Looking back at Morocco’s last hundred years of history, one is struck by a fact: Moroccans have had to endure injustice and unfair treatment under the banner of the “country’s stability”. From 1912 on, the French and Spanish colonial authorities brutally deprived them from their most fundamental rights in order to prevent any aspiration to freedom.
Casablanca bombings, the day after FeaturedWritten by Arnaud Mafille Thursday, 24 May 2012
Nine years after Morocco experienced the deadliest attacks in its recent history, it has emerged that the country has played a central role in the Global War on terror. While the enthronization of a young king had given rise to much hope, those aspirations seem to have been written off by Morocco’s involvement in the gravest forms of mistreatment in the guise of counter-terrorism.
Eventually, the exiled King Mohammed V returned to his native country and Morocco recovered its political independence over most of its territory. This newly gained independence gave rise to many hopes for change; however another era of political oppression and repression, known as the years of lead, was then to come. Facing criticism and political unrest, the regime responded brutally by starting a vast campaign of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, unfair trial, torture and ill-treatments. Hence, thousands of religious opponents, political dissidents, Sahrawi separatists or random citizens perceived as a possible threat to the regime were subjected to grave abuses.
After a forty-year reign, Hassan II passed away and his son Mohammed VI was enthroned. Mohammed VI was perceived by many as a figure who would reform the country and put an end to the dark times of Morocco. For years, the Moroccan regime had vehemently denied the allegations made by victims.
However, very soon after he took the throne, the new king decided to establish an Arbitrary Commission on Compensation to decide on a limited list of cases. Following the footsteps of South Africa in her post-apartheid era and of the Argentinean National Commission for Forced Disappearances after the “dirty war”, Mohammed VI also created in 2003 the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (Instance Equité et Réconciliation) aiming at establishing the truth about the grave Human Rights abuses that occurred from 1956 to 1999. Sadly, we now know that meanwhile, behind closed doors, the Moroccan authorities were colluding with the American intelligence to organise the illegal rendition of men seized by the CIA, their arbitrary detention and torture.
En route to Guantanamo
It is now established that Morocco played a central role in the worldwide network of secret prisons developed by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. As early as 2002, Morocco can credibly said to have become a torture centre used by the US in their War on Terror.
BinyamMohamed, a British resident of Ethiopian descent, was kidnapped in Pakistan away from any battlefield and was subjected to the infamous CIA rendition program. He testified that he underwent his first rendition to Morocco on 21 July 2002. There, he says he was beaten up, sleep deprived and hanged by his wrists to the ceiling. At the peak of his torture, a razor blade was taken to his chest and genitals. Mohamed remembered:
'They took the scalpel... One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction.
'I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours.There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.”
A plethora of evidence exists to support Mohamed’s claim and the veracity of his narration has been widely acknowledged. In 2006, Dick Marty, Council of Europe rapporteur, noted that official flight records show that the known rendition plane, N379P, took off from Islamabad on 21 July 2002 and flew to Rabat, Morocco, hence confirming Mohamed’s allegations. Similarly, American Judge Kessler, ruling over the habeas corpus of a Guantananmo detainee in 2009, expressly stated that the “[US] government does not challenge or deny the accuracy of Binyam Mohamed’s story of brutal treatment.” Finally, in January 2012, the Crown prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police who were investigating in British complicity in Mohamed’s torture, concluded that there were sufficient evidence that “Mr Mohamed was held in Morocco for at least some time between July 2002 and early 2004.”
It has also emerged that so-called “high values detainees” now held at Guantanamo Bay have spent time in Moroccan “black sites”. Hence, Human Rights groups have raised serious allegations that AbuZubaydah was rendered to Lithuania after he arrived in Morocco in 2004. Likewise, in 2010, the CIA revealed the existence twovideo-tapes showing Ramzi bin al-Shibh being interrogated while he was held in a Moroccan ghost prison in 2002. In 2008, a majorsurvey on extraordinary rendition established that IbnSheikhallibi was also held in Morocco for some time. Inmates released from Abu Saleem prison after the downfall of Qaddhafi confirmed to Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes (former Guantanamo detainees and campaigners) that Ibn Sheikh had been tortured there. As a reminder, Ibn Sheikh confessed under torture that Saddam Hussein had links with Al Qaeda in the training and acquirement of biological and chemical weapons. This false confession was cited by the Bush Administration to the UN Security Council as ‘credible evidence’ and became a major justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In February 2002, a US Defense Intelligence Agency report conceded that the confession was a fabrication.
