Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011

21.10.15

Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.In an important concession, the US government has publicly admitted that the information it drew on to describe former Guantánamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) as a threat was profoundly unreliable, and that it ceased to accept it as reliable back in 2011.

Chekkouri was repatriated to his home country of Morocco from Guantánamo on September 16, and, as his lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve described it in a press release, just issued, “His transfer was subject to diplomatic assurances between Morocco and the US, which included agreements that there was no basis to charge him; that Morocco would not prosecute him; and that he would be detained no longer than 72 hours. However, after his arrival in Morocco Mr. Chekkouri was taken to Salé prison near Rabat, where he continues to be held in violation of the assurances.”

At a court hearing tomorrow (October 22), the Moroccan investigating magistrate “will determine whether Mr. Chekkouri should be set free,” as Reprieve described it, adding, “It is believed that the Moroccan authorities are detaining Mr. Chekkouri on the basis of the same allegations that the US government has now withdrawn against him.”

Reprieve also noted:

In a letter released today, the US Justice Department concedes that several years ago the US “withdrew all reliance” on “all evidence identifying Mr. Chekkouri with the group known as Group Islamique Combatant Maroc [sic] ‘GICM.'” The concession — made during a US habeas case brought by Mr. Chekkouri with the help of human rights organization Reprieve — confirms that the evidence used to make the allegation was unreliable. During those proceedings, Mr. Chekkouri explained in federal court that the information resulted from a mixture of the torture of himself and other prisoners, as well as stories fabricated by informers within Guantánamo who concocted false stories on hundreds of other prisoners in order to win better treatment in the prison.

This is not only important for Mr. Chekkouri, but also for other prisoners whose files are full of lies. As I explained in a recent article about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, refuting allegations made by Robin Simcox of the Islamophobic British black propaganda organization, the Henry Jackson Society:

Simcox repeated allegations from the classified military file on Shaker, compiled in 2007, as though what is contained in the files released by WikiLeaks bears any relation to reality. In fact, the files are full of unreliable statements made by prisoners who were subjected to torture or other abuse at Guantánamo, in CIA “black sites” or in other facilities in the “war on terror,” where they were regularly — often relentlessly — shown photo albums, referred to as “the family album,” of other prisoners, and sometimes of genuine terror suspects, until they acknowledged knowing them, or having seen them, whether that was true or not (see this article for an example from a proxy CIA torture prison in Jordan). Prisoners were also bribed with better living conditions, or had mental health issues that were remorselessly exploited by their interrogators, while other prisoners, unable to cope with the unending interrogations, gave up resisting and, by their own admission, said yes to every allegation that was suggested to them, without any care for its relationship to the truth.

The information in the files is, therefore, almost completely worthless without being backed up by further independent investigation, and yet Simcox parades verifiably unreliable witnesses as though they were truthful — Abu Zubaydah, for example, for whom the torture program was invented, whose desperate lies litter the files, Yasim Muhammad Basardah, a Yemeni notorious as Guantánamo’s most prolific liar, whose unreliability was well-known to the US authorities, and Abdul Bukhary (aka Abdul-Hakim Bukhari), another recognized liar, who had been imprisoned by al-Qaeda as a spy, and was liberated by US forces from a Taliban jail before being sent, inexplicably, to Guantánamo. As the New York Times explained in April 2011, Bukhari’s file contained the following acceptance, by the US authorities, of his unreliability: “Detainee admitted that he provided information in a deliberately misleading manner in order to receive incentives from his debriefers.”

This is how I described Basardah when I worked with WikiLeaks on the release of the Guantánamo files in 2011: “Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni known as a notorious liar. As the Washington Post reported in February 2009, he was given preferential treatment in Guantánamo after becoming what some officials regarded as a significant informant, although there were many reasons to be doubtful. As the Post noted, ‘military officials … expressed reservations about the credibility of their star witness since 2004,’ and in 2006, in an article for the National Journal, Corine Hegland described how, after a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at which a prisoner had taken exception to information provided by Basardah, placing him at a training camp before he had even arrived in Afghanistan, his personal representative (a military official assigned instead of a lawyer) investigated Basardah’s file, and found that he had made similar claims against 60 other prisoners. In January 2009, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Richard Leon (an appointee of George W. Bush) excluded Basardah’s statements while granting the habeas corpus petition of Mohammed El-Gharani, a Chadian national who was just 14 years old when he was seized in a raid on a mosque in Pakistan. Judge Leon noted that the government had ‘specifically cautioned against relying on his statements without independent corroboration,’ and in other habeas cases that followed, other judges relied on this precedent, discrediting the ‘star witness’ stlll further.”

To return to Younous Chekkouri’s case, Reprieve explained that the letter released by the Justice Department contains “a partial summary” of the US government’s position, adding, “While not a complete picture of the near-total collapse of the case against Younous in the US habeas process, the document is the only evidence relating to the habeas case that the Justice Department would agree to release to Mr. Chekkouri’s lawyers in time to enable his defense on the same spurious charges in Morocco.”

His lawyers at Reprieve, who are in Morocco “seeking to see Mr. Chekkouri and defend him in court,”  are also “urgently seek[ing] to provide the letter to the investigating magistrate and to Moroccan government officials.” As they note, they have “raised concerns that he now faces potential prosecution for long-disproven allegations that the United States withdrew years ago.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director and Younous Chekkouri’s US lawyer, said, “The US government hates to admit it made a mistake holding Younous Chekkouri for 14 years without charge on the basis of a false allegation, but that’s just what this letter means. The core of their case against him for years was that he was a founder of this Moroccan group — and, as the government now admits, we knocked that falsehood back years ago. The tragedy is that Younous is now potentially going to be charged in a Moroccan process for the self-same false allegation. The US Government has not done remotely enough to keep its promise to Mr. Chekkouri or to hold the Moroccan government to its promise. They must act now, and be sure Mr. Chekkouri is released tomorrow, before it is too late.”

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,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). 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).

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4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, fresh from a press release by Reprieve, explaining how the Justice Department has just released a letter accepting that their case against recently released ‪Guantanamo‬ prisoner Younous Chekkouri, facing a trial in Morocco tomorrow on the basis of that so-called evidence, collapsed in 2011. Morocco broke its agreement with the US not to prosecute Younous, and it is important that this trial does not go ahead. It is also significant that the Justice Department has publicly accepted the unreliability of evidence at Guantanamo – the tip of an iceberg of unreliability that I continue to try to publicize. Includes excerpts from my recent article refuting claims made by Robin Simcox about the profoundly unreliable information in Shaker Aamer’s Guantanamo file.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s Jenifer Fenton’s article for Al-Jazeera, with a quote from me: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/10/21/US-says-evidence-against-Guantanamo-detainee-unreliable.html
    Here’s the passage:

    The United States’ apparent admission of error is important for other prisoners whose Defense Department files contain factual mistakes. “What it demonstrates is that for years the U.S. claimed Chekkouri was a dangerous man with connections to Osama bin Laden,” said Andy Worthington, an investigative journalist and expert on Guantánamo. “Yet when subjected to scrutiny, these allegations against him evaporated completely. A host of allegations by demonstrably unreliable witnesses have been used by the U.S. in the past to justify the continuing imprisonment of prisoners without any credible basis for their imprisonment.”

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    For updates on the trial today, follow Cori Crider on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cori_crider

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Cori wrote, six hours ago:

    So Younous wasn’t charged today but also wasn’t freed. Judge wants report re US letter. We’ve a window for justice but sad he’s in prison.

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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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