Bad news from Guantánamo for Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, a victim of kidnap, extraordinary rendition and torture, and, at 68, the prison’s oldest prisoner, as his ongoing imprisonment has been recommended by a Periodic Review Board, following a hearing on March 8, which I wrote about here. The PRB process involves representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it was established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, or facing trials (and just ten of the remaining 89 prisoners are in this latter category).
With this decision, 27 prisoners have had their cases decided, with 20 men approved for release, and just seven having their ongoing imprisonment approved. However, most of those approved for release were mistakenly described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, while Paracha is from a smaller group of men initially recommended for prosecution until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, and in that group his is the second application for release that has been turned down, with just one success to date.
I have never found the case against Paracha — that he worked with Al-Qaeda in a plot or plots relating to the US — to be convincing, as he lived and worked as a successful businessman in the US from 1970-86, appears to be socially liberal, and has been a model prisoner at Guantánamo, where he has helped numerous younger prisoners engage with the various review processes established over the years. When his PRB took place, the authorities described him as as “very compliant” with the prison guards, with “moderate views and acceptance of Western norms.”
As I described his story nearly ten years ago in my book The Guantánamo Files:
Saifullah Paracha, a 55-year old businessman and philanthropist from Karachi, was arrested after flying into Bangkok for a business trip on 5 July 2003 [in a US-led sting operation]. Rendered to Afghanistan, he spent 14 months in Bagram and was then flown to Guantánamo on 20 September 2004. A graduate in computer science from the New York Institute of Technology, he acknowledged that he had met Osama bin Laden twice, at meetings of businessmen and religious leaders in 1999 and 2000, but denied the allegations against him, which included making investments for al-Qaeda members, translating statements for bin Laden, joining in a plot to smuggle explosives into the US and recommending that nuclear weapons be used against US soldiers. These were indeed wild accusations for anyone familiar with his story. Deeply impressed by all things American, he had lived in the US in the 1980s, running several small businesses, and after returning to Pakistan had made a fortune running a clothes exporting business in partnership with a New York-based Jewish entrepreneur (an unthinkable association for someone who was actually involved with al-Qaeda).
His case is inextricably tied to that of his 23-year old son Uzair, the eldest of his four children, who was detained in New York, where he was marketing apartments to the Pakistani community, four months earlier. Arrested by FBI agents, Uzair was accused of working with [the “high-value detainees”] Ammar al-Baluchi and Majid Khan … to provide false documents to help Khan enter the US to carry out attacks on petrol stations, and was convicted in a US court in November 2005 – even though he said that he was coerced into making a false confession, and both Khan and al-Baluchi made statements that neither Uzair nor his father had ever knowingly aided al-Qaeda – and was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment in July 2006. His father remains in Guantánamo, where, although he has heart problems, he has refused to undertake an operation because he does not trust the prison’s surgeons.
I also wrote more about Saifullah and Uzair Paracha in an article in July 2007, entitled Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man.
Nevertheless, the US authorities still believe their version of events. For many years, Paracha was recommended for prosecution, including by the Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, and it was not until April 2013 that he was determined to be eligible, instead, for a Periodic Review Board.
in its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the Periodic Review Board decided, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention … remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
In making this determination, the review board “considered the detainee’s past involvement in terrorist activities, including contacts and activities with Usama Bin Laden, Kahlid [sic] Shaykh Muhammad and other senior aI-Qaeda members, facilitating financial transactions and travel, and developing media for al-Qaeda.”
The board also “noted the detainee’s refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaeda, his inability and refusal to distinguish between legitimate and nefarious business contacts, his indifference toward the impact of his prior actions, and his lack of a plan to prevent exposure to avenues of reengagement.”
This wording is a pretty damning conclusion on the board’s part, although Paracha, of course, “cannot show ‘remorse’ for things he maintains he never did,” as his attorney, David Remes, explained to the board in March. On Thursday, after the board’s decision was announced, he said his client “will try to address the board’s concerns in his file review in October,” an administrative review that takes place six months after the initial PRB.
Below I’m posting Paracha’s own statement to the board, which was not publicly available when his review took place on March 8. In it, he said “that he was ‘duped’ into visiting Afghanistan and handling certain finances as part of charity work he did,” as the Miami Herald described it, and that he “said he met bin Laden in [his] role as chairman of a Karachi TV broadcasting studio, and sought an interview, which the studio never did get.”
