WASHINGTON (AP) — The oldest prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay
detention center, a 73-year-old Pakistani, was informed on Monday that he has been approved for release after more than 16 years in detention at the US base in Cuba, according to his lawyer.
Saifullah Paracha, who has been held on suspicion of al-Qaida ties but has never been charged with a crime
, was cleared by the prisoner review board along with two other men, according to Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represented him at his November hearing.
According to Sullivan-Bennis, the notification did not provide detailed reasoning for the decision and only concluded that Paracha is not a “continuing threat” to the US.
It does not mean his release is imminent, but it is an important step before the US government negotiates a repatriation agreement with Pakistan for his return. President Joe Biden
's administration has stated that it intends to resume efforts to close the detention center, which former President Donald Trump
Paracha's lawyer believes he will be returned to his family within the next few months.
“The Pakistanis want him back, and from what we understand, there are no obstacles to his return,” she said.
There was no immediate response from a Pentagon spokesman.
According to his attorney, Beth Jacob, who spoke with him by phone, the prisoner review board also informed Yemeni Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, who has been held without charge at Guantanamo since it opened in January 2002.
“He was relieved, happy, and hopeful that this would result in his release,” Jacob said.
Authorities allege that Paracha, who lived in the United States and owned property in New York City
, was an al-Qaida "facilitator" who assisted two of the Sept. 11 plot conspirators with a financial transaction. He claims he had no idea they were al-Qaida and denies any involvement in terrorism.
The United States, which apprehended Paracha in Thailand in 2003 and has held him at Guantanamo since September 2004, has long claimed that under international law, it can detain detainees indefinitely without charge.
In November, Paracha, who has diabetes and a heart condition, made his eighth appearance before the review board, which was established by President Barack Obama
to try to prevent the release of prisoners who authorities believed would engage in anti-US hostilities if they were released from Guantanamo.
His attorney stated at the time that he was more optimistic about his prospects due to Biden's election
, his ill health
, and developments in a legal case involving his son, Uzair.
Uzair Paracha was convicted of providing support to terrorism in federal court in New York in 2005, based in part on testimony from the same witnesses held at Guantanamo on which the US relied to justify the father's detention.
Uzair Paracha was released and returned to Pakistan in March 2020, after a judge dismissed the witness accounts and the government decided not to seek a new trial
Saifullah Paracha is one of 40 detainees still held at Guantanamo, down from nearly 700 in 2003.
With this latest review board decision, there are now approximately nine men held at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release, including one who has been approved since 2010. Under Obama, the United States would not return men to Yemen due to the civil war there, and often struggled to find third countries to accept former prisoners.
Given this history, Jacob was cautiously optimistic about her client's release. "I'm just hoping that in 11 years he's not just sitting there with his clearance still at Guantanamo," she said.
There are ten people
facing military commission
trials, two of whom have been convicted, and one who is awaiting sentencing; however, proceedings in the tribunals have been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic