Fears for Guantánamo Prisoner Released in Morocco But Held Incommunicado in a Secret Location

17.9.15

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco on September 16, 2015 (Photo collage by Reprieve).Reprieve, the international human rights organization whose lawyers represent prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, has just learned that one of its clients, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a 47-year old Moroccan national, has been repatriated to Morocco, but is being held incommunicado and in a secret location.

In a press release, Reprieve notes that its representatives “have been unable to meet or speak to him since the US handed him to Moroccan authorities. He is being held in an unknown location, and has not been allowed so far to contact his local lawyer, in apparent violation of Moroccan law.”

They also add that they are “increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being” of their client.

I have covered Younous’ story many times over the years. See my archive here, and see this love letter that he wrote to his wife last year. Also see “My Road to Guantánamo,” published by Vice News last November, in which he told the story of his capture and explained why he did not wish to return to Morocco and was seeking a third country to offer him a new home — a wish that has obviously been ignored by the US authorities.

Describing his story on their website, Reprieve states:

Younous was born in Morocco, but moved to Pakistan when he was 22 years old with his siblings where further education was more affordable. After a series of family tragedies, he struggled financially to stay in Pakistan and tried to find work and cheaper studies in Yemen and Syria.

A strong believer in giving back to society, he moved to Afghanistan in June 2001 where he worked for a charity assisting local Moroccan youths. He fled the instability post 9/11, but was rounded up and sold to US forces.

As I explained when posting his love letter last February:

In contrast to Younus’s own account, the US authorities accused him of running a military training camp near Kabul, even though he has repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history. The US authorities also described him as a “close associate” of Osama bin Laden, but he has repeatedly expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.”

In addition, Younus has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and, as I discovered last year, when he took part in the prison-wide hunger strike that did so much to remind the world of Guantánamo’s existence, he is a Sufi Muslim, something that makes it even more improbable that he would have been running a training camp. For further information, please read Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith’s account of a conversation with Younus during the early months of the hunger strike, and Younus’s own detailed account.

As Reprieve described it in today’s press release, “Younous spent 14 years in US detention, despite being unanimously cleared for release by the six main US government security and intelligence agencies — including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defense — in 2009. This decision stated that Younous posed no threat whatsoever to either the US or its allies. In all the time Younous was held by the US, he was not charged with any crime and did not face a trial.”

They added, “Younous’ only concern upon his release was to be reunited with his family and to be allowed to start rebuilding his life.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s strategic director and Younous’ lawyer, said, “There is no reason for the Moroccan authorities to prolong Younous’ detention after all he has suffered over 14 years. Younous is thankful for all their diplomatic efforts to secure his release — it is inexplicable, therefore, that they would now prevent him from returning to those who love him and who are waiting to help him back onto his feet. He must be permitted to see his lawyers and his family without further delay.”

Note: With the release of Younous Chekkouri, 115 prisoners remain at Guantánamo. 52 of these men have been approved for release.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ was released in July 2015). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009 (out of the 532 released by President Bush), and the 121 prisoners released from February 2009 to June 2015 (by President Obama), whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Filesand for the stories of the other 390 prisoners released by President Bush, see my archive of articles based on the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (herehere and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis1 Mauritanian1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; 13 Afghans (here and here); 3 British residents10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (herehere and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; 2 Algerians; 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan), repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 —1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani); 4 Uighurs to Bermuda; 1 Iraqi; 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad); 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni; 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); 2 Somalis4 Afghans6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 1 Uzbek to Switzerland1 Egyptian1 Azerbaijani and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland; May 2010 — 1 Syrian to Bulgaria, 1 Yemeni to Spain; July 2010 — 1 Yemeni (Mohammed Hassan Odaini); 1 Algerian1 Syrian to Cape Verde, 1 Uzbek to Latvia, 1 unidentified Afghan to Spain; September 2010 — 1 Palestinian, 1 Syrian to Germany; January 2011 — 1 Algerian; April 2012 — 2 Uighurs to El Salvador; July 2012 — 1 Sudanese; September 2012 — 1 Canadian (Omar Khadr) to ongoing imprisonment in Canada; August 2013 — 2 Algerians; December 2013 — 2 Algerians2 Saudis2 Sudanese3 Uighurs to Slovakia; March 2014 — 1 Algerian (Ahmed Belbacha); May 2014 — 5 Afghans to Qatar (in a prisoner swap for US PoW Bowe Bergdahl); November 2014 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fawzi al-Odah); 3 Yemenis to Georgia, 1 Yemeni and 1 Tunisian to Slovakia, and 1 Saudi; December 2014 — 4 Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian to Uruguay4 Afghans2 Tunisians and 3 Yemenis to Kazakhstan; January 2015 — 4 Yemenis to Oman, 1 Yemeni to Estonia; June 2015 — 6 Yemenis to Oman.

