Pakistani officials tried hard to secure a Pakistani businessman’s release from Guantanamo Bay but told the US that if he were given in Pakistan’s custody, he might have to be released from jail in three months, according to documents released by WikiLeaks which were printed by Indian newspaper The Hindu.
Saifullah Paracha, 64, remains in prison and is possibly Guantanamo’s oldest inmate. He is among the last six Pakistani prisoners that US authorities considered unfit for release and repatriation.
The US accuses Paracha of having direct links to Osama bin Laden, plotting to acquire chemical and other weapons for al Qaeda and offering his media network, Universal Broadcasting Limited, for al Qaeda propaganda.
A US embassy cable from Islamabad, dated August 30, 2006, details that a delegation of Pakistani officials who visited Guantánamo returned with the impression that most detainees “are individuals who were ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’, not extremists who pose a serious threat.”
The cable shows how Pakistani officials differed from the US in their assessment of al Qaeda suspects. It also shows domestic pressure on the Pakistani government as public resentment soared over the manner in which the US had detained these suspects.
The cable is a report of the delegation’s visit as told to the political counsellor at the US embassy in Islamabad by Lt-Col Imran Yaqoob — wrongly mentioned in the cable as Imran Farooq — Director of Operations at the National Crisis Management Cell in the interior ministry, who was part of the delegation.
According to the cable, the Pakistani delegation “left with the impression that no major obstacles remain to repatriation of the six Pakistani detainees provided that the Pakistani government makes arrangements to keep him in detention in Pakistan.”
The Karachi businessman was arrested in Bangkok on July 8, 2003, and transferred to Cuba on September 19, 2004. His son Uzair Paracha was arrested in 2003 in the US and charged with providing material assistance to al Qaeda. He was convicted by a US court in 2006.
US officials in Guantánamo assured the delegation that if the Pakistan government submitted a formal repatriation request, it would be considered. Yaqoob told the US embassy official that he had already written to the foreign ministry in support of sending such a request. In addition to the six detainees, Pakistan also wanted the repatriation of 20 more of its nationals being held in Afghanistan.
But Yaqoob “warned that for the Pakistani government to keep Paracha in custody, it would need information/evidence from the US government to justify his continued detention, noting that Paracha’s family has challenged his detention in the Supreme Court. Without some evidence to support a longer detention, Yaqoob said, Pakistani law would only permit his detention for three months”.
In parenthesis, the cable, sent under the signature of Charge d’Affaires Peter W Bodde noted that the embassy “will pursue the question of the Pakistani government’s ability to hold detainees in custody with the foreign ministry and other interlocutors.”
Quite contrary to the Pakistani official’s impression that Paracha would be released soon, Guantánamo files released last month show that he was assessed as a “high risk” detainee who “would probably seek out prior associates and reengage in extremist activities at home and abroad.”
The December 1, 2008, assessment recommended his “continued detention under the department of defence control.”
In what the file describes as “custodial interviews” rather than interrogations, Paracha is said to have confessed to meeting Bin Laden twice, offering him the use of his television station.
Paracha is alleged to have had close links with alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his nephew Ammar alBaluchi. The file says Bin Laden sent Mohammed to find out more about Paracha’s company. Over the next several months, Mohammed allegedly met Paracha five times. The file alleges that alBaluchi used Paracha’s media facilities to make a film of an al Qaeda fighter discussing his experience at Tora Bora, which was passed on to Al Jazeera news channel.
Paracha is alleged to have plotted to smuggle chemical, biological and radioactive materials into the US for attacks.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2011.