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After Months In Moroccan Jail, Former Guantanamo Prisoner Finally Set Free

After months of pressure by Reprieve, an international human rights organization, former Guantánamo Bay prisoner Younous Chekkouri has finally been freed from a Moroccan jail, where he was detained immediately following his release from Guantánamo last September.

“I want to thank everyone who has helped me through these hard times, my lawyers, everyone in the United States and Europe and Morocco, who has stood by me and been my friend the whole time,” Chekkouri declared after his release. “I cannot believe I am free and will see my family soon. I am so happy. Thank you.”

His attorney, Cori Crider, stated, “It has been a years-long struggle to get Younous out to his family, but his new life starts today.”

“He is one of the kindest, gentlest souls I had the privilege to represent in my years going to Guantánamo, and I am so pleased he will spend tonight with his family. Reprieve looks forward to his being reunited with his beloved wife and Morocco closing this case, as the United States did long ago.”

Crider previously described what Chekkouri endured as a “Groundhog Day from hell.”

When he was released in September, according to Reprieve, he was “blindfolded, forced to wear ear-defenders, and had his arms shackled to his legs during the ten hour flight to Morocco.” The experience was nearly identical to his rendition to Guantánamo.

Chekkouri was detained at Guantánamo for 13 years. Like many of the prisoners, he survived torture and abuse. Despite being cleared for release by President Barack Obama’s review task force in 2009, it was more than six years before he was sent back to his home in Morocco.

Yet, when he arrived, the Moroccan government imprisoned him at a notorious facility known as 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.

The U.S. government had assured Chekkouri he would not be charged or detained when he arrived in Morocco. The government failed Chekkouri, or worse, they deceived him.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman questioned the Obama administration’s credibility during a secret court hearing last October.

“So then you got an answer [about the assurances] and it turns out not to be true. Morocco’s credibility is one thing. What about the credibility of the United States and the courts of the United States?”

Friedman insisted that the U.S. government could do something about this. He asserted that if an attorney had “walked in and said all of the evidence that the government is about to present to you comes from Morocco and the prosecutors from Morocco have dropped all that evidence, that would have an impact on me. And if somebody came in and said, and besides that, there was an agreement”—that would carry weight as well.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was in Morocco for an international judicial cooperation workshop in Rabat on November 5 of last year. Mustapha Ramid, Morocco’s justice minister, defended Chekkouri’s continued detention during Lynch’s visit and maintained the agreement with the U.S. had not included releasing him.

The Associated Press suggested Chekkouri was to be released after 72 hours of detention. Ramid reacted, “Where are you getting this information? This is wrong.”

“Did the Americans consult with us when they held him all this time?” Ramid said, referring to Chekkouri’s detention at Guantánamo. “They have their laws and matters, and we have our laws and our institutions.” (Lynch did not say a word in support of Chekkouri.)

Attorneys from Reprieve had to request “urgent action” from the D.C. Circuit Court in order to force the release of “exculpatory information” the U.S. had on record. Only after this action in September did the U.S. release a letter that made clear Chekkouri had never been the leader of a Moroccan terrorist orgnanization affiliated with al-Qaida.

Crider previously explained the core of the U.S. case against Chekkouri “was that he was a founder of this Moroccan group.”

The Obama administration was willing to look the other way and let Morocco pursue a prosecution against Chekkouri based on false allegations. It is because of the work of Reprieve that a former Guantánamo prisoner has been saved from another lengthy stint in an abusive prison facility.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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