In his statement, Paracha also refuted claims that he undertook research on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials for al-Qaeda, as the US authorities claimed, and as Carol Rosenberg pointed out for the Miami Herald at the time of his PRB, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program “casts doubt on CIA suspicions that the Parachas were trying to smuggle explosives into the United States, noting ‘the relative ease of acquiring explosive material in the United States.’”
Paracha also made a point of stating that he was not involved with al-Qaeda, noting, “I never worked with anybody to harm anyone in my life. My son Uzair and I were never involved for real.” He also refuted US claims that he was involved with the Pakistani extremist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, stating, “please do not think there are any relations between us. I am very liberal and their leaders are ultra conservative and fundamentalist. It is so disgusting how their leaders move around with bodyguards, holding guns over their shoulders. They have been exploiting poor innocent young generation. I will never align with them.”
Finally, he mentioned the former prisoner Jarallah al-Marri, released in July 2008, but evidently regarded with some suspicion by the authorities, contextualizing how he came to know him in Guantánamo — during recreation time when they were both held in isolation — and why that does not indicate anything more substantial. I met Jarallah in January 2009, when he visited the UK to take part in a tour organized by Cageprisoners with former guard Chris Arendt, prior to the UK government refusing to allow him to enter the country for a second time in February 2009, and was given no reason for thinking that he was a danger to the US.
Paracha’s case obviously continues to divide opinion, and I have no idea if he will be able to make a better case for his release in the future, but I do find a lack of substance to claims of the danger he poses, compared to his obvious efforts within Guantánamo to steer younger and more impressionable prisoners away from radicalization by encouraging them to engage with all the review processes and interaction offered to them.
Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 08 Mar 2016
Saifullah Abdullah Paracha, ISN 1094
My name is Saifullah Paracha. I was captured in Bangkok, Thailand on July 06, 2003 and transferred to Afghanistan. On the first day of my interrogation, I voluntarily gave complete details about my meeting with Osama Bin Laden. Just for quick reference I briefly give you some details.
I was chairman of an NGO Council of Welfare Organization (WCO). I was duped by the trustees to visit Afghanistan and extend our charity work to poor Afghans. I felt extremely pathetic towards Afghans, therefore; I prepared a small booklet on Afghanistan and requested Pakistan to make investment in basic cottage industries and in farming to create jobs rather than donation. That report was published in the newspaper. Pakistan Rice Exporters Association requested me to lead a delegation of about 90 business men and others to Afghanistan. In Kandahar, before the Taliban’s Governor and Ministers, I made a humble presentation to the delegations to teach Afghans “to catch fish rather than feed them fish.”
After the presentation, a gentleman approached me and praised my efforts. He asked me questions about my background and told me his name was Maulana Mahar. He invited me to meet Osama Bin Laden (OBL). OBL had a very controversial personality; he had close alliance with US during U.S.S.R. invasion in 1978 into Afghanistan. OBL was very popular and respected among most Muslim community. He was known throughout the world while the western countries portrayed him as a devil. He was from a very rich and influential Saudi family. His father was close friends of the Saudi King.
I was among the 12-15 audience members who heard him speak of the Holy Qur’an in a light tone and about the Prophet Mohammad saying (Ahadees). He said nothing hateful or negative about the west or any other nation. I was a chairman of Universal Broadcasting, Karachi which was a television recording studio. I saw an opportunity and requested him to record a T.V. program in English and gave him my card. He said he would think about it and someone would contact me. After I came back I had an opportunity to meet Secretary House Affairs, Pakistan. The Pakistan and Taliban governments had diplomatic relations, similar to the U.S. and Canada. I also visited the Pakistani Ambassador in Afghanistan.
We had a large office (10,000 sq ft on the 8th floor), operating several businesses under my chairmanship and major stockholders. These businesses included International Merchandise (IMG), Universal Broadcasting , Abson Industries, Cliftonia-Real Estate Developers, and the Council of Welfare Organization. We had a large reception area with two young female receptionists and our own security guard. On the front wall ofwe had two crossed flags, “Pakistan and U.S.A.”
