Former Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri Illegally Imprisoned in Morocco; As Murat Kurnaz Calls for His Release, Please Ask John Kerry to Act

3.1.16

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco on September 16, 2015 but imprisoned ever since (Photo collage by Reprieve).

Please write to John Kerry!

Three and a half months ago, in September 2015, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan national held at Guantánamo for nearly 14 years, was repatriated. As his lawyers, at the London-based legal charity Reprieve noted, 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, and yet it took another six years to secure his release.

Significantly, his return to Morocco — where he had previously feared being repatriated because of human rights concerns — only took place because the US authorities were told that the Moroccan government accepted that there was no case against Younous.

However, on his return, as I noted at the time, he was imprisoned. I followed up on that story in October, in two articles, “Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless?” and “Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011,” and again in November, when  his wife Abla wrote an article for Newsweek, in which she asked John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, to intervene. “Secretary Kerry, I am asking one thing of you,” she wrote. “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.”

Below is an article about Younous written by a friend of his from Guantánamo — Murat Kurnaz, the prison’s only German prisoner, who was freed in August 2006 — which was published by the Guardian on December 30. The two men did not know each other before they ended up in US custody — Murat Kurnaz was kidnapped from a bus in Pakistan, while Younous Chekkouri was working in Afghanistan when he was seized. As Murat notes, however, “You can make friends in even the most difficult of circumstances.” Younous, it turned out, spoke to him in German after both men ended up in US custody in the brutal US prison in Kandahar in late 2001, because he has an uncle who lives in Germany, and he told Murat he “had learned some German as a young boy in Morocco.”

Murat also notes how Younous’s lawyers told him that the Moroccan authorities had “agreed that Younous would not be charged with any crime upon his arrival there and that he would not be detained in Morocco for longer than 72 hours,” assurances that turned out to be “completely worthless.” He also contrasted the circumstances of Younous’s return with those of the British resident Shaker Aamer and the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, also released recently, who were both freed outright on their return.

Please visit this page on Reprieve’s website where supporters can email John Kerry to ask him, as Younous’s wife did, to help free Younous.

As Reprieve note, “Younous endured 14 years of wrongful imprisonment in Guantánamo. The injustice he has suffered must end now — the US government has admitted it had no basis for his detention in Guantánamo, and the State Department must not allow the Moroccan government to flout its assurances. Email US Secretary of State John Kerry — ask him to make sure the Moroccan authorities live up to their promise and release Younous to his family without delay.”

Murat Kurnaz in November 2014, when he gave testimony to the United Nations.My friend was released from Guantánamo Bay — only to be locked up again
By Murat Kurnaz, The Guardian, December 30, 2015

Younous Chekkouri found himself behind bars in Morocco immediately after being released by US officials, despite assurances that he would be free

You can make friends in even the most difficult of circumstances. Younous Chekkouri and I were both brought to the US prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, after 9/11 and were both moved to Guantánamo together in January 2002. Despite the horrific conditions, the torture and the constant humiliation, Younous and I became friends.

It was 14 years ago now since Younous, then a young man, turned to me and spoke in German in Kandahar. It surprised me because he was Moroccan, but he told me he had learned some German as a young boy in Morocco. I remember Younous as an extremely friendly man. He had a reserved and calm manner.

In 2010, the US administration decided that Younous did not pose any threat to the US — or to any of its allies. Six US federal agencies unanimously cleared him for release. But he has not spent one day in freedom since.

For the past 14 years, time has stopped for him. I can barely believe that he must now be 47 years old. When I first got to know him he was in his early 30s. For 14 years, Younous, an innocent man, languished in Guantánamo Bay. On 16 September, he was finally released from that hellhole of a prison — when I heard, I was so relieved. Finally my friend would join me in freedom. But it didn’t turn out that way. Upon his arrival in Morocco, Younous was detained and the Moroccan authorities have still not set him free.

I learned from Younous’s lawyers at the international human rights organization Reprieve, that the US claimed to have successfully negotiated diplomatic assurances with the Moroccans. They had allegedly agreed that Younous would not be charged with any crime upon his arrival there and that he would not be detained in Morocco for longer than 72 hours. These assurances were apparently completely worthless. Younous has been behind bars in a Moroccan prison for over 72 days [note: currently 109 days].

