Moroccan Released from Guantánamo Facing Kangaroo Court Trial Back Home As Wife Says She Is “Still Living a Nightmare”

5.11.15

Younus Chekhouri as a young man, before he was sent to Guantanamo (in 2002). What a disturbing farce. Seven weeks ago, on September 17, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan prisoner at Guantánamo, approved for release since 2009, was repatriated, but as I explained at the time, from the beginning there were fears that the diplomatic assurances agreed by the US with Morocco were being ignored, as Younous was imprisoned on his return. 47 years old, he left Morocco at the age of 22, living in Pakistan, Yemen and Syria, and ending up in Afghanistan, where he worked for a charity that helped young Moroccans, and lived with his wife Abla.

As his lawyers, at Reprieve, described it at the time, he was “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,” a decision that involved the conclusion that he “posed no threat whatsoever to either the US or its allies.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s strategic director and his lawyer, added, “There is no reason for the Moroccan authorities to prolong Younous’ detention after all he has suffered over 14 years.”

Nevertheless, three days after his return, AFP reported that Morocco’s prosecutor general had acknowledged that Younous had been detained, stating that he “was taken into custody” on his return, “was under investigation on suspicion of terror-related offences and would appear before a public prosecutor.”

As I explained in an article on October 7, Reprieve noted that he was “facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempts to disrupt the security of the country,’” which Cori Crider described as “utterly baseless.”

Speaking to the New York Times last Thursday, Crider said that, before Younous was transferred home, “State Department officials had conveyed to Reprieve that the Moroccan government had promised to release him within 72 hours and did not intend to charge him with a crime.”

Reprieve also explained how, “On March 12, 2015, the State Department indicated to Reprieve staff at a meeting that their officials had received the following specific assurances about Mr. Chekkouri: that he would not be detained in Morocco for longer than 72 hours; that Morocco had pledged that it had no intention to lodge charges against Petitioner; and that Morocco had heard and accepted the stated view of the State Department that there was no cause to charge Petitioner with an offense.”

In my October 7 article, I also noted how, “In a further effort to help Younous, Reprieve asked the District Court in Washington D.C. to provide them with unclassified information about Younous — for use in the court in Morocco — from his habeas corpus hearings, which appear to have been protracted and inconclusive, but which, as Reprieve described it in a court filing … ‘essentially eviscerated every allegation’ the government made against him.”

On October 21, as I explained in another article, the US government “publicly admitted that the information it drew on to describe [Younous] as a threat was profoundly unreliable, and that it ceased to accept it as reliable back in 2011.”

The US government’s concession came in a letter from the Justice Department, and Reprieve noted:

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.

The day after, however, a judge refused to release Younous, and stated that he wanted a report about the letter.

Yesterday, Reprieve confirmed that they “had submitted the DoJ letter to the Moroccan court ahead of today’s hearing,” but all the judge said was that “he would look at a ‘detailed interrogation’ of the facts, including testimony from several witnesses.”

Reprieve noted that the hearing coincided, uncomfortably for the US, with a visit to Rabat by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, visiting “for a US-sponsored summit on judicial cooperation and law enforcement.” According to a US government press release, Reprieve noted, “The joint US-Moroccan event … will see the US Justice and State Departments support a ‘regional workshop’ focused on ‘questions of […] mutual legal assistance.'”

Cori Crider write to Ms. Lynch asking her to “urgently intervene with Moroccan authorities, urging them to honor their prior assurances regarding Mr. Chekkouri.”

She added:

Reprieve understands the aim of your visit is to discuss judicial cooperation – but the United States cannot in good conscience continue to cooperate with an entity that does not respect its bilateral agreements with the US. In addition, cooperation on terrorism prosecutions is inadvisable when Mr. Chekkouri may shortly be charged based on long‐disavowed torture evidence from Guantánamo (or from the dungeons of Morocco itself). This is a critical opportunity for you to proactively affirm the principle of the rule of law.

During a meeting with the US Ambassador to Morocco, The Honorable Dwight Bush, earlier this month, I raised the issue of the violated assurances. If he viewed their violation and the potential prosecution of Mr Chekkouri as a problem he declined to offer any assistance. Your line attorneys at the DOJ Civil Division, however, are aware of their representations on these matters to the District Court throughout the habeas process, and that there is a pending matter in federal court concerning Mr. Chekkouri’s fate.

I hope to read very soon that Mr. Chekkouri has at last been reunited with his family, and that your presence signals an intention on the part of the United States government to put its full diplomatic and political weight into enforcing the diplomatic agreement. Having procured his agreement to go to Morocco, the US government has an ongoing ethical responsibility to Mr. Chekkouri.

In a comment after the hearing, Crider said:

Today’s postponement sadly means yet another month of unjust detention for Younous, an innocent man. The US Government itself has conceded that it had to pull the core of its case against Younous in the US, and yet he is facing trial for the selfsame nonsense. We will defend him robustly, but there is no need for him to go through this pointless exercise. The assurances should be kept and the charges should be dropped. How can the Justice Department propose closer links with its Moroccan ally unless Morocco actually honors its agreements with the United States? Attorney General Lynch and the rest of the Obama Administration ought to to keep the promise they made my client many months ago, and see to it that he is released to his family without delay.