28 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s the breaking news about the release from ‪Guantanamo‬ of Younous Chekkouri, who has been repatriated to Morocco, where, worryingly, he is being held incommunicado in a secret location. A teacher in Afghanistan, Younous was always one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantanamo, and was approved for release in 2009, but was wary of returning home. We must all be thankful that Reprieve is working to make the world aware of his current situation, and to put pressure on the Moroccan authorities to release him to his family.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Amy Phillips wrote:

    strange…sort of good news and bad news, no?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    Given the type of places Morocco has, being held incommunicado in a non disclosed location after release is either a strong debriefing or an even worse news.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m very much hoping, Amy and Sarah, that he’ll soon be released, but of course it’s worrying right now, given Morocco’s human rights issues over the years. Reprieve’s intervention will hopefully work in his favor.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    Depends on where he is being held. Morocco won’t provide any non refoulement or resettlement guarantees.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I realize that, Sarah, but the authorities will now be aware that the world is watching, which I hope will make a difference.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I’ve just updated the definitive Guantanamo prisoner list on Close Guantanamo, to reflect Younous’ release: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Prisoners

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    The Associated Press reports that Cori Crider​ has said that a representative of Reprieve has been in contact with one of Younous’ brothers, who spoke to him and “said he sounded OK and in good spirits.” Crider added, “We are very happy to work with the Moroccans to get our client back on his feet. I just want to make sure that he’s not held for an extended period of time.”
    The AP, noting that Younous “spent most of his time in the communal areas of the detention centre, reserved for the men deemed the ‘most compliant’ by military authorities,” also quoted Cori Crider saying, “It was basically his view that if he just kept his head down and was really nice to everybody that surely they would see that he wasn’t a bad guy and let him go. It’s a shame that it took almost 14 years.”
    See: http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/u-s-sends-moroccan-home-after-13-years-without-charge-at-guantanamo-1.2568332

  9. Carlyle Moulton says...

    Andy just drawing your attention to a typo: “…has been repatriated from Morocco…” I suspect “from” should be “to”.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Carlyle, for your eagle-eyed attention to typos!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Also updated to mark Younous’ release, the Gitmo Clock: http://www.gtmoclock.com/

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Andy, for all of your hard work, your heart, your soul and your being!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you, Jan, for your persistent and heartfelt support!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Andrew Brel wrote:

    Perhaps he can show up in Frankfurt where the Germans are so obviously welcoming in refugees.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Actually, Andrew, until he voluntarily agreed to return to Morocco, seeing no other way out of Guantanamo, despite his fears about the Moroccan regime, he had tried to get resettled in Germany, where he has an uncle and aunt, but Germany evidently wasn’t interested, concluding it had done its part in 2010, when it accepted two prisoners who couldn’t safely be repatriated.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Roushan Ara wrote:

    So upsetting

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s definitely upsetting that he was held for so long, Roushan, but hopefully the Moroccans will release him to his family soon, and not prolong his suffering.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Roushan Ara wrote:

    I hope so. Thank you for all the hard work you’re doing trying to keep people informed

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Roushan. I’ve been doing it for nearly ten years now, so I can’t see me giving up on it until the place is closed once and for all!

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Roushan Ara wrote:

    I’m not the praying type Andy but this has definitely been one of my prayers since I became aware that these disgusting places existed, in 2002. Keep up the fight x

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Will do, Roushan. And thank you, sincerely, for your concern. It is the sensible human response, but far too many people are not interested.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Not good news. AFP reports that Morocco’s prosecutor general acknowledged on Sunday (September 20) that Younous has been detained. In a statement, the prosecutor’s office stated, “Chekkouri was taken into custody on Wednesday,” adding, as AFP put it, that “he was under investigation on suspicion of terror-related offences and would appear before a public prosecutor.” AFP also noted that, in Morocco, terror suspects “can be held without charge for 48 hours, which is renewable once,” and Younous “could therefore appear in court on Monday.”
    See: http://news.yahoo.com/released-guantanamo-inmate-detained-morocco-prosecutor-174518116.html

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Yesterday, in a press release, Reprieve reported that Younous “has spoken of the terror he felt at the way he was treated by US authorities on his flight home.” In testimony given his local lawyer in Casablanca, where he remains detained, he said he “was blindfolded, forced to wear ear-defenders, and had his arms shackled to his legs during the ten hour flight to Morocco.” He described “how the flight replicated the total sight and sound deprivation he experienced when he was first rendered to Guantanamo.” The press release added that his lawyers at Reprieve “have raised concerns about his ongoing detention in Morocco and the effect that the behaviour of the US authorities, during his transfer, would have had on his fragile mental state.”
    See: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/guantanamo-prisoner-tells-of-release-trauma-in-first-meeting-with-lawyer/

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    An unfortunate update from Reprieve, which reports that Younous “is facing the possibility of charges in Morocco that his lawyer has described as ‘utterly baseless’. The prosecution in Morocco today announced that Younous – who has been held in detention since his release last week – is facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempts to disrupt the security of the country’. A judge will decide in two weeks whether to formally charge him. Meanwhile he has been placed in ‘provisional detention’ in Salé without bail.”

