A 75-year-old Pakistani, who was never charged with a crime, has been sent home after 17 years in the prison
The US has ordered the release of the oldest inmate at the Guantanamo Bay detention center on Saturday and returned him to Pakistan. The prisoner, who never stood trial or faced formal charges, had been detained for almost 20 years after being held on suspicion of having ties to Al-Qaeda.
Saifullah Paracha, a 75-year-old Pakistani businessman, was freed after spending more than 17 years in US custody. The US authorities claimed that Paracha was an Al-Qaeda "facilitator" who helped two people linked to the terrorist group with a financial transaction.
The Pakistani national, however, has repeatedly insisted that he didn't know they were part of Al-Qaeda and claimed he was not involved in supporting terrorism.
In a statement, the US Department of Defense did not offer any details about the reasoning behind the decision, but said the detention of Paracha is "no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States."
According to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, the repatriation was made possible by "an extensive inter-agency process."
"We are glad that a Pakistani citizen detained abroad is finally reunited with his family," it added.
Paracha was seized by FBI operatives in Thailand in 2003 and was initially held in a US military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, where, according to his lawyers, he had a heart attack. He was then transferred to the notorious detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in September 2004, where he remained imprisoned until his release.
In May last year, however, the inmate, who has been suffering from diabetes, coronary artery disease and high blood pressure, was notified that he had been approved for release.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that, since 2002, around 800 men have passed through Guantanamo, where many were subjected to torture and other brutal treatment. According to the US Department of Defense, at present 35 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, with 20 of them eligible for transfer and three eligible for review.
The detention facility was set up by US President George W. Bush to host foreign terrorists captured abroad following the 9/11 attacks. Several US administrations vowed to shut it down, but it remains open, largely due to legal and political hurdles.