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U.S. Letter Exonerating Former Guantanamo Prisoner in Morocco May Not Save Him

The U.S. government has conceded a former Guantanamo prisoner, Younus Chekkouri, was never a leader of a Moroccan terrorist organization which is affiliated with al-Qaida. However, it may be too late to stop authorities in Morocco from charging him over the bogus allegations, which the U.S. used to justify detaining him for 14 years.

Chekkouri, a Moroccan, was released on September 16. He 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.”

Moroccan authorities detained him at Salé, one of the most notorious prisons in the country. Human rights organizations have called attention to torture methods allegedly used on prisoners such as “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.” [PDF]

According to Reprieve, a legal charity which has represented Chekkouri, “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.”

Those diplomatic assurances have been proven to be weak, and in the next 24 hours, Chekkouri will be brought into a Moroccan court for a hearing by an investigating magistrate, who will decide whether he should be charged with any crimes.

Weeks ago, Reprieve attorneys filed an emergency motion requesting “urgent action” by the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit to force the release of “exculpatory information that is on record.” Lawyers claimed it was Chekkouri’s “only chance of avoiding torture and years more of prison based on false allegations.”

The U.S. government opposed this motion but, about one day before the hearing with the investigating magistrate, released a letter to Reprieve attorneys:

“In connection with Mr. Younous Chekkouri’s upcoming hearing in Morocco, the United States Department of Justice wishes to confirm that, for various reasons, it withdrew reliance in Mr. Chekkouri’s habeas corpus proceedings on all evidence identifying Mr. Chekkouri with the organization known as Group Islamique Combatant Maroc (“GICM”) and ultimately took no position on whether Mr. Chekkouri was affiliated with GICM.”

 

Reprieve attorney Cori Crider declared, “The U.S. government hates to admit it made a mistake holding Younous Chekkouri for 14 years without charge on the basis of a false allegation, but that’s just what this letter means.”

“The core of their case against him for years was that he was a founder of this Moroccan group – and, as the government now admits, we knocked that falsehood back years ago. The tragedy is that Younous is now potentially going to be charged in a Moroccan process for the same false allegation,” Crider added. “The U.S. government has not done remotely enough to keep its promise to Mr. Chekkouri or to hold the Moroccan government to its promise. They must act now, and be sure Mr. Chekkouri is released tomorrow, before it is too late.”

According to Reprieve, this letter is “the only evidence relating to the habeas case that the Justice Department would agree to release to Mr. Chekkouri’s lawyers in time to enable his defense on the same spurious charges in Morocco.”

But, less than a day before the hearing, Reprieve attorneys were in Morocco to ensure this evidence made it into the hands of the investigating magistrate and found out the letter needed to be “authenticated” with a stamp.

The letter was sent to the U.S. Embassy in Morocco for authentication and translation. In spite of the fact that there have been weeks to prepare evidence such as this letter, the Justice Department informed attorneys the “bureaucratic process” might prevent the letter from being authenticated and translated for the hearing.

The allegations, which Chekkouri is likely to face in court, are described in a detainee assessment brief released by Chelsea Manning to WikiLeaks.

All of the information is false and was obtained through a combination of torture and fabrications by detainees, who agreed to act as informers.

Detainee co-founded the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (GICM) and served as the head of its Military Commission.1 He formerly oversaw GICM operations in Afghanistan (AF), Syria (SY), and Turkey (TU). Detainee is assessed to have been a close Usama Bin Laden (UBL) associate who played a central role in coordinating mutual support between the GICM and al-Qaida, to include providing GICM fighters to support al-Qaida combat operations in Afghanistan and terrorist attacks Europe. Detainee is assessed to have engaged in hostilities against US and Coalition forces as the GICM senior commander on the Bagram front lines and at Tora Bora, and was captured with other extremist fighters fleeing Tora Bora. Detainee ran the Moroccan Training Camp at the Derunta Training Complex and trained militant fighters in explosive detonators, chemical weapons, and military tactics at the Algerian Guesthouse in Jalalabad, AF, and at Derunta. Detainee has familial ties to the GICM and al-Qaida members, including former JTF-GTMO detainees who have attempted to reconstitute the GICM. Detainee is assessed to be a high risk to who is likely to reaffiliate with the al-Qaida network as a senior commander and resume hostilities upon release.

If any of it were true, Chekkouri would be a man worthy of prosecution in Morocco. But now, these allegations, which have long been discredited, will likely be used against Chekkouri again.

It is worth noting the letter to attorneys does not unequivocally state Chekkouri is innocent but that the Justice Department was unable to successfully pursue a case against him.

Should the allegations stick because the Moroccan authorities view them as credible, the U.S. government will bear responsibility for refusing to release records to Reprieve attorneys, which could be used to prove Chekkouri’s complete innocence.

In this May 12, 2008 photo, a phlebotomist's gloved hand inserts a needle into the arm of a blood donor. (Flickr / -taro)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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