With Biden, some prisoners could get out of Guantanamo

The oldest prisoner at Guantánamo went to his last hearing before the review board with some degree of hope, something that has been rare during his 16 years held without charge at the US base in Cuba.

Saifullah Paracha, a 73-year-old Pakistani with diabetes and a heart condition, had two things going for him that he did not have in previous hearings: a favorable legal process and the electoral victory of Joe Biden.

President Donald Trump had effectively ended the Barack Obama administration’s practice of reviewing the cases of Guantanamo detainees and releasing them if incarceration was no longer deemed necessary. Now there is hope that it will resume with Biden.

“I am more hopeful now simply because we have a new administration that is not determined to ignore the existing review process,” Paracha’s attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, said after the hearing by phone from the base on Nov. 19. “I think the mere existence of that on the horizon is already hope for all of us,” he added.

Guantanamo was once a source of global outrage and a symbol of America’s excess in response to terrorism. It practically disappeared from the headlines after Obama failed to shut it down and 40 men remain in detention there.

Those seeking its closure now see a window of opportunity, hoping that Biden will find a way to prosecute those who can be prosecuted and free the rest, for the United States to ditch a detention facility that costs more than $ 445 million. dollars a year.

Biden’s precise intentions for Guantanamo remain unclear. Transition spokesman Ned Price said the president-elect supports its closure, but that it would be inappropriate to discuss his plans in detail before taking office.

“I think it’s more likely to shut down if it doesn’t become a big press issue,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy director in Washington for Human Rights Watch.

The detention center opened in 2002. The administration of President George W. Bush transformed what had been a Navy outpost in the extreme southeast of Cuba into a place to interrogate and imprison people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda. and the Taliban after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

US authorities maintain that the men can be detained under the “law of war” for the duration of hostilities, an open-dated prospect.

At its peak in 2003, the year Paracha was captured in Thailand due to alleged ties to al Qaeda, Guantanamo held some 700 prisoners from nearly 50 countries. Bush announced his intention to close it, although 242 still remained there when his presidency ended.

The Obama administration, seeking to allay concerns that some of those released had returned to the fight, established a process to ensure that returnees or resettled in third countries no longer posed a threat. He also plans to try some of the men in federal court.

But its closure effort was thwarted when Congress prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the United States, either for prosecution or medical care. Obama ended up freeing 197 prisoners, leaving 41 for Trump.

In his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to “load” Guantanamo with “some bad guys,” but largely ignored the issue after rescinating Obama’s policies. His administration approved only one release, a Saudi who pleaded guilty to a military commission.

Of the remainder, seven men have cases pending before a military commission. Among them are five men accused of planning and supporting the 9/11 attacks. In addition, there are two prisoners who were convicted by commission and three face possible prosecution for the 2002 Bali bombing.

Over the years, nine inmates have died at Guantanamo: seven from apparent suicide, one from cancer, and one from a heart attack.

Paracha’s attorney raised her health concerns, including a heart attack in 2006, at her review board, speaking via secure teleconference with US defense and security agencies.