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U.S. Withholding Evidence That Could Free Former Guantanamo Prisoner Detained In Morocco

Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Younis Chekkouri was released last week and flown to Morocco, where authorities have detained him in one of the country’s most notorious prisons. He now urgently demands a United States federal court release documents proving his innocence, which the U.S. has withheld for the past four years.

Chekkouri, a Moroccan, was detained for 13 years, cleared for release in 2009 by President Barack Obama’s own review task force, and never faced any charges or trial.

When he was released, Chekkouri was “blindfolded, forced to wear ear-defenders, and had his arms shackled to his legs during the ten hour flight to Morocco,” according to Cori Crider, his attorney from Reprieve. The flight to Morocco “replicated the total sight and sound deprivation he experienced when he was first rendered to Guantanamo.”

Chekkouri is now detained at Salé, where torture methods like “rape using bottles, beatings, suspension by the knees in the “roast chicken” position, electric shocks, pulling out fingernails, and throwing cold water and urine on detainees, have allegedly been used. He faces the prospect of a trial, where allegations which already collapsed against him will likely be used.

In an emergency motion to the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit, attorneys from Reprieve request “urgent action” to ensure “exculpatory information that is on record” with the court is finally released. It is Chekkouri’s “only chance of avoiding torture and years more of prison based on false allegations.”

Chekkouri submitted a list and requested “swift declassification” of documents from his habeas case back in October 2011.

“In the 1,452 days that have elapsed since [Chekkouri] submitted this ‘priority declassification list,’  the government has processed a total of one pleading. It is safe to say that at current rates the government will only comply with its legal duty to declassify versions of these documents when global sea levels are rather higher, and when [Chekkouri] has died of old age in a Moroccan cell after a lifetime of torture,” his attorneys declare.

Chekkouri’s attorneys maintain he did not have the “slightest inkling” the Moroccan authorities would detain and prosecute him upon return to Morocco. However, a past case of a Moroccan prisoner who was released from Guantanamo and then prosecuted is referenced in the emergency motion.

Said Boujaadia was released on April 30, 2008. Allegations nearly identical to those made against Chekkouri were made, and, according to attorneys, “In the subsequent trial, he had no meaningful access to any exculpatory evidence, and a Moroccan court sentenced Mr. Boujaadia to ten years imprisonment.”

Chekkouri’s situation is potentially worse because Boujaadia never had an opportunity to test allegations against him in a U.S. federal court. Chekkouri, on the other hand, pursued a habeas case. His attorneys maintain evidence they put forward “eviscerated every allegation” the U.S. tried to throw at Chekkouri.

The U.S. government faces a legal obligation to produce “publicly-releasable versions of filings” from all Guantanamo cases. Yet, someone like Chekkouri cannot cite the evidence brought against him to clear his name in his home country’s judicial system.

“There is something deeply un-American about a process where the government may level accusations against [Chekkouri] in public, and then insist that all ‘evidence’ that might refute this nonsense should remain secret,” attorneys conclude.

What has happened to Chekkouri in Morocco exemplifies the U.S. government’s failure to protect detainees once suspected of terrorist activities from torture when resettled or returned to their home countries.

In Chekkouri’s case, the Defense Department consulted with the State Department and other agencies and assumed the responsibility of transferring Chekkouri from Guantanamo.

As Human Rights Watch put it in 2005, “Although the reliability of assurances to protect against torture is central to determining whether a transfer is lawful, there is no provision for judicial review or other independent evaluation of assurances in any transfer effected by the U.S. government based on them. The executive branch essentially decides for itself whether its transfer of a person to the custody of another government is legal.”

In other words, the ordeal Chekkouri is experiencing now is not something for which the U.S. government can be held responsible. The Executive Branch exercises unfettered discretion with virtually no threat of judicial oversight.

Then, there is the fact that Morocco is one of at least 54 governments, which played a role in the CIA’s global rendition and secret detention program. Detainees like Binyam Mohamed suffered horrendous brutality in a Moroccan prison.

The emergency motion notes Mohamed endured a trauma that went on for two years. He was subject to physical and psychological torture, including mutilation of his genitals. He faced sleep and food deprivation. During this time, Mohamed was forced to name himself and others as individuals who were involved in plots against Americans.

For this treatment and their role in CIA renditions, Morocco has faced no accountability.

“Younis is now living a Groundhog Day from hell where he may face yet more years of wrongful imprisonment because the U.S. has failed to release information that I could use, this time in a Moroccan court, to prove his innocence yet again,” Crider stated. “So we are now forced to fight tooth and nail for information that should have been released years ago.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."