Recently, Barack Obama has promised to present a plan to close Guantánamo once and for all. It has been nine years since I was finally released. I can now spend time with my family and lead a quiet life. But Younous is still in prison, locked away from his wife, his brother, from any semblance of freedom. His cell in Guantánamo has just been exchanged for one in Morocco.

Why would the Moroccans want to keep this man in prison? And what is the United States doing to enforce their agreement with them?

In these past few months, several detainees were sent back to their home countries. Shaker Aamer, for example, was released to the UK where he received immediate medical attention and was warmly welcomed by many people, including by many members of parliament. Another man, Ahmed Abdelaziz, returned to Mauritania and the authorities said on the same day that there was no case against him and that he was a free man.

Shaker and Ahmed are both now back together with their families. As for me, I have my freedom back. I returned to Germany to a job, a life. It makes me sad to think of all these other cases and to compare them to the terrible situation Younous finds himself in.

For me it is not easy to suppress the images of Guantánamo. I am haunted by my own memories, the isolation cell, the food and sleep deprivation, the beatings, the daily humiliation and the brutality. And I keep thinking about the men I met while I was in that place.

Younous’s family are so worried about him. They want nothing more than to have him back home. Younous would often speak to me about his family, especially his wife Abla. In September, she thought that Younous was finally coming home to her. Now her hopes have been crushed.

No one can change what happened to Younous and his family over the last 14 years. But a better future is still possible for them. I can now live a normal life in Germany, despite the fact I cannot and will not forget what happened to me. The same is possible for Younous.

Mr Obama must stand up to his promise to my friend and make sure that Younous finally walks free. I appeal to Mr Obama not let this important moment pass. He must speak to the Moroccan authorities and hold them to their word. It is not too late.

I wish my dear friend Younous the physical and spiritual strength to persevere despite his ongoing hardship. I hope that he, too, will have the chance of a new beginning.

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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10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s a New Year update on the plight of Younous Chekkouri, a former prisoner at ‪Guantanamo‬, unanimously cleared for release by the US in 2009, who, nevertheless, has been imprisoned since his return to Morocco in September. Here his friend (and former prisoner) Murat Kurnaz writes about him, and there’s a link to Reprieve’s page asking supporters to write to John Kerry to ask him to demand that the Moroccan authorities release him. Please share! Let’s get Younous freed!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:

    1st WE imprison and abuse this guy at GTMO – he finally gets released after being cleared by the US – only to be imprisoned by Morocco after we send him there.
    WTF?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. Yes, and the core of it – worthless diplomatic assurances. I tend to believe the US trusted Morocco, but why should Morocco care? Look at its human rights history. Poor Younous spent years insisting that he shouldn’t be repatriated.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    The same holds true for those repatriated to Algeria, Saudi Arabia and other nations we “trust”. Note how long it took to “trust” the UK?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, nearly 14 years to “trust” the UK on Shaker Aamer, Jan. And yes, you’re right also to mention Algeria, which has such a poor history when it comes to human rights and transparency, and, of course, Saudi Arabia. A former prisoner once told me that released Saudis were regularly hassled by the security services, and sometimes arbitrarily imprisoned, but you never hear mention of that as a factor in the creation of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, just as you never hear that AQAP was also inspired by US bombing raids on Yemen – long before the current Saudi-led bombing and the previous drone attacks on al-Awlaki and others – which caused horrible civilian casualties.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Sven Wraight wrote:

    A shame we have to get John Kerry to lean on Morocco rather than asking it directly to play nicely.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Sven, but I think that shows us how regimes like the unaccountable Kingdom of Morocco don’t really care what we think, unfortunately. Not that any of this would have happened in the first place without the US behaving like a completely unaccountable dictatorship post-9/11 …

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Francis Galloway wrote:

    Signed

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mary!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Bad news from Reprieve: “At a hearing today in Rabat – where former prisoner Younous Chekkouri has been held since his transfer out of Guantanamo in September 2015 – the judge postponed the court proceedings, and extended Younous’ detention for a fourth time, setting a new hearing date of January 26th.”
    Reprieve’s lawyers still haven’t been allowed to meet him.
    See: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/press/x-gitmo-prisoner-to-remain-in-moroccan-jail-despite-assurances/

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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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