Former Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri’s First Interview Since Being Released from Prison in Morocco

Former Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri points at the Atlantic Ocean during an interview with the Associated Press (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar).Finally freed from prison in Morocco on February 11, 149 days after he was released from Guantánamo, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) spoke to the Associated Press last week on the terrace of a cafe in his hometown, Safi, with his younger brother Ridouane, who was freed from Guantánamo in 2004.

I have been covering Younous’s story for many years, as I recognized in my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, that he strenuously denied having had anything to do with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, whose philosophy he despised, and in the years that followed nothing deterred me from this opinion, as I found out that Younous was one of the best-behaved prisoners in Guantánamo, and was also a Sufi Muslim, “whose form of religion,” as the AP described it, accurately, “is viewed with suspicion by extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.” See my archive of articles about Younous here and here.

In its interview last week, the AP noted that, according to unclassified US military documents provided by Younous’s lawyers at the London-based legal organization Reprieve, and submitted to the US authorities as part of Younous’ habeas corpus proceedings, “he suffered serious abuse at the hands of the United States, in detention in Afghanistan,” part of which “involved threats made against his younger brother, Ridouane.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Chef Held at Guantánamo Calls Shaker Aamer a “Beautiful, Great Man” But Warns of Difficulties Adapting to Freedom

Ahmed Errachidi on a poster at a protest in Birmingham in September 2005, outside Hiatt's, the manufacturers of the shackles used in Guantanamo (photo via Indymedia).The Guardian, yesterday, featured former Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Errachidi speaking of his admiration for Shaker Aamer, the British resident released from the prison on October 30, but warning that it will be difficult for him to adapt to his freedom after nearly 14 years in US custody.

A Moroccan national and a chef, Errachidi, 49, had lived and worked in London for 18 years before he travelled to Pakistan and then Afghanistan in late 2001 in what appears to have been an ill-conceived combination of a business trip and a desire to aid the Afghan people. Seized and taken to Guantánamo, he was initially regarded as a significant prisoner. As Ben Quinn explained in an article for the Guardian, “he earned the nickname ‘The General’ by guards, after he was cast as the unofficial leader of more than 700 detainees — organising protests that included hunger strikes, a role he says occurred largely because he was one of the few English speakers.”

Oddly, Quinn failed to mention that Errachidi was bipolar, and suffered psychotic episodes at Guantánamo, sometimes during interrogations, and that it wasn’t until he was assigned Clive Stafford Smith as a lawyer that a claim that he was in a training camp was debunked, when Stafford Smith was able to secure the wage slips from a restaurant in Bond Street where Errachidi was actually working at the time. That was the key evidence that paved the way for his release in April 2007. Quinn also neglected to mention that, in 2013, his memoir, The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo, was published by Random House. 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 »

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

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless?

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco  on September 16, 2015 (Photo collage by Reprieve).I’ve been so busy with the news of the planned release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I have a few other stories to catch up on, one being the case of Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan who was repatriated on September 16, but is now imprisoned and awaiting a trial, in defiance of the diplomatic assurances agreed between the US and Moroccan governments prior to his release.

Immediately after his release, as I wrote about here, Younous was imprisoned incommunicado, in an unknown location. His brother was then allowed to speak to him, and he “said he sounded OK and in good spirits.” However, on September 20, AFP reported that “he was under investigation on suspicion of terror-related offences and would appear before a public prosecutor,” noting 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 [September 21].”

By September 21, he had has been “placed in ‘provisional detention’ in Morocco’s notorious Salé prison without bail.” He had been allowed to meet with a local lawyer, but the news was not good. Reprieve noted that he was “facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempts to disrupt the security of the country,’” which Cori Crider, his lawyer in London, described as “utterly baseless.” Read the rest of this entry »

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

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama to Release Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Including Shaker Aamer, Says Washington Post

Shaker Aamer's sons outside the Houses of Parliament on March 17, 2015, before a Parliamentary debate about his father's case (Photo: Andy Worthington).The media is suddenly buzzing with the suggestion, first aired in the Washington Post, that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.

Realistically, however, it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.

It is certainly true that the release of prisoners is likely to resume soon, with willingness on the part of the administration, and with the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, imminently to be presented with a number of cases to sign off on. According to US law, implemented in the last few years, Congress must be notified of intended releases 30 days before they happen, but this is not a process that involves significant roadblocks. Read the rest of this entry »

A Love Letter from Guantánamo

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner, where it was published as “Younus Chekhouri’s Love Letter to His Wife from Guantánamo.” Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), who will be 46 in May, is one of the last two Moroccan prisoners in Guantánamo, and his story has fascinated me ever since I began researching the prisoners’ stories for my book The Guantánamo Files back in 2006.

In Guantánamo, Younus has always maintained that, in the mid-1990s, he traveled to Pakistan with his Algerian wife Abla, in search of work and education, and then spent time in Yemen and Syria. In 2001, the couple moved to Afghanistan, where they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants. After the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion, Younus sent Abla to safety in Pakistan, but was himself captured and sold to US forces.

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.” 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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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