For those men, Morocco was “only” a stop-over. They would spend a few months there before being flown over to another secret prison to endure further torture. However, for some Moroccans abducted overseas, Morocco would be their final destination.
Home sweet home
Among them is AbuelKassimBritel, an Italian citizen who travelled to Pakistan in order to develop his translation activities, whose story is sadly incredible. He was first apprehended by Pakistani authorities in February 2002 and soon handed over to the US forces. During his custody in Pakistan Britel was savagely beaten with a cricket bat and was repeatedly hung by his wrists for significant periods. In May 2002, he was bound on a CIA plane to Morocco, and strapped on his back causing him excruciating pain. He was handed over to the Moroccan intelligence and immediately transferred to the infamous Temara secret prison. For over eight months, he was kept in solitary confinement and deprived of food and sleep without any access to the outside world. In February 2003, he was eventually released without any charge.
Still marked both psychologically and physically by the months of torture he had just been through, Britel sought to return to Italy. However, since he had been brought to Morocco illegally and secretly by a CIA plane, he had no evidence that he had ever entered the country. He then sought the help of the Italian embassy where he was ensured that he could return safely to Italy.
He attempted to cross the Moroccan border legally in May 2003. Unfortunately, what Britel feared occurred. Having no proof of his entry into Morocco and trying to leave the country just after the Casablanca attacks, he was taken back to Temara prison for four months where he suffered further mistreatment and eventually signed confessions he was not allowed to read. He was subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison. Britel was eventually released in April 2011 after his wife campaigned tirelessly for his freedom.
The impact of the War on terror on women is often untold. Of course, having a husband or a father locked away secretly, without charge or after an unfair trial has a devastating effect on their family life. But sometimes, wives and children of alleged terrorists are maliciously subjected to the very same techniques as it has happened in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, Aafia Siddiqui or AbdelHakim Belhadj.
Umm Adam, the widow of AbdelKarim Mejjatti, and her her 10 year-old son Ilyas stand among them. They were abducted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after a medical appointment in March 2003, she was placed in a CIA flight and rendered to Morocco after several months of detention. There, they were kept in solitary confinement, exposed to extreme heat and cold, sleep deprived and had only a very restricted access to toilets. Umm Adam also claimed she was psychologically pressurised, being told she was at risk of rape and made to believe she had contracted a cancer. They were not released from Temara secret prison until March 2004 after Ilyas attempted to commit suicide, overwhelmed by the unbearable conditions of detention. Almost ten years later, Ilyas, a French national, still bares the physical and psychological marks of his detention. Umm Adam said she sought the assistance of the French embassy for her son after their release but did not find the support she expected.
Europe, business as usual
The primary role of the American administration in torture, rendition and arbitrary detention is often pointed out. However, many European states have at least benefited from, if not directly participated in, those crimes. Dick Marty, rapporteur for the Council of Europe has extensively investigated the role played by European states in the CIA rendition program.
Likewise, Michael Scheuer, former CIA senior member once explained:
“I believe it to be dishonest on the part of the Europeans to criticize this operation [CIA rendition] that intensely because we have transmitted all information obtained concerning them during the interrogations to the Spanish, Italian, German, French and English services.”
Likewise, Human Rights Watch has highlighted in a 2010 report the European intelligence cooperation with countries that torture in general.
The dubious relationship between European intelligence services with their Moroccan counterparts seems confirmed by the accounts of several detainees.
In June2007, the defence of eight men accused of being the members of a GICM (Moroccan Islamic fighting Group) cell in France deplored that the investigation and arrest were triggered by the testimony of NourredineNafia in Morocco.
Nouredine Nafia is often presented as the head of GICM but the story behind his custody has been far less publicised. He left his country of birth in the late 80’s to join the Afghan struggle against the soviets. He was abducted in Nouakchott airport, Mauritania with his wife in November 2002. The couple were then rendered to Morocco and customarily taken to Temara prison where they disappeared for several months.