One day the receptionist called me to say a gentleman who has my card from Afghanistan wants to see me. Our security guard brought him to my office in the IMGs office. He introduced himself as “Meer”. Meer is a very large tribe in Sind, Pakistan. This man was from Nawanshahr, an agriculturist. He presented my business card and told me he received a message to see me about recording T.V. programs from Afghanistan. He also told me, he helps in media related matters.
Meer was dressed in causal western dress, spoke URDU Pakistani and English clearly, was clean shaven and showed no signs of extremist personality. After U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan, a Holy war declared against infidel communist by Muslims worldwide and Jihad (freedom fighting) became fashionable and lucrative to raise money. Politicians, government officials and religious leaders were exploiting young Muslims. A large percentage of young male Pakistanis are still glorified for Jihad and they are everywhere, soliciting cash and kind. It is impossible to avoid them if you are living in Pakistan.
I showed Meer our studio, editing room and clips of our religious interviews and current affair programs. I proposed to make a small recording studio anywhere in Afghanistan, sound proof and proper lighting arrangements. Universal Broadcasting will pay. They can select and buy all recording equipment. He observed our staff in the IMG office, as our staff was busy and he asked about it. I explained to him and gave him our brochure. It gave brief details of our buying houses. We shook hands. He saw the U.S. and Pakistan flags and I told him about my partner, Charles Anteby. He did not show any concern and said he was also in the United States. Another visit he asked me to open a foreign exchange account in our bank and he deposited a check of 5000.00 in a non-interest bearing account. I suggested to him to make investment for some profit and he responded maybe later. In Pakistan there is a law that if Pakistan Muslim deposits money in the saving account, the government takes out 2.5% (Zakat) and gives it to the poor, irrespective of interest rate every Lunar year. So, it is very common for people to make investment with friends and relations or trusted companies. My partner Charles Anteby can witness, we had taken about two million for IMG after 9/11 when business slow down.
According to the profile I have been penalized for financial deals and TV programs I proposed making but no programs were recorded. I am a citizen of Pakistan. I brought this issue to responsible Pakistan official. There are many western media organization, who recorded hateful interviews and telecasted on their channels with Osama Bin Laden. There are many bankers who had all kinds of financial transactions and are not punished.
I have no idea what CBRN material is, I am ready to testify under oath that what CBRN stands for, and further I want to confirm, I did not make and search for any objectionable material.
With reference to a statement that I have shown no remorse working with al Qaida, as I described earlier about Mujahedeen, who is who, it’s very difficult to identify. Poor, young men from remote areas are glorified about life here after 70 virgins, garden, etc. They are programmed from a very young age. Some build palaces on their graves. I feel bad about this. I never worked with anybody to harm anyone in my life. My son Uzair and I were never involved for real. This is hateful thinking. I have been physically and financially involved in welfare work and I will never do my business based on profit before people. My loyalty is in the Creator and his creatures.
With reference to my resettlement I consider my two countries Pakistan and U.S.A. Since the U.S. does not facilitate transfer to the U.S., the only option left is Pakistan where my family needs me and I have a lots of assets and liabilities to take care. My businesses have suffered dearly. I had over 350 employees and they lost their livelihood. I will help my children start their family life and revive my businesses. Some senior politicians have requested the U.S. government to repatriate me back to Pakistan; one of them is a minister in the government now.
With reference to the Taliban, I am enclosing my letter dated Jan 21, 2002, before my captivity. I wrote about Afghanistan and how to bring peace. Pakistan’s stability and peace is now directly linked with Afghanistan. My motive’s is how we can end the suffering and destruction of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If U.S. wants me to stay away from Taliban, I will follow religiously.
With reference to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, please do not think there are any relations between us. I am very liberal and their leaders are ultra conservative and fundamentalist. It is so disgusting how their leaders move around with bodyguards, holding guns over their shoulders. They have been exploiting poor innocent young generation. I will never align with them. Universal Broadcasting is closed now and there is reason to associate with various leaders. I also have no resources or appetite to start such business again.
With reference to my profile dated Oct 27, 2015 and my relationship with fellow detainee Jarallah al-Marri. I was captured in early July 2003 in Thailand and kept in Bagram. In Sept 2004, I was brought to Guantanamo. From 2004 to November 2008, I was kept in isolation. I speak Urdu and English and most detainees speak Arabic. Some speak a little English. I hardly had human contact. In the beginning I was taken to an open air area just for one hour daily. After many months I was allowed for recreation for two hours with another inmate with very little communication of some English words. I think it was 2007 when [redacted] I met Jarallah as he was in a cell opposite to mine. We were allowed 2 hours daily for recreation.
My family writes me and will always support me. My daughter has sent me letters because they need me at home as the support for the family. My son does well in his education. My wife needs me and my support. I have told you everything.
God willing please let me go home.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s my latest article, about the disappointing decision by a Periodic Review Board to recommend the ongoing imprisonment at Guantanamo of Saifullah Paracha, a 68-year old Pakistani businessman who has always made for an unlikely terrorist. A fan of the US where he lived and worked successfully from 1970-86, he is socially liberal and has been a mentor to many younger prisoners, constantly encouraging them to engage with the various review processes over the years, however futile it may have seemed.
I’ve also updated the definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantanamo website: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Periodic-Review-Boards
And the definitive prisoner list:
Lisa Duggan wrote:
Thank you for all your work to expose the insanity.
You’re welcome, Lisa. Thanks for your interest.
Michael Dean wrote:
In 1984, an historic step was taken by the United Nations with the drafting of the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” (came into force in 1987, ratified by the United States in 1994). Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Yes, exactly, Michael. I have often made a point of citing Article 2.2 of the Un Convention Against Torture. I feel it should be engraved in huge letters on the main buildings of the US establishment.
And possibly with an asterisk explaining that claiming to redefine torture so that it isn’t torture, as John Yoo did, doesn’t make it acceptable either.
David Knopfler wrote:
Sounds ridiculous but when it comes to the place with the motto “Honor Bound to Defend Freedom” with a straight face, nothing sensible is ever to be expected
Thanks, David. Yes, and even more astounding, I find, is the motto “Safe, Humane, Legal, Transparent.” That one’s been in place for a good few years: https://news.vice.com/article/former-guard-guantanamos-safe-humane-legal-transparent-motto-is-simply-not-true
David Knopfler wrote:
Andy, hah! I didn’t know about that one. Satire is officially dead.
Yes, really, David. How could you better the cynicism of using those four words to describe Guantanamo?
Here’s the US military’s page for confirmation: http://www.jtfgtmo.southcom.mil/xWEBSITE/
And I recall my friend Jason Leopold telling me about it back in January 2014, just after the visit that led to this article mentioning the slogan: http://www.aljazeera.com/humanrights/2013/12/gitmo-officials-alter-hunger-strike-protocols-2013126124042381368.html
why all Pakistanis are in jail in UK?
I had a quick search for info, and found the following BBC article from last year, “Why the surge in Muslim prisoners?”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31794599
At the time, there were 522 prisoners from Pakistan in UK prisons.
Natalya Wolf wrote:
Yes, exactly, Natalya!
Saher Qadri wrote:
These innocent prisoners are always in my prayers! Every single day. May God grant them freedom.
Thank you, Saher. Good to hear from you.
Thanks for your important work keeping us all up to date Andy!
I have some good news that may not have made the UK newspapers… Omar Khadr is engaged to get married! His fiance is a supporter, one of the women from Alberta who founded a support site, started to visit him, in prison, when he was moved to Alberta.
I took a snapshot of the initial review page from the Periodic Review Board site, on April 15th. In the six days since then seven additional initial reviews were scheduled for May.
* ISN 10025 Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu — 2016-05-10
* ISN 1463 Abd Al-Salam Al-Hilah — 2016-05-12
* ISN 44 Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim — 2016-05-17
* ISN 696 Jabran al Qahtani — 2016-05-19
* ISN 694 Sufyian Barhoumi — 2016-05-24
* ISN 685 Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush — 2016-05-26
* ISN 838 Shawqi Awad Balzuhair — 2016-05-31
Ravil Mingazov’s July review has been descheduled.
I wonder if Obama finally insisted, at a Cabinet meeting, that the six Cabinet Secretaries have the senior officials from their departments clear their schedules for these meetings? Maybe they allowed more junior senior officials to perform this duty. Anyhow, boosting the rate of hearings from one per month, to nine in a month, will allow all the forever prisoners to have had a review, prior the election.
I wonder whether President Hilary Clinton would bring in a brand new review system.
