US government publicly concedes case against ex-Gitmo prisoner collapsed in 2011

October 21, 2015

On the eve of a hearing in Morocco that will determine whether ex-Guantánamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri is to be set free, the US government has released a letter admitting that the central allegation against him in the US was withdrawn in 2011.

Younous Chekkouri was held without charge or trial in Guantanamo for 14 years before being transferred to his native Morocco on September 16, 2015. 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. However, after his arrival in Morocco Mr Chekkouri was taken to Salé prison near Rabat, where he continues to be held in violation of the assurances.

At a court hearing tomorrow (22nd), the investigating magistrate will determine whether Mr Chekkouri should be set free. It is believed that the Moroccan authorities are detaining Mr Chekkouri on the basis of the same allegations that the US government has now withdrawn against him.

In a letter released today, the US Justice Department concedes that several years ago the US “withdrew all reliance” on “all evidence identifying Mr. Chekkouri with the group known as Group Islamique Combatant Maroc [sic] “GICM””. The concession – made during a US habeas case brought by Mr Chekkouri with the help of human rights organization Reprieve – confirms that the evidence used to make the allegation was unreliable. During those proceedings, Mr Chekkouri explained in federal court that the information resulted from a mixture of the torture of himself and other prisoners, as well as stories fabricated by informers within Guantánamo who concocted false stories on hundreds of other prisoners in order to win better treatment in the prison.

The letter has been released by the Justice Department as a partial summary of the US government position in the US case. While not a complete picture of the near-total collapse of the case against Younous in the US habeas process, the document 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.

Mr Chekkouri’s attorneys at Reprieve – who are in Morocco seeking to see Mr Chekkouri and defend him in court – have raised concerns that he now faces potential prosecution for long-disproven allegations that the United States withdrew years ago. The lawyers will urgently seek to provide the letter to the investigating magistrate and to Moroccan government officials.

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and US counsel for Mr Chekkouri, said:

“The US 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 self-same false allegation. The US 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.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization with offices in London and New York City. For more information, contact Reprieve’s press office: UK: alice [dot] gillham [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140 / US: katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064

2. The Department of Justice letter can be read here.