Sunday, October 29, 2006

Government ‘has will’ to scrap death penalty

Morocco has the political will to abolish the death penalty, which has not been applied since 1994, the country’s justice minister told a newspaper yesterday.

"We are ready to implement the change especially since the trend, at the international level, is towards abolition," Mohamed Bouzoubaa told the pro-government newspaper Al Ittihad Al Ichtiraki.

He said there were two choices: "to cut drastically the number of articles in the penal code and the military justice code requiring the death penalty ... or to abolish it for good."

"The political, legal will and the courage exist around this (second) trend," he told the newspaper.

"In the space of 14 years Moroccan courts handed down 130 death sentences, and only three were carried out," he said without specifying the period in question.

"Over the past 12 years royal pardons have commuted 222 death sentences to life imprisonment."

Moroccan courts still pronounce death sentences but the last execution took place in 1994, that of a senior police officer sentenced for multiple rapes.

The abolition of the death penalty is one of the chief demands of Moroccan human rights groups

Saturday, October 28, 2006

CIA Tries to Suppress EU Opposition to Torture Flights

The CIA has allegedly tried to persuade Germany to quell opposition of the European Union over the CIA’s secret torture flights.

The Guardian newspaper wrote that the CIA offered to allow Germany access to one of its citizens, an al-Qaeda suspect kept in Morocco, in return for easing pressure from the European Union against CIA human rights abuses.

The intelligence report revealed by the Guardian described Morocco as a valuable partner in the fight against terrorism.

The Guardian wrote the terrorism suspect met German officials once in Morocco, but he was later transferred to Syria by a CIA torture plane.

The newspaper asserted Germany dropped a case against a Syrian agent upon demand of the Damascus administration in return for access to the German suspect.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Spain-Morocco undersea tunnel back on the agenda

Spain and Morocco have commissioned a new study on building a tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar -- which separates the two countries -- according to two experts quoted by El Pais newspaper.

Spanish public company SECEG and Moroccan counterpart SNED tasked a four-company consortium in September with drawing up plans for an undersea rail link between the two countries across the Strait.

Swiss specialist Giovanni Lombardi, the engineer behind the 17-kilometer (11-mile) Gothard Pass tunnel, told El Pais the blueprint being studied took as its basis a 1996 project which was later abandoned.

The mooted tunnel would be 38.7 kilometers long with 28 kilometers running some 400 meters (1,200 feet) under sea level.

It would not carry road traffic, only rail, owing to a perceived risk of accidents and ventilation difficulties, according to Lombardi.

The four companies involved in assessing the project -- Typsa of Spain, Morocco's Ingema, Geodata of Italy and Lombardi's eponymous engineering firm -- have a year to submit their plans under their SECEG-SNED remit.

Lombardi originally put the cost of the project at between 4 and 5 billion euros ($5.0-6.2 billion) 10 years ago, but he said that today inflation and compliance with new security norms would have to be taken into account for the new venture.

Angel Fernandez-Aller, engineer with Typsa, told El Pais a tunnel could be in operation by 2025, if both Madrid and Rabat showed sufficient political will.

10th Moroccan detainee transferred home from Guantanamo

U.S. authorities have returned a Moroccan detainee from Guantanamo Bay to his home country, but his whereabouts remain unknown, a Moroccan human rights group said Monday.

The tenth Moroccan detainee to be returned to home soil was released on Oct. 12, Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Chito Peppler said.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights identified the detainee as Younes Chekouri. It confirmed he had returned to this Muslim North African kingdom, but said there was no information on his whereabouts, or whether he might face prosecution here like some other returnees.

Peppler said by telephone that Chekouri had been placed in the custody of the Moroccan government on Oct. 12, but that he did not know what awaited him after his transfer home.

Moroccan Justice Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Of the nine Moroccan detainees released ahead of Chekouri, five have are free but charged with threatening state security, two have been conditionally released and one remains in custody.

"We demand that (former detainees) be free during their trials, and that they (the trials) be open," said Boujemaa Saadoune of the human rights group. Moroccan and international human rights organizations have leveled charges of torture against Moroccan authorities. They also allege that Morocco has taken part in CIA's program of extraordinary rendition — the U.S. transfer of foreign terror suspects to third countries without court approval.

Chekouri was arrested in Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. He had fled neighboring Afghanistan where U.S. authorities claim he helped found the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group and associated with al-Qaeda members.