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US approves release of oldest Guantanamo prisoner

Saifullah Paracha, 73, was cleared by the prisoner review board along with two other detainees
There are currently 40 men being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
There are currently 40 men being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp (AFP)

The oldest prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, a 73-year-old Pakistani man, has been approved for release after more than 16 years in custody at the base, the New York Times and the Associated Press reported on Monday.

Saifullah Paracha, who has been held on suspicion of ties to al-Qaeda but has never been charged with a crime, was cleared by the prisoner review board along with two other men, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represented him at his hearing in November, told AP.

While the notification to Paracha did not provide a detailed reasoning for the decision to release him, it concluded that he was "not a continuing threat" to the US, the attorney said. Sullivan-Bennis said she thinks he will be returned home in the next several months.

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The notification is a first step before the US government negotiates a repatriation agreement with Pakistan for Paracha's return to his country of origin.

"The Pakistanis want him back, and our understanding is that there are no impediments to his return," Sullivan-Bennis told AP.

President Biden has vowed to close the prison camp at Guantanamo bay by the end of his first term.

Paracha was a wealthy businessman in Pakistan who owned a production house and a garment-buying house, and also lived in the US and owned property in New York City.

The US captured Paracha in Thailand in 2003 while he was on his way to a business meeting, then rendered him to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan before sending him to Guantanamo, where he has been held since September 2004.

Authorities alleged he was an al-Qaeda "facilitator" who helped two of the conspirators in the 9/11 attacks with a financial transaction.

He says he did not know they were from the militant group and denies any involvement in terrorism.

Paracha is one of 40 prisoners still held at Guantanamo, down from a peak of nearly 700 in 2003, and had long been considered one of the prison's "forever prisoners".

The Periodic Review Board, which decides which detainees are eligible for transfer out of the prison, also informed Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, a Yemeni who has been held without charge at Guantanamo since it opened in January 2002, that he had been cleared for release, according to his attorney, Beth Jacob, who spoke to him by phone.

"He was happy, relieved and hopeful that this will actually lead to his release," Jacob said, as reported by AP.

In February, Uthman made a case for his release before the board in a video hearing.

The other man who was approved for release was identified as Abdul Rabbani, 54, another citizen of Pakistan, according to the New York Times.

There are now nine men held at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release.

There are currently 40 men being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. In addition to those cleared for release, two have been convicted under the military court system, seven have been charged, three have been recommended for charges and 19 - dubbed "forever prisoners" - are being held without charge or trial.