Freedom still eludes Moroccan held 13 years in Guantánamo

A former prisoner at Guantánamo Bay has been held for more than six weeks without formal charges in Morocco despite what his lawyers say were U.S. government assurances that he would be quickly released upon his return home.

Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri, who spent 13 years in Guantánamo without being charged, is expected to appear Wednesday before a Moroccan judge.

His release from Guantánamo was part of a renewed push by President Barack Obama to make good on his pledge to close the detention center by releasing prisoners deemed to pose no threat.

But his continued detention in Morocco has devastated his family and angered rights activists, who see it as a betrayal. Chekkouri’s family says they have been in contact with him since he was jailed just outside of Rabat shortly after his return in September, but have not been given any information about why he is being held.

It is as if he is in Guantánamo again.

Ridouane Chekkouri, brother of detainee repatriated to prison

“It is as if he is in Guantánamo again,” said Ridouane Chekkouri, a brother who was also held at the U.S. base in Cuba and released in 2004.

The immediate jailing of Younis Chekkouri for this length of time upon arrival in his homeland is unusual. Shaker Aamer, a defiant spokesman for fellow Guantáamo prisoners who was sent to Britain on Friday, and Ahmed Abdel Aziz, who returned to native Mauritania two days earlier, were quickly reunited with their families.

“In Morocco, he went straight to prison,” Ridouane Chekkouri said.

Ridouane Chekkouri has sought to rebuild his life since his release from Guantánamo and distance himself from those memories. Now he just wants his brother’s freedom.

Cori Crider, a lawyer for Younis Chekkouri from the human rights group Reprieve, said she was given a “clear promise” by U.S. State Department officials that he would be held for no more than 72 hours and would not face prosecution. As a result, he didn’t fight being sent back to Morocco or seek resettlement elsewhere.

“If I had the slightest idea how lax State would be about keeping the promise and how unresponsive they would be about enforcing the assurances, I would probably not have advised him to take the deal,” Crider said.

Chekkouri, now 47, was captured by Pakistani authorities in December 2001 as he fled Afghanistan. He was turned over to the U.S., which sent him to Guantánamo to be held with other suspected militants.

He filed a court petition in the United States seeking his release that was opposed by the Justice Department, which alleged among other things that he had ties to with the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, or GICM. The group was designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization until 2013.

The Justice Department said in an Oct. 20 letter to Reprieve, which the human rights group turned over to the judge in Morocco, that it later dropped that allegation and “ultimately took no position on whether Mr. Chekkouri was affiliated with the GICM.”

The Moroccan judge said he needed time to consider the letter and scheduled a new hearing for Wednesday.

Ridouane Chekkouri, who speaks to his brother often, says his health has been deteriorating in custody. He didn’t elaborate.

“Fourteen years of imprisonment is enough,” he said.

Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.

The detainee’s attorney said U.S. diplomats gave a “clear promise” that he would be held for no more than 72 hours, would not face prosecution.