Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri Finally Freed in Morocco After 149 Days’ Imprisonment; Thanks Supporters

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco on September 16, 2015 but then imprisoned for 149 days by the Moroccan government (Photo collage by Reprieve).Great news from the legal organization Reprieve, whose lawyers represent men held at Guantánamo Bay, as one of their clients, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), has finally been freed to be reunited with his family, 149 days after he was flown home to Morocco from Guantánamo. Younous was imprisoned on his arrival, despite assurances, made to the US by the Moroccan government, that he would be held no more than 72 hours, and it has taken until now for him to finally be granted the freedom that has eluded him since he was first seized in Afghanistan over 14 years ago.

Six years before his release, Younous was approved for release by President Obama’s high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and in 2010, during habeas corpus proceedings, the US government admitted, as Reprieve described it this evening in a press release, that “their central allegation against him — believed to be the reason for his detention in Morocco — was based on unreliable information extracted primarily through torture.” That information related to his alleged membership in a terrorist organisation, a claim that, it is clear, was absolutely groundless. In October last year, while Younous was imprisoned in Morocco, the US Department of Justice “released a letter publicly conceding this point,” as Reprieve put it, and as I also discussed in an article at the time, Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011.

My other articles following Younous’s release from Guantánamo, discussing his disgraceful imprisonment in Morocco, were Fears for Guantánamo Prisoner Released in Morocco But Held Incommunicado in a Secret Location (immediately after his release), Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless? (in October), Moroccan Released from Guantánamo Facing Kangaroo Court Trial Back Home As Wife Says She Is “Still Living a Nightmare” (in November), and, last month, Former Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri Illegally Imprisoned in Morocco; As Murat Kurnaz Calls for His Release, Please Ask John Kerry to Act, in which, as noted in the title, I helped promote an email campaign launched by Reprieve, asking the US Secretary of State John Kerry to keep up the pressure on the Moroccan government. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Complain About Slow Progress of Periodic Review Boards

Guantanamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov, who us one of 36 men eligible for Periodic Review Boards, but who have not yet been given a date when their reviews will take place. This photo is of Ravil with his family, in a photo taken before his capture.Yesterday I published an article about the most recent Periodic Review Board to take place at Guantánamo, and I was reminded of how I’ve overlooked a couple of interesting articles about the PRBs published in the Guardian over the last six weeks.

When it comes to President Obama’s intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office next January, the most crucial focus for his administration needs to be the Periodic Review Boards, featuring representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff, as I have been highlighting through the recently launched Countdown to Close Guantánamo. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and ten are undergoing trials (or have already been through the trial process), leaving 47 others in a disturbing limbo.

Half these men were, alarmingly, described as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo, Given New Homes in Oman; Now 93 Men Remain

Fahd Ghazy, photographed before his capture and his rendition to Guantanamo.As the disgraceful US prison at Guantánamo Bay begins its 15th year of operations, President Obama has been busy attempting to show that, with just one year left in office, he is determined to close the prison, as he promised to do on his second day in office back in January 2009, when he promised to close it within a year. Last month, we heard that 17 men would be released in January, and the releases began just days before the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison with the release of two Yemenis in Ghana and the return to Kuwait of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison. On the actual anniversary, a Saudi was returned home, and two days after the anniversary ten more Yemenis were released in Oman, Yemen’s neighbor, to add to the ten Yemenis sent to Oman last year.

David Remes, who represents three of the men sent to Oman, said it was “a particularly good fit for them,” as the New York Times described it. “I’m sure that they are ecstatic just leaving Guantánamo,” he said. “But it’s even better than that. They’ve been sent to Oman, an Arab country, whose language, culture and religion are their own. Oman is also one of Yemen’s neighbors, so their families will be able to visit them often.”

Three more releases — of unidentified prisoners to unidentified countries — are expected soon, and, after the release of the ten men to Oman, Lee Wolosky, the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure in the State Department, said, “We expect to be in a position to empty Guantánamo of all detainees who are currently approved for transfer by this summer.” Including the three men who are expected to be freed soon, Wolosky’s description currently applies to 34 of the 93 men still held  — 25 since January 2010, who were approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and nine in the last two years, by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Responses to Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo – from MPs, and a Poignant and Powerful Article by Cori Crider of Reprieve

A birthday card is delivered to 10 Downing Street for Shaker Aamer's birthday on December 21, 2014, by MPs and other supporters. From L to R: Andy Worthington, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP and John Leech MP (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Since Shaker Aamer returned to the UK from Guantánamo last Friday, much has been written — most of it, I’m glad to say, positive about a man so evidently wronged; held for nearly 14 years without charge or trial, and approved for release twice, under George W. Bush in 2007, and Barack Obama in 2009.

When Shaker returned — in part, I’m prepared to accept, because of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I conceived and ran with Joanne MacInnes — I wrote an article that was widely liked and shared and commented on, publicized the gracious comment Shaker made on his return, posted a photo of myself holding a “Welcome Home Shaker” card that reached over 20,000 people, and made a number of TV and radio appearances during a brief media frenzy that coincided with the long-overdue news of Shaker’s release.

