Saifullah Paracha, 68-Year Old Pakistani Businessman, Has His Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Approved

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He is wearing white, clothing reserved for the most compliant prisoners.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.” Read the rest of this entry »

The American Lawyer’s Six Guantánamo Bar Profiles: Thomas Wilner, David Remes, Jennifer Cowan, Wells Dixon, David Nevin and Lee Wolosky

Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi).

The November 2015 issue of The American Lawyer featured a “Special Report: The Guantánamo Bar,” consisting of six interviews with attorneys who have worked on Guantánamo. I’m cross-posting them below, as I think they will be of interest, and I also estimate that many of you will not have come across them previously.

The six lawyers featured were: Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling; David Remes, formerly of Covington & Burling; Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton; J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Public Defender David Nevin; and Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Wolosky was appointed last June as the White House’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, while the rest have represented prisoners held at Guantánamo.

Thomas Wilner represented a number of Kuwaiti prisoners, and also represented the prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. He is co-founder, with me, of the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched in January 2012, through which, for the last four years, we have been attempting to educate people about why Guantánamo must be closed, and who is held there, and I’m pleased to note that The American Lawyer described him as “the most vocal proponent in the Guantánamo bar for the closure of the offshore prison.” Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and “Very Compliant” Prisoner, Faces Guantánamo Review Board

A photo of Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.I wrote the following article — as “Guantánamo Review Board for Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and ‘Very Compliant’ Prisoner, Kidnapped in Thailand in 2003” — for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last week Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, and, at 68 years of age, Guantánamo’s oldest current prisoner, became the 28th Guantánamo prisoner to have his potential release considered by a Periodic Review Board (see our full list here). This review process was set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) or already approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, when almost two-thirds of the remaining prisoners — 156 out of 240 — were recommended for release, or, to use the task force’s careful wording, were “approved for transfer subject to appropriate security measures.”

Of the 28, five decisions have yet to be made, but of the 23 others the success rate for these men securing approval for their release is extremely high — 83% — with 19 men having their release recommended. What makes these decisions particularly important is that they puncture the rhetoric that has surrounded these men — both under George W. Bush, with the glib dismissal of everyone at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst,” and under Barack Obama, with his task force’s conclusion (more worrying because of its veneer of authority) that 48 of those eligible for PRBs were “too dangerous to release,” even though it was also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that it was not reliable evidence at all.

In attempting to justify its decisions, the task force noted that its members had relied on “the totality of available information — including credible information that might not be admissible in a criminal prosecution — [which] indicated that the detainee poses a high level of threat that cannot be mitigated sufficiently except through continued detention.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Complain About Slow Progress of Periodic Review Boards

Guantanamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov, who us one of 36 men eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but who have not yet been given a date when their reviews will take place. This photo is of Ravil with his family, in a photo taken before his capture.Yesterday I published an article about the most recent Periodic Review Board to take place at Guantánamo, and I was reminded of how I’ve overlooked a couple of interesting articles about the PRBs published in the Guardian over the last six weeks.

When it comes to President Obama’s intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office next January, the most crucial focus for his administration needs to be the Periodic Review Boards, featuring representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff, as I have been highlighting through the recently launched Countdown to Close Guantánamo. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and ten are undergoing trials (or have already been through the trial process), leaving 47 others in a disturbing limbo.

Half these men were, alarmingly, described as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

24th Periodic Review Board Held at Guantánamo for Yemeni Who Has Become A Health Adviser to His Fellow Prisoners

Guantanamo prisoner Yasin Ismail, a Yemeni, in a photo from 2005 included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Last week — delayed for a week because of bad weather — the 24th Periodic Review Board took place at Guantánamo, for Yasin Ismail (aka Yassin Ismail), a Yemeni prisoner who is reportedly 36 years old — although, years ago, one of his lawyers stated that his year of birth had incorrectly been recorded as 1979, when he was actually born in 1982, which would mean that he is currently 33 years old. I note that no one, apart from Human Rights First, has actually written about this PRB.

The Periodic Review Boards were established in 2013 to review the cases of prisoners regarded as “too dangerous to release” by the the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that, in 2009, had reviewed the cases of all the prisoners held when Barack Obama took office. Alarmingly, these men — 46 in total — were given this description even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. In other words, rumor, hearsay and unreliable statements by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, hinted that they were dangerous, when that might not have been true at all.

25 other prisoners, initially recommended for prosecution, were also made eligible for the PRBs after the basis of their trials collapsed following a series of devastating rulings by the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., which ruled that Congress had invented a raft of war crimes, and had used them to illegally prosecute prisoners in Guantánamo’s already discredited military commission trial system. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Yemenis Approved for Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards As “Highly Compliant” Afghan and Another Yemeni Also Seek Release

Zahir Hamdoun, in a photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email. Please also get involved in the new Countdown to Close Guantánamo.

Two weeks into the Guantánamo prison’s 15th year of operations, the last of a wave of recent releases has taken place — with 16 men freed between January 6 and January 20 — but progress towards the prison’s closure continues.

Of particular significance on this front are the ongoing Periodic Review Boards. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release. 24 of those men were approved for release six unforgivably long years ago, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, but ten others have been approved for release in the last two years, by Periodic Review Boards, set up to review the cases of most of the other men still held at Guantánamo. Just ten of these men are facing– or have faced — trials, leaving 47 others awaiting PRBs, or the result of PRBs, or, in a few cases, repeat reviews. Just ten of the men still held are facing, or have faced trials.