There, they alleged they were subjected to music torture, exposed to extreme heat and threaten with rape or to be shipped off to Guantanamo. Nafia also claimed he heard the screams of men being raped and electrocuted. Mrs Nafia eventually reached her nervous breaking point and lost her sanity while her husband was coerced to sign confessions he was not allowed to read. While he was still in secret detention, in May 2003, the Casablanca bombings took place. His wife was eventually released without charge and Nafia received a 20 year sentence on terrorism charges.
Another Moroccan detainee has directly accused Western intelligence of having facilitated his unlawful detention and torture. Mohamed Hajib, a German citizen, has become a sort of figure among Moroccan detainees after he managed to climb on the walls of Sale prison in Rabat and started to shout, complaining about the unbearable conditions of detention. In one of the several videos which were smuggled out, he addressed the camera in German and explained the circumstances which led to his 10-year sentence.
He travelled to Pakistan with Jammatul Tabligh, a very well-known Islamic missionary organisation. He was arrested upon his return by Pakistani agents and kept in custody for six months.
He was released without any charge and returned freely to Germany in February 2010. According to his account, he was approached by two intelligence officers (one of them introduced himself as Ramzy) who strongly advised him to fly directly to Morocco instead of returning to his German home town first. After taking their ‘advice’, as soon as his plane landed in Morocco, he was arrested by five men and taken to El Maarif Police Station where he was tortured. Hajib alleged in his video that Ramzy later called his mother to find out if he had indeed been arrested. He received a 10-year sentence for fighting against the American and Pakistani armies in Afghanistan even though no material evidence was produced. Hajib also accused the German authorities of having withheld a document issued by the Pakistani authorities, clearing him of any involvement in criminal, let alone terrorist activities.
A similar story was narrated by SaddekSbaa, a 24 year Moroccan who arrived in Netherlands at the age of five. In 2010, his residency was suddenly withdrawn as the secret services regarded him as a “threat for the national security”. He was then taken into custody in Vught prison, a former Nazi camp and kept under harsh conditions. Unable to bear them, he agreed to return voluntarily to Morocco where he was told he could challenge the decision, against the advice of his legal counsel. Upon his arrival, he was abducted by a group of people and taken to an unknown location. During his interrogation, Sbaa ensured he was questioned in details by Moroccan interrogators about events that happened in Netherlands and people living there, including individuals who were not of Moroccan descent. Moreover, during the interrogation, the Moroccan agents would constantly receive faxes written in French but with the logo of the Dutch IND and AIVD. After three days of torture and an attempted suicide, Sbaa signed false confessions.
A Moroccan 9/11?
If Morocco had already decided to take part into the systematic violation of fair treatment in the name of the war against terrorism before the Casablanca bombings, those events truly triggered abuses on a mass scale. There is indeed a “before” and an “after” 16 May 2003.
Just like the US adopted the Patriot Act after 9/11, Morocco adopted a new anti-terror law just a few days after the Casablanca attacks. Just like the American Patriot Act, this law was immediately rejected by all the Human Rights groups in Morocco and regarded as liberticidal.
Just like the CIA travelled the world to kidnap people right and left and detain them secretly and arbitrarily, the Moroccan special services arrested up to 11,000 persons in the aftermath of the suicide attacks. Most of the time, according to Human Rights organisations, they would do so in the most deprived neighbourhoods of the country, arresting people simply because they were bearded or wearing specific clothes.
Over a thousand persons were finally sentenced on terrorism charges while others never reappeared. Many of them still remain behind bars to this day complaining about their inhumane conditions of detention.
Ten years after the beginning of the war on Terror and nine years after the Casablanca bombings, many questions remain without answer about Morocco. However, there is no doubt that all those who seek truth and justice in the US, in Europe and in Morocco should start raising those questions until the abuses are stopped and the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.
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- Binyam Mohamed
- Abu Zubaydah
- Ramzi bin alShibh
- Aafia Siddiqui
- Dick Marty
- Patriot Act
- Michael Scheuer
- CIA rendition program
- 16 May 2003
- Mohammed VI
- Hassan II
- Abu el kassim Britel
- Abdel Hakim Belhadj
- Abdel Karin Mejjati
- Umm Adam
- Ibn Sheikh al libi
- Mohammed Hajib
- Nourredine Nafia
- Saddek Sbaa
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