WASHINGTON – The oldest prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center went to his latest review board hearing with a degree of hope, something that has been scarce during his 16 years locked up without charges at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Saifullah Paracha, a 73-year-old Pakistani with diabetes and a heart condition, had two things going for him that he didn't have at previous hearings: a favorable legal development and the election of Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump had effectively ended the Obama administration's practice of reviewing the cases of men held at Guantanamo and releasing them if imprisonment was no longer deemed necessary. Now there's hope that will resume under Biden.
“I am more hopeful now simply because we have an administration to look forward to that isn’t dead set on ignoring the existing review process," Paracha's attorney, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, said by phone from the base on Nov. 19 after the hearing. “The simple existence of that on the horizon I think is hope for all of us."
Guantanamo was once a source of global outrage and a symbol of U.S. excess in response to terrorism. But it largely faded from the headlines after President Barack Obama failed to close it, even as 40 men continue to be detained there.
Those pushing for its closure now see a window of opportunity, hoping Biden's administration will find a way to prosecute those who can be prosecuted and release the rest, extricating the U.S. from a detention center that costs more than $445 million per year.
Biden's precise intentions for Guantanamo remain unclear. Transition spokesman Ned Price said the president-elect supports closing it, but it would be inappropriate to discuss his plans in detail before he's in office.
His reticence is actually welcome to those who have pressed to close Guantanamo. Obama's early pledge to close it is now seen as a strategic mistake that undercut what had been a bipartisan issue.