslim men. Most of them were captured by Afghan and Pakistani militias in his teens and twenties and handed over to the United States as presumed infantrymen for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

He was arrested in July 2003 at the age of 56 during an FBI sting operation in Thailand. A businessman posing as a Kmart representative lured him from his home in Karachi, Pakistan, to Bangkok to discuss what turned out to be a fake merchandising deal. Instead, intelligence agents captured him, hooded him, put on handcuffs, and flew him to Afghanistan.

Paracha was first held in a US military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he suffered a heart attack, his lawyer said. Rather than sending him to his CIA-run secret prison network where prisoners were tortured, the Bush administration moved him to Guantanamo in his 14th month of detention in the United States. He became an early example of the challenges of housing the elderly and infirm prisoners at remote U.S. Navy bases that dispatched military medical professionals from the United States.

“Saifula should never have been in Guantanamo,” said Clive Stafford-Smith, a human rights attorney who has been visiting him in prison since 2005. There he dies. So I am very happy that he can finally go home. ”

He had long suffered from diabetes, coronary artery disease, and high blood pressure, but never had heart surgery in Guantanamo, which sends residents to the United States for heart care.

Shortly after being detained, the prison airlifted a mobile cardiac catheterization lab to the base for the procedure, but he said through his lawyer that he wanted to undergo surgery at a hospital in the United States or Pakistan that specializes in heart care. .

In April 2019, reading in a communal cell with a New York Times article about the US military’s efforts to adapt detention facilities for wartime prisoners who were expected to die in Guantánamo. A photo of him has been posted.

In his file, US intelligence agencies said he has Assisted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of being the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, “facilitating financial dealings and propaganda” after the attacks, and serving in Afghanistan as part of a delegation of high-ranking Pakistani officials before the attacks. He said he met with bin Laden. .

Paracha claimed he did not know the identity of Muhammad or his role in the 9/11 conspiracy when a federal court petition for his release was denied. He said he had some money for himself and allowed Mr. Muhammad’s nephew to use an editing studio in Karachi out of Muslim affinity rather than ideology, condemning the violence and accusing al Qaeda of denied the partnership.

Months before his arrest, federal agents detained Paracha’s eldest son Uzair in New York, where he lived. He was tried and convicted, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for providing material support for terrorism.

However, Uzair Paracha’s conviction was overturned in 2018. Then, in 2020, prosecutors dropped the case against him. He was returned to Pakistan after agreeing to give up his U.S. permanent residency.

Elder Paracha, fluent in English, lived in Queens in the 1970s, obtained a green card in 1980, and ran travel agencies, real estate and media businesses in Pakistan and the New York metropolitan area. production company.

At Guantánamo, inmates and some guards called him “Chacha”. This is a dear word that means uncle in Urdu.When prison leaders allowed him to Taught young prisoners English and financeOn occasion, he would bring cell block complaints to security guards.

Shortly after being transferred to Guantánamo in 2004, Paracha appeared before a panel of US military officers to approve his status as an “enemy combatant,” a type of prisoner of war. He denied ties to al-Qaeda, said he was a businessman with a Jewish partner, and challenged the idea that the United States could declare the world a battlefield against terrorist groups.

“Does your executive order apply globally?” he asked the US military officer in charge, according to Pentagon records.

“This is a global war on terrorism,” the officer explained.

Mr. Paracha replied, “I know you are not the Lord of the Earth.”

His wife, whom he met and married in the United States, divorced while in custody. He was expected to live with his youngest son Mustafa, who said in an interview last year that his first job would be a family reunion, followed by comprehensive medical care.

Salman Massoud Contributed report from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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