'Gitmo is Like Being Alive in Your Own Grave'
Inter Press Service
by Zofeen Ebrahim
December 14, 2006
'Guantanamo brings images of a man in orange overalls, his face down and a soldier holding him by the neck, like a dog on a leash," says 14-year-old Zahra Paracha. "Animals are treated better,'' she tells IPS.
"What's the point of talking to you," she then says, her eyes clouding up. "I'm tired of telling the media that my father is innocent. In the first press conference three years ago, I poured my heart out but that did not bring my father back. I think no one can help us, neither the government nor President Pervez Musharraf.
''When we sold our soul and became a United States ally, we lost any bargaining power we (Pakistan) ever had," adds Farhat Paracha, wife of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Saifullah Paracha and mother of another, Uzair Paracha.
But Muneeza Paracha, 24, her older daughter, a business graduate who
has kept the family business stay afloat, is calmer. "I think the
situation is somewhat different from what it was in 2003. I believe the
Bush administration is under immense pressure to shut down Guantanamo.
The media have done a lot and are still alive to the plight of the
prisoners and this alone makes me very hopeful." She however, does not
deny that life without her father has been tough.
Saifullah Paracha, 60, a successful businessman and a philanthropist,
based in this southern port city, has been held at the U.S. military
prison, in Cuba, since September 2004. While on his way to a business
meeting in July 2003, he was picked up at the Bangkok airport and
whisked away to the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and, after 15 months,
moved to Guantanamo.
Earlier that year, in February, 23-year old Uzair Paracha, on a
business trip to the U.S., was arrested by intelligence agents and
charged with terrorist conspiracy and alleged links to al-Qaeda, the
terrorist group behind the Sep.11, 2001 attacks on New York and
Washington. "My husband was such a strong person, but Uzair's abduction
broke him. The first time I saw him cry was then. He felt so helpless
to be unable to help his son,'' said Farhat
''I don't know if I will live to see my son in person, that's
my greatest nightmare. He's been sentenced to 30 years in federal
prison," says Farhat, 56, who survives on anti-depressants and the 15
minutes-a-month phone call from her son.
Her voice quivering with emotion, she said, "He was like any young
twenty-something, with the world at his feet and a girlfriend by his
arm. They were desperately in love and were just waiting for him to
finish studies. She got married recently and I don't blame her, for she
couldn't wait endlessly."
According to Farhat he's gained weight, 170 pounds, because he
avoids going out for exercise as on the way prisoners are
strip-searched. "He spends time reading and has also become regular
with prayers." The only communication Farhat has had with her husband,
since July 2003, was through his lawyer or e-mails from some rights
organisations. She gets letters from him which are "short, hurried
scribblings at the back of International Committee of the Red Cross
Not charged with any crime, the older Paracha was also suspected to
have links with the al-Qaeda which he has denied. "He is alleged to
have been part of a plan to smuggle explosives into the United States
for al-Qaeda. He is also alleged to have spoken to Osama Bin Laden."
says the Britain-based Reprieve's senior counsel, Zachary Katznelson,
who has met Paracha twice, the last time in October 2006, and spoken to
him once on the phone in November.
"He has never hidden the fact that he met Bin Laden in 1999.
In fact, he used to brag about his meeting and was quite taken in by
the soft-spoken man he thought Laden was. He said he wanted to have him
interviewed to give his version, for his production house,'' says
Asked if there was any link between the father and son's abductions,
Katznelson says, "The allegations for both relate to contacts they had
with Majid Khan, another Pakistani prisoner in Guantanamo." Khan,
accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, has denied any links the two may
have with the al-Qaeda or terrorism. He met them as Pakistani
Paracha senior is being held in Camp-5 Delta, which, he told his wife, is ‘like living in your own grave.'
This is qualified by Katznelson. "Camp-5 is a maximum security prison.
Each cell is approximately 6 feet by 8 feet. The lights are on 24 hours
a day. The prisoners are allowed out of their cells only two hours per
day. For a long time, the guards would vary temperatures to great
extremes. One week, they would turn the air-conditioning on maximum
making the prisoners freeze (they were given only a thin cotton sheet
at night which was taken away early the following morning)." The next
week, the guards would turn off the air-conditioning to bring up the
temperatures to a stifling 35 degrees Celsius.
"Fortunately, since the start of Ramadan, the guards have stopped
switching the temperatures between extremes, but rather keep it
The two occasions Katznelson met Paracha, he was in fetters. "When I
met him the first time, it was in the prison hospital. Both arms and
both legs were shackled to the bed. The second time we met, it was in a
meeting room in Camp-5. He was shackled to the floor. They removed the
hand shackles when I requested but not those of the leg."
Apart from exposing prisoners to extreme temperatures, Katznelson said,
for a long time, deviation from the rules was met with violence. "For
instance, if a prisoner being led to a shower looked at another
prisoner, or spoke to anyone, he was beaten. If the prisoner put his
food tray down in the wrong place for collection, he was beaten. Any
guard at any time could order a beating or that a prisoner be sent to
isolation. In isolation, prisoners' beards and heads are forcibly
shaved." But, says Katznelson, the beatings have since become fewer now
that a new commander is in place.
The long years of incarceration have taken a toll on Paracha. According
to Katznelson, he has "experienced severe chest pains and is at grave
risk of a heart attack."
The Guantanamo inmate recently made news when his petition to
be transferred to a civilian medical centre for a cardiac procedure was
rejected. His wife argues that "he finds the camp facilities to carry
out cardiac catheterisation inadequate and risky. It's not an emotional
decision but a rational one".
"He is not getting proper medical care. His life is at risk. The Pakistani government must intervene as soon as possible to get Mr. Paracha home," said Katznelson.
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