September 17, 2015 / 4:53 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. sends home Moroccan held in Guantanamo since 2002

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has sent back to his home country a Moroccan detainee held since 2002 without charges at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, making him the seventh confirmed release from the facility this year, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

The Pentagon said it released Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri from the Guantanamo facility in coordination with the Moroccan government and that 115 detainees remain at the detention camp.

The Obama administration is drafting a plan that would close the Guantanamo detention facility for foreign terrorism suspects, a priority for President Barack Obama since the beginning of his presidency, by transferring the prisoners to other countries or to prisons in the United States.

The plan is likely to face opposition in Congress, which already bans the transfer of detainees to the U.S. mainland.

Asked why 56 detainees who have been cleared for release but remain despite Obama's commitment to close the prison, White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday pointed to U.S. security precautions and congressional opposition to transfers.

"We've seen a number of obstacles erected by Congress intentionally to make this more difficult," Earnest told reporters.

A leaked 2008 Defense Department document posted online by the group WikiLeaks showed that Chekkouri is 47 years old, was sent to the Guantanamo facility in May 2002, was captured by Pakistani forces in December 2001 and was transferred to U.S. custody in January 2002.

The document stated, "If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law-abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would probably seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities."

Lawyers at the London-based human rights organization Reprieve said in a statement they are increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being of Chekkouri. The group, which represents him, said it learned that Chekkouri is in Morocco, but it has been "unable to meet or speak to him since the U.S. handed him to Moroccan authorities."

"He is being held in an unknown location, and has not been allowed so far to contact his local lawyer, in apparent violation of Moroccan law," the group said.

Reporting by Julia Edwards and Washington Newsroom; Editing by Will Dunham and Eric Walsh

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