It was so busy that I haven’t had time to thank the supporters who made such a big difference — John McDonnell MP, the Shadow Chancellor, who set up the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group and was its co-chair, the Conservative MP David Davis, the other co-chair, and his colleague Andrew Mitchell, Jeremy Corbyn (now the Leader of the Labour Party), and Andy Slaughter (the Labour MP for Hammersmith), who, with David Davis, visited Washington D.C. in May to call for Shaker’s release. Also noteworthy for her contribution over many years is Caroline Lucas, our sole Green MP. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mauritanian, Cleared for Release Since 2009, Finally Repatriated from Guantánamo

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, in a screenshot from a video taken in Mauritania after his release from Guantanamo after over 13 years of imprisonment without charge or trial.The news about the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has been so all-consuming that I’ve had no time to report about another prisoner release last week — of Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, a Mauritanian who, like 41 other men still held, was approved for release six years ago by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

112 men are still held at Guantánamo, and 12 other men have been approved for release since January 2014 by Periodic Review Boards, making 53 men altogether who have been approved for release but are still held.

Ahmed, 45, is a cultured man, seized by mistake in a house raid in Pakistan over 13 years ago, who wanted only to be reunited with his family. As three of his lawyers, John Holland, Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman, stated in an article for Close Guantánamo, the website I co-founded with the US lawyer Tom Wilner, in June 2013: Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer, Freed from Guantánamo, Is Reunited With His Family

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers welcome Shaker Aamer back home from Guantanamo.Now that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the US prison at Guantánamo, is back home in the UK, we are beginning to hear some information about his health, and his reunion with his family. Shaker arrived at Biggin Hill Airport on Friday and was then taken to a secret location — a clinic — for a medical evaluation after years of medical neglect in Guantánamo, where, on Saturday, he was reunited with his family, his wife and his four children, who are all British citizens. A Saudi by birth, Shaker was granted residency in the UK in 1996.

The Mail on Sunday had the first story of Shaker being reunited with his family, noting that, on Saturday, he “finally embraced the teenaged son he had never seen yesterday in a tearful meeting on his first full day of freedom in 14 years.” Faris, Shaker’s youngest child, was born on February 14, 2002, the day Shaker arrived at Guantánamo, and the meeting, as the MoS explained, “came at a London clinic” where Shaker, who has four children with his British wife, “is being treated for a catalogue of physical and psychological illnesses.” Faris was joined by Johina, who turned 18 last week, and Michael, 16, and Saif, 15.

The Mail on Sunday also explained that, as Shaker arrived back in the UK, “more details emerged about the arrangements being made for his new life — and his continuing fears for his safety.” The article stated that a “private London Hospital owned by an American firm — the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) — refused to treat him at the last minute,” that Shaker “was so worried about being poisoned by his American captors that he didn’t dare eat or drink anything during his private jet flight home,” and that a “£1 million compensation package has already been agreed with the UK government” after his long ordeal of nearly 14 years held without charge or trial and subjected to torture and abuse, and years of solitary confinement. Read the rest of this entry »

Keep Up the Fast For Shaker Aamer, As Foreign Office and State Department Say Release Delayed Until Late This Week or Early Next Week

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers ask, "Where is Shaker Aamer?" on the evening of October 27, 2015. From L to R: Richard Clare, Louis Sills-Clare, Bren Horstead and Andy Worthington.

Join the Fast For Shaker here!

After all the expectation that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, would be returned to the UK on Sunday, at the end of the 30-day notification period required by Congress (following the announcement on September 25 that he would be freed), it has been a disappointing few days, with only rumours and vague reassurances to indicate that his release is imminent.

Today, for example, the Daily Mail reported that Shaker “is expected to return to the UK within days” — adding that he is “due to leave the infamous camp later this week or early next according to sources in the UK and US.”

A source in Whitehall told the Mail, “He will be out within days. We’re working on the practical details of how it will happen.” Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith’s Fast For Shaker Aamer Hunger Strike Diary

Andy Worthington points out, to President Obama and David Cameron, that the 30-day notification period required by Congress before any Guantanamo prisoner can be released has now come to an end in Shaker Aamer's case, and he should immediately be returned to the UK. Today, October 25, was supposed to be the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was released and flown back to the UK to be reunited with his family, who he has not seen for over 14 years.

Shaker is still held, despite being approved for release eight years ago, under George W. Bush (and again under President Obama in January 2010), although campaigners for his release, his lawyers, and, of course, his family and Shaker himself, are hoping it will take place in the next couple of days.

Sustained campaigns — and significant pressure from MPs — finally led, a month ago, to a promise by President Obama that Shaker would be freed, and today is the end of the 30-day notification period demanded by Congress before any Guantánamo prisoner can be released.

And yet, Shaker is still not home — and, as the Mail on Sunday reported today, “The release of the last Briton held at notorious US detention centre Guantánamo Bay has been delayed. Shaker … saw his hopes of finally being reunited with his family this weekend dashed thanks to a political visit to the base … [T]he visit of three Republican senators, on a ‘fact-finding’ mission to the base, once again delayed his long-awaited flight to freedom.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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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