McClatchy's America

Happy Birthday? Pakistani captive at Guantánamo turns 70, plans to write old neighbor President Trump

Saifullah Paracha poses for the International Red Cross at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. This photo is courtesy the Paracha family via attorney David Remes.
Saifullah Paracha poses for the International Red Cross at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. This photo is courtesy the Paracha family via attorney David Remes.

The war-on-terror prison’s oldest captive, a former Pakistani businessmen, turned 70 Thursday. Like President Trump, he once lived in Queens.

Forever prisoner Saifullah Paracha was captured in Thailand in July 2003. After being taken to a U.S. detention site in Afghanistan, he was brought to this island prison in September 2004.

“I never thought I’d be here at the age of 70,” he said in remarks released Thursday by his legal defense team from the London-based nonprofit Reprieve. “I always expected that by the time I was 70, I would be home with my wife and family.”

He also observed that long before his capture he lived in New York, “in Queens, Jamaica Estates — Donald Trump’s old neighborhood. Our houses were on the same road. I am going to write to him to ask him to release me.”

Paracha has never been charged with a crime. But the inter-agency U.S. Periodic Review Board has repeatedly upheld his status as an indefinite Law of War detainee, citing his “continued refusal to take responsibility for his involvement with al-Qaida,” including having had contacts with Osama bin Laden and the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

In March he told the parole board: “I deeply regret becoming involved with individuals who turned out to be al-Qaida. It horrifies me to think that I may have helped to enable indirectly, unwittingly to carry out their terrorist attacks on the U.S This will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

RELATED: Guantánamo’s oldest ‘forever prisoner’ loses parole board do-over

Attorney David Remes, who has regularly visited with the Pakistani captive at Guantánamo, said the 71-year-old Trump and now 70-year-old Paracha have never met. Paracha lived in New York from 1971 to 1986, as a U.S. green-card holder, Remes said.

But public records and published reports show Paracha and Trump both for a time lived on Midland Parkway in Jamaica, New York, a three-minute walk apart in the same zip code.

Thursday, in released remarks, Paracha lamented his continued detention, saying his health condition is deteriorating and he suffers constant chest pain. Paracha has a heart condition, which prison doctors sought to treat in 2006 by airlifting a mobile cathaterization lab to the base. He spurned the procedure, saying he wanted a second opinion on the safety of such expeditionary treatment, adding in a statement through his attorneys that he was unwilling to be a “guinea pig.”

RELATED: Cable casts doubt on Guantánamo medical care

In his statement, Paracha offered a list of his old-age problems for which Navy doctors have prescribed his daily drugs: Diabetes, high blood pressure, psoriasis, arthritis and gout. Reprieve lawyer Shelby Sullivan-Bennis said Thursday morning she was bringing a “sugar-free cake” to a scheduled attorney-client meeting with Paracha on Friday morning, the Guantánamo guard force permitting.

She said the Pakistani “can’t get the treatment he needs at Guantánamo. All he wants is to live out his remaining days at home with his family. Contrary to President Trump’s claims, indefinite detention of people like Saifullah will not make America better, or safer. The government must release him before it’s too late.”

An unstaffed tower in an abandoned portion of Guantánamo’s Detention Center Zone, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. The military approved release of this photo. EMILY MICHOT

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg