WASHINGTON: Three of the 40 prisoners still at the Guantanamo Bay US military prison have been approved for release, the first such approvals under the administration of President Joe Biden.
The three included Pakistani Saifullah Paracha, who at 73 is the oldest of those still held, nearly two decades after the United States detained hundreds of suspects in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The others approved for release were Abdul Rabbani, 54, also from Pakistan, and Yemen native Uthman Abdul al-Rahim Uthman, aged 40. “Today is one hell of a day. Saifullah Paracha – 73, 17 years wrongfully imprisoned — is going HOME,” his lawyer Shelby Sullivan-Bennis said in a tweet.
Sullivan-Bennis confirmed that the release of all three was approved by a high-level White House panel. She said that could lead to their being freed as early as 30 days from now, though it depends on arrangements being made with their destination countries.
Pakistan has been open to taking back its nationals detained at Guantanamo. But resettling Yemeni nationals has been difficult because of the security situation there. Like most of those held at Guantanamo, none of the three was ever formally charged with a crime.
Paracha was a businessman who studied in the United States and had an import-export business supplying major US retailers when he was seized in Thailand in 2003, and accused of helping finance Al-Qaeda.
He has been held ever since without charge, but has maintained his innocence and claims a love for the United States. Sullivan-Bennis said he suffers from high blood pressure and coronary disease.
Six other prisoners have also been cleared for release, five of them before Trump came to office in 2017. Biden is under pressure to clear out uncharged prisoners at Guantanamo and move ahead with the trials of those accused of direct Al-Qaeda ties.
Among the 40 detainees left — at one point there were nearly 800 there — are a number of men who allegedly took direct roles in 9/11 and other Al-Qaeda terror attacks.
The US government has stated that it wants to try them with military tribunals, but those remain mired in legal and bureaucratic issues that have prevented any real progress.
After the decision on releases, said Sullivan-Bennis, “I feel confident that the Biden administration is going forward to clear out Guantanamo to the extent that is possible.”