Businessman Saifullah Paracha, said to be Guántanamo’s oldest prisoner, has returned to Pakistan after spending close to two decades at the notorious American military detention facility on the eastern tip of Cuba. Mr Paracha was accused of helping fund Al Qaeda, yet the American authorities never brought charges against him, meaning that his lengthy incarceration was without legal cover, and violated fundamental rights. Saifullah Paracha’s son Uzair was also held and convicted of aiding Al Qaeda by an American court. Yet the younger Paracha was released in 2020 after another court rejected the witness accounts that led to his conviction. Though at one time, at the height of America’s “war on terror”, Guantánamo held hundreds of men, most without charge, only about 35 to 40 individuals remain at the facility.
Guantánamo, and other gulags of the US-led war on terror, such as Bagram and Abu Ghraib, have become symbols of the dubious methods employed by states in the name of fighting militancy. These methods have violated the very rights many of these states swear to uphold, while doing little to uproot transnational militancy, as the rise of Islamic State has shown. The fact is that torture and arbitrary detention cannot be accepted as a valid means to counter terrorism. This paper has repeatedly criticised the use of torture and extralegal methods by the state, whether it be in Pakistan or elsewhere, to extract ‘confessions’ and secure ‘convictions’. While the criminal justice systems of developing states like Pakistan are in need of massive overhauls, the legal systems of many of the self-professed champions of human rights in the West function well, which is why holding a man for two decades without charge is an affront to justice. Those like Saifullah Paracha whose lives have been destroyed by arbitrary detention need to be compensated by those who have held them, while in the long run gulags such as Guantánamo need to be shut down, and only legal and constitutional means adopted to counter militancy.
This article first appeared in Dawn.