Initially, the PRBs were meant to be for 48 men recommended for ongoing detention by the task force in January 2010 on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force’s members acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. President Obama at least tacitly acknowledged that this was a disgraceful basis on which to deprive people of their liberty, by promising periodic reviews of the men’s cases when he authorized their ongoing detention in March 2011, although he failed to spell out why — because, of course, not having enough evidence to try someone means that the information you hold is not evidence at all, but rumors, hunches and hearsay, from frontline interrogations made shortly after capture, when the use of violence was widespread, and from other statements made by the prisoners later, about themselves and about each other, in interrogations at Guantánamo — or, in some cases, “black sites” — where the use of torture, abuse and bribery (the promise of better living conditions) was widespread. Read the rest of this entry »

Seriously Ill Egyptian and a Yemeni Freed from Guantánamo in Bosnia and Montenegro; Another Refuses to Leave

Abdul Aziz-al-Suadi (aka al-Swidi), a Yemeni, and one of two prisoners freed from Guantanamo on January 20, 2016. He was rehoused in Montenegro.On Wednesday, with exactly one year left until the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, two more prisoners were released from Guantánamo, leaving 91 men still held. A third man was supposed to have been freed, but he refused at the last minute.

One of the two men freed, Tariq al-Sawah (ISN 535), also identified as Tariq El-Sawah, who is 58 years old, had gained some notoriety in the past — first as a disillusioned former training camp instructor who had become a welcome informant in Guantánamo, and then as he became seriously overweight, endangering his health. At one point, he weighted 420 pounds, double his weight on arrival at the prison in 2002.

In 2013, as his lawyers sought his release because of his ill-health and his cooperation, I explained how he “had high-level support for his release,” having “received letters of recommendation from three former Guantánamo commanders,” as the Associated Press described it. I stated, “One, Rear Adm. David Thomas, recommended his release in his classified military file (his Detainee Assessment Brief) in September 2008, which was released by WikiLeaks in 2011 … In that file, al-Sawah’s health issues were also prominent. It was noted that he was ‘closely watched for significant and chronic problems’ that included high cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease.” Read the rest of this entry »

16th Guantánamo Prisoner Seeks Release Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Salman Rabei'i, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last Tuesday, July 14, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, Salman Yahya Hassan Muhammad Rabei’i, 36, became the 16th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The boards — which consist of 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 — were established in 2013 to review the cases of all the men still held who were not already approved for release, with the exception of those facing trials, based on the decisions taken by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established in 2009. In its final report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 48 men should continue to be held because they were regarded as too dangerous to release, although it was also acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial.

This, of course, meant that the recommendation to continue holding them were based on information that did not raise to the level of evidence — hearsay, or statements made by prisoners under torture or other forms of duress, for example. To sweeten this bitter pill, President Obama promised periodic reviews of their cases, and when the PRBs were finally established, nearly three years later, two of the 48 had died, but 25 others had been added, from the 36 men recommended for trials by the task force. These 25 were added because of a startling collapse in the legitimacy of the military commmisions, after the appeals court in Washington D.C. began dismissing convictions because the trial system relied on war crimes that were not war crimes, but had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the Need to Close Guantánamo on CCTV America with David Remes and J.D. Gordon

Yesterday, I was delighted to be asked to take part in CCTV America’s half-hour show, “The Heat,” to debate the question, “Will Obama shut down the Guantánamo Bay detention center?” The video of the show is available below in two parts on YouTube, and it can also be found on the CCTV America website.

CCTV America described the show as follows:

US President Barack Obama vowed in 2009 to close America’s Guantanámo Bay military prison in Cuba. Five years later, GTMO remains open … 149 prisoners are still languishing there without [in most cases] prospect of a trial that could free them. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, said that GTMO’s prisoners are not entitled protection under the Geneva Conventions. The UN said it should be closed.

The detention center’s infrastructure is crumbling. The prisoners are aging and medical facilities are limited. US law doesn’t permit Guantanámo’s detainees to be transferred to the United States. There are 79 officially rated ‘low level’ detainees who are recommended for release to other countries under a resettlement policy, but that policy must still overcome major hurdles. Earlier this month, six ‘low level’ detainees were ready to board a plane to Uruguay when the agreement fell apart at the last minute.

Here’s the show: Read the rest of this entry »

Indefinitely Detained Guantánamo Prisoner Asks Review Board to Recommend His Release

Two days ago, I published an article looking at the outcome of the first Periodic Review Board held at Guantánamo — a much delayed review process for ascertaining whether 71 of the remaining 155 prisoners should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial. This process was supposed to begin three years ago, after President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of 48 prisoners, based on the recommendations, delivered in January 2010, of his inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but the first PRB didn’t take place until November 2013.

As I explained in my article, the board members recommended that the prisoner whose case was reviewed — Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni — should be released, which is good news, as al-Mujahid was wrongly regarded as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, based on the unreliable testimony of a fellow prisoner. However, it means nothing unless he is released, as, with an irony that is evidently being strenuously ignored by the Obama administration, the review board’s decision to recommend him for release means only that he joins a list of 55 other Yemeni prisoners who were cleared for release by Obama’s task force four years ago, but are still held because of fears of political instability in Yemen.

As I also mentioned in that article, the second PRB, for another Yemeni, Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, took place yesterday, January 28, and, unlike the first PRB, from which the media and observers were excluded, limited transparency was provided by the Pentagon, which made available a facility in Arlington, Virginia, where a very small section of the review board could be seen and heard, although not the testimony of al-Rahabi himself, nor anything regarded as classified by the military. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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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