A 73-year-old man from Pakistan has been notified that he has been approved for release from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after more than 16 years in custody on suspicion of helping facilitate two of the conspirators in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. authorities and his lawyer have said.
Saifullah Paracha was notified on May 17 that he had been cleared by the prisoner review board along with two other men, said Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represented Paracha at a hearing before the board in November.
A U.S. Defense Department official late on May 18 confirmed to RFE/RL that the decision had been made to put Paracha and two other detainees into the “transfer eligibility category.”
Sullivan-Bennis said the notification did not provide details about the decision and concluded only that Paracha was "not a continuing threat" to the United States.
"The Pakistanis want him back, and our understanding is that there are no impediments to his return," she said, adding that she thinks he will be returned home in the next several months.
The Pentagon did not respond to e-mail from RFE/RL requesting confirmation that Paracha had been approved for release.
A Pentagon spokesman told RFE/RL he could not immediately confirm that Paracha has been approved for release.
The other two men who were notified that they have been approved for release were identified as Abdul Rabbani, 54, described as a citizen of Pakistan, and Uthman Abdul al-Rahim Uthman, 40, a Yemeni, according to The New York Times. None of the three men has ever been charged with a crime.
Rabbani was captured in a security-services raid in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002 with his brother, who is also held in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, The New York Times said.
The State Department must make diplomatic and security arrangements with countries to take them before they can go, making it uncertain where they will be sent and when. Some detainees who have been cleared for release have been waiting years for another country to agree to take them.
Paracha is the oldest prisoner at Guantanamo and suffers from a number of ailments, including diabetes and a heart condition.
The United States captured him in Thailand in 2003 and has held him at Guantanamo since September 2004.
Authorities say the former businessman and longtime legal resident of New York was an Al-Qaeda "facilitator" who helped two of the conspirators in the 9/11 plot with a financial transaction. He admitted to safeguarding about $500,000 for them but says he didn’t know they were Al-Qaeda and denies any involvement in terrorism.
Paracha made his eighth appearance before the review board in November following developments in a legal case involving his son, Uzair.
Uzair Paracha was convicted in 2005 in federal court in New York of providing support to terrorism. The conviction was based in part on testimony from the same witnesses held at Guantanamo whom the United States relied on to justify holding the father.
A judge threw out those witness accounts in March 2020 and the government decided not to seek a new trial. Uzair Paracha was then released and sent back to Pakistan.
Saifullah Paracha is one of 40 prisoners still held at Guantanamo. About nine of them have been cleared for release.
Of the other remaining detainees, 12 have been charged with war crimes. Their trials by military commission have been on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.