SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 23: Uzair Paracha, a young Pakistani national, accused of trying to help Al Qaeda operative Majid Khan slip past US immigration officials told a Manhattan jury that investigators had pressurized him into making a false confession.
“Every time I told the truth, they told me ... I was being uncooperative,” said Uzair Paracha while testifying in his defence. “So I told them what I thought they wanted to hear.”
Taking the witness stand, Uzair Paracha, 25, said he thought he was doing a harmless favour for a family business associate when he performed a series of tasks on behalf of Majid Khan.
The story was a sharp reversal from what Paracha allegedly told FBI and police investigators when he was detained and questioned in 2003. He is alleged to have told FBI agents that he knew Majid Khan was a terrorist, but helped him anyway. He repeated that tale a month later, in the presence of an attorney, during negotiations about his case. Paracha told the jury on Monday that the confession was the result of exhaustion and fear during three days of interrogation.
Paracha’s lawyer Edward Wilford said the government’s claims stemmed from a false confession Paracha gave after he was subjected to 72 hours of interrogation without being told he could consult a lawyer or speak with his parents.
Paracha hadn’t been charged with any crime at the time, but said agents took his shoelaces, cell phone and belt, strip searched him at least once and told him he would be arrested if he didn’t cooperate or insisted on seeing a lawyer.
“I told them what I thought they wanted to hear,” he said. “The truth is, I did not know these people were Al Qaeda.”
Majid Khan was one of a number of terror suspects seized by the US government and presumed to still be held in overseas jails. Paracha’s father, Saifullah Paracha, is also being held as an enemy combatant in the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Unlike his son, Saifullah Paracha has not been charged with a crime, but documents have indicated that he is suspected of laundering money for terrorists and associating with major Al Qaida figures, including top operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He has repeatedly denied any involvement in terrorism.
Uzair Paracha grew up in Pakistan, but has lived off-and-on for many years in New York, where his family has several business ventures.
In an attempt to bolster Paracha’s more recent claims, the defence team introduced brief, declassified summaries of statements that Khan and another reputed Al Qaida member allegedly made to US officials after their capture.