    Cori Crider, Younous’ attorney and Reprieve’s director, said: “Younous facing charges is nothing short of an absolute disgrace. The US government, responsible for his being in this position in the first place, saw fit to clear him for release from Guantanamo following an exhaustive review. They never charged him with a crime and indeed they dropped almost every one of the ridiculous allegations they ever made against him while his case was being litigated in federal court. Any charges the Moroccan prosecutors are attempting to lay at Younous’ door are utterly baseless and must be revoked at once. Younous Chekkouri must go free.”

    See: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/former-guantanamo-detainee-facing-possibility-of-utterly-baseless-charges-in-morocco/

  25. arcticredriver says...

    Al Jazeera is reporting that US authorities have officially withdrawn the allegations in their memos that Chekkouri had ties to the “Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group” In rare admission, US says evidence against ex–Gitmo inmate was unreliable Jennifer Fenton calls it a “rare admission”. Practically unprededented.

    Of course ALL the current and former captives for whom the USA has lost confidence in their initial wildly inflated allegations, deserve a similar admission. And what about the remainder — the current and former captives for whom the US still has confidence in those initial allegations? I think a lot of those allegations would fall apart, if they had ever been subjected to a thorough, sober, fair-minded competent review.

    That thorough, sober, fair-minded competent review is not just important from a human rights standpoint. I think that it is also important from a public safety standpoint. So long as we let the frankly deceitful elements of the intelligence establishment continue to try to scare the dickens out of the public, the less safe we are. The public sees the intelligence establishment as heroic. But,the way I see it, many of them are totally cynical careerists, who have put their own personal careers above public safety, and who explait the extreme secrecy we allow them. They exploit that secrecy to build empires fighting bogeymen, security threats that an open and transparent review would show are fantasies. They exploit that secrecy to indulge in luxuries.

    I know I am repeating myself Andy, but we would all be much safer if our counter-terrorism resources were only used to counter genuine threats. Stripping away the pointless and self-serving secrecy we have allowed security officials to impose would go a long way to making us more safe. Sober, professional, competent, reasonable review of those allegations would be an enormous help in increasing public safety.

  26. arcticredriver says...

    In my comment immediately above I criticized how US security officials use secrecy to mask expenditures that would never pass audit in an agency with auditors who ensured responsible spending.

    Italian security officials reviewed the CIA mission to “snatch” that Egyptian cleric from a street in Italy. They found that the snatch mission was not a small team, who were in, and out, like spies are portrayed in the movies. They found that the CIA team members didn’t hide out in cheap dive motels, to escape scrutiny. They found that the CIA team did not employ competent spycraft. Rather the team was large, dozens of individuals. The team was in Italy for a long time, and, while there, they lived it up, staying in classy hotels, where they spent lavishly, in a highly visible manner. And spycraft? Even though they were on a secret mission, they had brought their own personal cell phones with them, from the USA, rather than buying a couple of dozen local pay per use phones, which would have been essentially untraceable, due to “herd immunity”.

    So, for not defencible reasons, this snatch would have cost orders of magnitude more than it would have cost if a small team had followed the seedy motel model. Was the snatch authorized just so these guys could laze away in the Italian spas for a month?

    The CIA handed the cleric over to the Egyptians, who, IIRC, eventually concluded he wasn’t a real jihadist, after all, and released him.

    It sounds like this was a fishing expedition, a shot in the dark, pushed forward for specious reasons, because the secrecy we traditionally allow security officials meant they could get away with it, and never be called to account. So, even individuals who don’t have a moral objection to snatch teams, and kidnapping, should object to this kind of operation, on the grounds that it was counterproductive and wildly expensive.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, arcticredriver. You know, of course, that I agree with you about the public safety problems with allowing a bloated, self-serving intel community to write its own cheques, and be above scrutiny.
    As for thorough, sober, fair-minded competent reviews, it’s what I’ve been trying to do for years – and I’m hopnig to have a renewed push on debunking some myths very soon.
    In the meantime, I recommend to readers my complete Guantanamo Files, largely based on the files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. I completed detailed analyses of the stories of 422 prisoners in 2011-12, but wasn’t able to finish the project after my funding stopped: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/category/2002-2011-the-complete-guantanamo-files-new/

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the Abu Omar case is instructive, arcticredriver – an agency out of control, with insufficient or non-existent checks on them. I blame Dick Cheney and John Yoo and others – the senior officials and lawyers caught up in the vindictive hysteria of their “war on terror,” who, without proper scrutiny, started kidnapping people and torturing them – or sending them to other people to torture – on really quite vague hunches. Unforgivably disgraceful behavior, much of which was exposed in the Senate’s torture report, but has still not been acted upon.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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