A Pakistani millionaire held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay testified that he met Osama bin Laden twice, and that the al-Qaida leader called himself "a prophet."
The testimony of Saifullah A. Paracha was included in thousands of pages of transcripts released Friday by the Pentagon because of a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press. The material was also made public last year in court filings by Paracha's lawyer.
Paracha, a New York Institute of Technology graduate, testified in English. He said he owns seven businesses, including a news agency, a construction agency and a manufacturing company in Pakistan and travel agencies in New York, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco.
In 1999, Paracha said, he met bin Laden in Afghanistan. The following year, he returned to Afghanistan to interview bin Laden for his news agency, Universal Broadcast Ltd.
"He delivered (preached) the Quran, and said he was a prophet," Paracha said. "He said very nice things, very impressive."
But Paracha denied all the accusations raised in the January 2005 tribunal, conducted to determine whether he was properly classified as an "enemy combatant." Those included money laundering for al-Qaida, plotting to smuggle explosives into the United States and recommending that nuclear weapons be used against U.S. soldiers.
Paracha said he had written to U.S. President George W. Bush and other U.S. officials when his son Uzair Paracha -- who faces up to 75 years in prison after his conviction by a New York court in November of providing material support to terrorists -- was arrested in May 2003.
Saifullah Paracha said he was arrested at Bangkok's airport in July 2003 -- "illegally, immorally arrested" -- and held for several days with his hands and legs bound and his eyes and ears covered before being flown to Afghanistan, where he was held for 15 months.
"I was never in hiding, and offered my availability. It was very ugly and unprofessional how I was picked (up)," he testified.
Paracha, who said he lived in the United States from 1971 to 1986, said he repeatedly offered his services to his interrogators.
"I can help control terrorism," he said.
The U.S. Air Force colonel running the hearing, whose name was crossed out in the transcripts, told Paracha he'd eventually get a chance to pursue his case in U.S. courts.
"I've been here 17 months -- would that be before I expire?" Paracha asked.
"I would certainly hope so, especially since you are under the care of the U.S. government," the colonel said.
Paracha said he did not know under which law he was arrested, and that none of the charges against him were valid.
"Am I being considered human being or animal, or is USA my god?" he wrote in a handwritten plea to the tribunal. "I am not your slave."