This evening, there was a shocking update. As Reprieve explained in a press release entitled, “Morocco claims it ‘never gave assurances to US’ on treatment of former Gitmo prisoner,” Reprieve stated:

At a joint press conference today with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch — who is in Morocco for a summit on judicial cooperation — Morocco’s Justice Minister Mustafa Ramid denied that any assurances had been given. He told journalists: “It’s true that we negotiated with Washington to bring Chekkouri to Morocco but we never gave any assurances on his release.” Journalists attending the press conference were not permitted to ask Ms. Lynch questions, and she did not comment on the case. Reprieve wrote to Ms. Lynch this week asking her to raise Younous’ case urgently during her visit, but has yet to receive any response.

Commenting, Cori Crider said, “Someone is just not telling the truth here. Either US State Department officials misled me and my client about Morocco’s intentions when my client was in Guantánamo, or Moroccan officials have been making diplomatic promises freely and breaking them just as fast. Which is it? And if the State Department did tell Mr. Chekkouri the truth and the promises have been broken, why isn’t this being made a major issue in US-Moroccan relations now?”

While we await an answer, I’m cross-posting below a touching article Younous’s wife Abla wrote for Newsweek, which was published on November 3.

The US Has Consigned My Innocent Husband to a Moroccan Jail
By Abla Chekkouri, Newsweek, November 3, 2015

I fainted when I got the call that my husband, Younous Chekkouri, had finally left Guantánamo Bay: 14 years of worry, misery and loneliness. Our life together splintered. All that was going to end.

He was going home to Morocco. The U.S. government apparently had “diplomatic assurances” from the Moroccans guaranteeing his quick release and his freedom.

But now, a month and a half later, I am still living my nightmare. My husband is still in prison, and going before a judge November 4 to face possible charges. I can barely say it.

Those charges are based on the false information which was concocted out of the violent early days of Guantánamo interrogations, and then sent by the Americans to their Moroccan counterparts. The “diplomatic assurances” were supposed to correct that. Both governments were supposed to have agreed that the information was nonsense.

I want to ask Secretary of State John Kerry why he is allowing this to happen to Younous and me all over again.

He may not care about us, or about atoning for what the U.S. did to my husband. But how is President Obama ever going to close Guantánamo if these diplomatic assurances are shown to be worthless? How will America ever be able to deal with this prison in a way that upholds its values? How many cleared men like my husband will stay there for want of safe destinations to go?

I last spoke to Younous over a crackly phone line on August 25. He told me that he would be released soon. I told him I was terrified: So many awful things have been published about him, I just knew that people wouldn’t accept that he is innocent.

They should. In 2010, six U.S. agencies — including the CIA and FBI — looked at every detail in my husband’s file and all agreed he should be cleared for released. At the same time, when Younous’s lawyers managed to challenge the legality of his detention in a U.S. court, the government was forced to withdraw almost every allegation because it had no reliable evidence. But I know how these lies can stick.

Younous told me not to worry. He told me about the assurances from the Moroccan government. He wouldn’t be detained for more than 72 hours. He wouldn’t be charged. The Moroccans understood that all the allegations against him were false — based on nothing but torture and bribery of desperate prisoners during the early days of Guantánamo.

Three weeks later, I got a call from Younous’s family to let me know he had arrived in Morocco. They said he was being interrogated, and that we’d just have to wait until after the weekend of the Eid festival for him to be released.

I hated the thought of him being interrogated again. He has had 14 years of endless questions. I’ve lived through that too: 14 years of asking myself every day why this nightmare was happening, and what he and I could possibly have done to deserve it.

But 72 hours came and went. Silence in my house. The same silence there has been for the last 14 years. Waiting for his voice at the end of the line. Now nearly two months have gone by, and I’m still waiting. I won’t say this to him, but I don’t have much more strength.

The U.S. government’s secrecy is not helping. I am told that Younous’s lawyers cannot even present the Moroccan court with the defense evidence that was used by Reprieve in U.S. court. The U.S. government has classified that information, and is refusing to release it — even though it proves my husband’s innocence.

Many Americans think that the torture that took place in Guantánamo all those years ago is now in the past. I am not so lucky: It is my daily reality. I have lost 14 years of my life to that torture, and the false slurs it created against my husband.

If he was the man described in those allegations, why would I have married him? Do you think I would have spent 14 long years waiting for him?

Secretary Kerry, I am asking one thing of you. Hold the Moroccan government to its promises. Please get them to release my husband from prison. After 14 years of injustice, I just want this nightmare to end. I just want Younous back by my side.

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, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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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7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s an update on the case of Younous Chekkouri, repatriated from ‪Guantanamo‬ to Morocco seven weeks ago, with diplomatic assurances that he would not be imprisoned. He was immediately imprisoned, and faces charges based on discredited allegations from Guantanamo, even though the US has – reluctantly – acknowledged that it had no case against him. This sad betrayal of justice continues as you’re reading this. Also included: a cross-post of a moving recent article by his wife Abla.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    Horrible.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, isn’t it, Ruth? Very sad for Younous that he’s still unjustly imprisoned while the US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was, impotently, in Rabat at the same time.

  4. Carey Ostrer says...

    This is just terrible. They are lied to over and over again, it must be so hard to keep strong. They wont be torturing him will they?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Carey,
    Thanks for your concern. I would very much hope not, as I had been thinking primarily along the lines that the Moroccan government wanted to punish Younous, through a kangaroo court, with the unjust deprivation of his liberty, but Morocco does have a reputation for torture, of course. I think constant scrutiny, of the kind Reprieve is trying to create, is essential.
    I’ll ask if they think it would be useful for people to write to the Moroccan government.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Sven Wraight wrote:

    Morocco has shot itself in the foot by not only imprisoning the innocent, but by demonstrating that it’s word is meaningless.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Sven. Good to hear from you.

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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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