WASHINGTON – At the U.S. prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, everyone gets a Quran, but no one gets a Bible.
Saifullah Paracha, a 58-year-old former Pakistani businessmen with alleged ties to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, has been in U.S. custody since 2003. Like the other inmates at Guantanamo, he has a copy of the Quran. But he also wants an English translation of the King James version of the Bible.
Paracha believes that because the Bible is one of the scriptures accepted in Islam, he is entitled to a copy to read in his small wire-mesh cell. But after his lawyer shipped him a Bible, along with two volumes of Shakespeare, prison officials confiscated the package.
Paracha’s American lawyer filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, demanding that Paracha be given the Bible and copies of “Hamlet” and “Julius Caesar.” The government responded that certain books are kept from prisoners because they could “incite” them.
Whether Bible or Quran, prayer might seem appropriate for Paracha. The allegations against him are grave.
The government contends that through his international packaging company, Paracha conspired to ship chemical components to the United States to help set off an attack by al-Qaida terrorists. His son, Uzair Paracha, 25, is on trial in New York on charges that he tried to help an al-Qaida operative enter this country and plan the intended attack.
The son, if convicted, faces up to 75 years in prison. The father could receive a life sentence. Both men insist they are innocent.
At his status review hearing last year, Saifullah Paracha conceded that he had met bin Laden socially, and that the terrorist leader gave him a copy of the Quran. “He was a prophet,” Paracha said.
The practice of religion has been a sore point for the Guantanamo detainees.
Earlier this year, tempers flared and hunger strikes were launched over allegations that copies of the Quran were desecrated at the prison by U.S. guards. One account alleged that a Quran was flushed down a toilet. The U.S. government denied the report, but it set off riots in Muslim countries.
Paracha’s Washington lawyer, Gaillard T. Hunt, said he met with Paracha in September and learned that his client “has been in solitary confinement with very little communication with anyone for most of the last year.”