Saifullah Paracha

Image of Saifullah Paracha

The oldest detainee in Guantanamo, who turns 72 on August 17th 2019. He has already suffered two heart attacks and awaits the third from his cell, where he has yet to face charge or trial.

Saifullah is a 71-year-old father of four. He studied at the New York Institute of Technology and lived in New York City for several years, eventually becoming a legal permanent resident of the US. He has been held in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for over 14 years.

Born in Pakistan in 1947, Saifullah moved to the US to study when he was 24. He met his wife, started a family, and worked as a businessman in New York City for 15 years. Eventually, he opened his own travel agency that facilitated travel between the U.S. and Pakistan and he produced a weekly television program for the Pakistani population in New Jersey. 

In the mid-1980s he moved back to Pakistan, where he founded several businesses. One of these was an import-export business, established with an American partner, that acted as a buying agent for American retail giants such as Wal-Mart and K-Mart. He also set up a television production company, Universal Broadcasting. In addition, Saifullah founded multiple charities, and was the chairman of an NGO called the Council of Welfare Organization (WCO).

It was in his role as chairman of Universal Broadcasting that Saifullah sought to arrange an interview with Osama bin Laden. Back before 9/11, bin Laden was already an infamous and highly controversial figure. In the tradition of CNN’s Peter Bergen, Time Magazine’s Scott MacLeod, and other journalists before them, Saifullah planned an interview – in full compliance with his, and the public’s right to free speech. Though no interview took place (bin Laden backed out), Saifullah’s attempt to do what major US news outlets had done before him triggered a decades-long battle for his most basic human rights.

In July 2003, Saifullah was abducted in Thailand while on a business trip, and put on a rendition plane to the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan. He was held and tortured at Bagram for more than a year. In September 2004, he was put on a plane to Guantánamo Bay. Saifullah has been held at the prison, without charge or trial, ever since.

I believe in the Koran – that killing one innocent person is equal to killing all humanity. I believe in that, and practice that.

Saifullah Paracha

Tortured in Bagram and rendered to Guantanamo to live out his remaining days, Saifullah now suffers from a host of medical problems—some natural for an aging man, and others parting gifts of his abuse in US detention. These include diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, angina pectoris cardiac diastolic dysfunction, hyperlipidemia, diverticulosis, allergic rhinitis, gout, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Saifullah has survived all of that, and more; he has already had two heart attacks. The prison lacks the proper medical facilities to prevent a third. Saifullah is on a panoply of daily medications to prevent the worst from happening. In August 2018, Saifullah marked his 71st birthday from his prison cell.

Saifullah has never been charged with a crime or put on trial. Reprieve is calling for Saifullah’s release and his safe return to his family.

Illustration by @carysboughton