On Tuesday Guantanamo’s oldest detainee, Mr. Saifullah Paracha, will likely plead at a hearing that he is not a threat to U.S. national security. He will ask to be repatriated to his homeland of Pakistan or resettled in a 3rd country.
During the parole-like hearing, Mr. Paracha will be located in a small, bare trailer at Guantanamo. The proceeding will be videocast live to a small Pentagon room where I plan to watch it with a handful of other carefully screened observers, including two of my Indiana law students (Judge Aline Fagundes and another Master of Laws student).
Mr. Paracha, who is 69 years of age, is a former Pakistan-based businessman. He lived in the U.S. for about 15 years until the mid-1980s and went to college in the U.S.
The U.S. alleges that Mr. Paracha worked with high level members of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden. Mr. Paracha denies this. Mr. Paracha’s eldest son, Uzair Paracha, who was convicted in a U.S. federal court on charges related to terrorism, is serving a 30-year sentence.
Mr. Paracha was arrested in 2003 after arriving on a flight in Bangkok, Thailand, where he said he was going for business. He was sent to a prison camp in Europe for about 10 months, then sent to Guantanamo.
Mr. Paracha’s health has not been great, both before he arrived at Guantanamo in 2004 and while there. He has heart problems (including at least 2 heart attacks) and diabetes.
The hearing – a Periodic Review Board – PRB
This hearing at which Mr. Paracha will argue is called a Periodic Review Board (PRB), and will be conducted pursuant to a 7 March 2011 Executive Order (number 13567) which has required most detainees to have a “periodic review” of their detention status.
The PRB process is a “discretionary administrative interagency process to review whether continued detention of particular individuals held at Guantanamo remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Per the Executive Order, PRBs are not intended to ascertain the legality of a prisoner’s detention. To the contrary, it has been stated, it decides whether continued detention is warranted given “important” interests.
Each detainee receives an “initial PRB” at which they have the option of appearing in their own behalf. If they are not released, every 6 months they have a “file review,” at which they are not entitled to appear, with decisions made based on their file. Per the Executive Order, every 3 years after that they have a “full review”, at which the detainee may again appear on his own behalf.
Paracha’s 3 PRB hearings
Mr. Paracha had an “initial PRB” on 8 March 2016 and a “file PRB review” on 27 September 2016. The hearing on Tuesday will be his “full PRB”.
- Initial Review. Paracha had a PRB initial review on 8 March 2016, and on 7 April 2016 the Board concluded:
The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. In making this determination, the Board considered the detainee’s past involvement in terrorist activities, including contacts and activities with Usama Bin Laden, Kahlid Shaykh Muhammad and other senior al-Qaeda members, facilitating financial transactions and travel, and developing media for al-Qaeda. The Board further noted the detainee’s refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaeda, his inability and refusal to distinguish between legitimate and nefarious business contacts, his indifference toward the impact of his prior actions, and his lack of a plan to prevent exposure to avenues of reengagement.
- File Review. Paracha had a PRB file review on 27 September 2016, and on 12 October 2016 the Board concluded:
MEMORANDUM FOR THE RECORD
SUBJECT: Periodic Review Board File Review – Saifullah Abdullah Paracha (PK-I 094)
On 28 September 2016, the PRB conducted a file review for Saifullah Abdullah Paracha (PK- l 094) in accordance with Executive Order (E.O.) 13567, “Periodic Review of Individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station Pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” The PRB previously conducted a full review of the detainee and on 7 April 2016 determined that continued detention was necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. After reviewing relevant new information related to the detainee as well as information considered during the full review, the Board, by consensus, determined that a significant question is raised as to Whether the detainee’s continued detention is warranted and therefore an additional full review should be conducted in accordance with section 3(c) of E.O. 13567.
- Full Review. It is Paracha’s full review that is scheduled for this Tuesday. It should be noted that PRBs do not assess the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and are not criminal proceedings. A determination will be made as to whether the detainee is a threat to the U.S. He is hoping that the U.S. will repatriate him to Pakistan or send him to a 3rd country – outside the U.S.
The Board will likely publish a decision on this full review in a month or so.
Below is more information about what Tuesday’s full PRB may be like.
What will Paracha’s PRB be like on Tuesday?
- Who will be present?
I suspect that other representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) (including 2 students from Indiana University McKinney School of Law) will be present with me at the Pentagon on Tuesday, and possibly some media. This is the third PRB to be held under the Trump Administration.
Others present for the hearing will include members of the “Board” itself that conducts the PRBs, and that consisted of one representative each from the Departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Presumably each of those representatives will watch remotely in his or her office in the DC area. Also likely to be present for the hearing are the Legal Advisor to the Board; the Case Administrator; a Hearing Clerk; and a Security Officer, though it is not clear where these individuals would be located at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.
Who will make statements made at the PRB?
1. First, U.S. military official will read an “Unclassified Statement”. The statement for Tuesday is already posted online, and is as follows:
Saifullah Paracha (PK-1094) was a Pakistan-based businessman and facilitator on behalf of al-Qa’ida senior leaders and operational planners. He met Usama Bin Ladin in 1999 or 2000 and later worked with external operations chief Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KU-10024) to facilitate financial transactions and propaganda. Since his arrival at Guantanamo, Paracha has been very compliant with the detention staff and has espoused moderate views and acceptance of Western norms. Although there is no indication that he is in communication with extremists outside Guantanamo, Paracha’s extensive extremist business contacts that he established before his detention could provide him opportunities to reengage upon release should he choose to use them.
2. Mr. Paracha’s Pentagon-appointed personal representative may make a statement. The text of this statement has not yet been posted online.
3. Mr. Paracha’s private counsel may make a statement. The text of this statement has not yet been posted online.
More on this hearing?
The initial part of the PRB will be unclassified, and that is the portion of the PRB my students and I will observe. During that portion of the PRB, I will be sitting in a secure Pentagon viewing room watching the hearing live, which will be happening at Guantanamo Bay.
It is possible that the Pentagon will post a statement by Mr. Paracha and the other statements mentioned above (statement by his Pentagon-appointed personal representative and by his private counsel). If these are posted on the PRB website, I will plan to post them on this blog later.
PRBs v. Military Commissions
Military commission are criminal proceedings that are geared towards determining whether defendants are guilty of offenses that are charged. Generally, the outcome of a military commission would be that the defendant is found guilty of the charges or the defendant is acquitted of the charges. Military commissions operate pursuant to the Military Commission Act of 2009, a federal statute.
PRBs are administrative proceedings that seek to determine whether a detainee is a threat to the national security of the U.S. The outcome of a PRB is that a detainee is considered a threat and will thus remain at Guantanamo Bay, or is not considered a threat and can be placed on a list for possible repatriation to his home country or resettlement in a third country. PRBs operate pursuant to an Executive Order issued in 2011.
Military commissions examine what the detainee alleged did in the past – his prior conduct – and assess the legality of that conduct. PRBs can be said to focus more on the detainee’s future conduct – whether the detainee is likely to engage in unlawful or otherwise threatening or harmful behavior if he is released.
So far as we can tell, Paracha’s PRB is still scheduled to go forward on Tuesday. That is, the Pentagon has not notified us that it will not go forward. If it does go forward, it seems likely that Mr. Paracha will attend, as there has been no suggestion that he will miss his first full review.
Please watch this space for an update post-PRB.
Founder, Periodic Review Board (PRB) Project
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba U.S. Military Commission Observation Project (MCOP)
Program in International Human Rights Law (PIHRL)
Indiana University McKinney School of Law