Ex-Guantánamo inmate still in Morocco jail; hearing postponed

Younis Chekkouri was featured in a video animation of the hunger strike at the U.S. Navy base created by the Guardian newspaper in October 2013.
Younis Chekkouri was featured in a video animation of the hunger strike at the U.S. Navy base created by the Guardian newspaper in October 2013. Miami Herald screengrab

A former Guantánamo Bay inmate must spend another month in a Moroccan jail after a judge postponed a hearing Wednesday in his case.

Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri has been held for more than six weeks without formal charges. 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 has been jailed at Salé prison outside of Rabat since shortly after his return in September

Chekkouri appeared at a hearing Wednesday, but the judge postponed proceedings until Dec. 3, leaving Chekkouri in custody until then.

He was released as part of a renewed push by President Barack Obama to release Guantánamo prisoners deemed to pose no threat. Chekkouri’s lawyers say the U.S. government promised he would be quickly released upon his return home.

Chekkouri “saw a psychologist last week at the prison and honestly, his mental health situation is in a poor state,” said Khalil Idrissi, Chekkouri’s lawyer in Morocco. Idrissi cited his almost 14 years of imprisonment as a source of his poor health.

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 Guantánamo 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.

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.

While at the U.S. military prison, Chekkouri 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.”

Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.