There was a recent article comparing the conditions at a “Supermax” prison in Florence Colorado with conditions at Guantanamo. The Colorado Supermax sounded worse — not only as much solitary as the worst days at Guantanamo, but bitter cold for much of the year. The article said that only the captives in Camp Seven live in isolation, implying that all the rest are currently held in Camp Six, and Camp Five is empty. I wonder if that is true. Shaker, and several other individuals we know were being punished in Camp Five and Camp Five Echo, have been transferred.
I suspect it is easier to endure imprisonment if you know you are guilty, and accept that you genuinely deserve punishment. I suspect it is easier to endure imprisonment when you have a definite, fixed release date to look forward to, or know that you definitely face life imprisonment.
Some of the remaining captives, are still obviously innocent men. If Obama is able to close the Guantanamo camp, by succeeding in transferring the captives to the United States, it remains unjust to hold the innocent men.
Of the captives who had no meaningful association with terrorism, detention in a facility any less humane than a properly run POW camp is not fair or just. There was a period, in the USA, when Italian POWs, were given day parole, and allowed to hold jobs. There is no reason why the Guantanamo captives couldn’t have filled some of the simpler jobs the US Navy brings in guest workers from the Phillippines to Guantanamo to perform. Even if they had been paid minimum wage, being able to remit those wages back home would have made a huge difference in their recovery. US Minimum wage would seem like a fortune to their families in Yemen.
A chicken little Senator, from Colorado, squawked alarm about how dangerous it would be to bring captives to Colorado — apparently unaware that only one of the captive had been convicted.
Thanks, arcticredriver. Great to hear from you.
I signed a card for Omar from one of his biggest British supporters on Tuesday evening at a Parliamentary meeting for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, so I got the news then. Very happy for him and his fiancee.
As for your other points, I believe people are still held in Camp 5, despite what you read. I also fully agree with your comment, “I suspect it is easier to endure imprisonment if you know you are guilty, and accept that you genuinely deserve punishment. I suspect it is easier to endure imprisonment when you have a definite, fixed release date to look forward to, or know that you definitely face life imprisonment.” That seems to be the heart of the particular horror of arbitrary, open-ended imprisonment without charge or trial that Guantanamo represents.
I also agree that some of the remaining men are innocent, but, even if not, transfers to the US, if Guantanamo is to be closed, are only acceptable because they will allow the men to challenge the basis of their detention in a way that they are not currently able to. I am concerned that no new efforts should be made to try to justify indefinite detention without charge or trial, and adamant that anyone deprived of their liberty should either be put on trial or, if taken off a battlefield, protected by the Geneva Conventions and held until the end of hostilities – something that, of course, has never happened at Guantanamo.
Yes, according to Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, about 30 detainees are at Camp 5. With the exception of Slahi, the rest of the detainees who are not HVDs are at Camp 6.
Do you have a link for that, Donald? 30 sounds higher than I expected. With 14 HVDs in Camp 7, Bahlul somewhere on his own, Slahi on his own, and 30 in Camp 5, that would leave just 34 in Camp 6.
Here you go. The article is from February so I don’t know which camp the last 11 detainees transferred came from.
“Based on a day of briefings, the 91 captives are held in at least five and probably six facilities:
▪ Fifteen are former CIA captives in Camp 7, the secret prison that reporters have never been allowed to see.
▪ Twenty to 30 are in Camp 5, a 100-cell maximum-security prison building. This week, its two or three “non-compliant” captives, meaning they disobeyed the guards, were attired in orange jumpsuits signifying their status and were confined to their cells for long stretches of the day. It also held the hunger strikers who by prison policy are housed in individual cells and an unknown number of communal captives plus Guantánamo’s lone war criminal, whose conviction has been vacated by the courts and is under government appeal.
▪ Another two captives were in the prison’s medical compound — one in the psychiatric ward called the Behavior Health Unit on what was described as “a timeout” from the larger detention center and another at the detainee hospital for an undisclosed reason.
▪ An undisclosed number of captives in the Camp Echo special compound that for years has held at least “Guantánamo Diary” writer Mohamedou Slahi.
▪ The remaining less than 50 captives are in the 175-bed communal Camp 6 prison building for cooperative captives.”
Sorry about posting the same link twice.
Thanks for the clarification, Donald.
I hadn’t noticed you had, Donald.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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