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France Decorates a Moroccan Facing Justice on Bastille Day: A Portrait of Abdellatif Hammouchi

[Abdellatif Hammouchi receives decoration from the Spanish government. Image from screenshot of Moroccan state channel, Al Oula.] [Abdellatif Hammouchi receives decoration from the Spanish government. Image from screenshot of Moroccan state channel, Al Oula.]

Despite objections from human rights organizations in Morocco and France, on 23 June 2015, the National French Assembly adopted a bill that requires judges to refer legal complaints regarding criminal acts committed in Morocco to Moroccan justice. This would also include cases in which French citizens were subjected to acts of torture. The Senate will ratify this decision on 15 July 2015. This ratification comes a little over a year after the French justice system began raising questions about the head of Morocco's intelligence services, Abdellatif Hammouchi, for whom strong suspicions of complicity in torture did little to impede his rapid rise through the ranks. Controversy surrounding one of the most powerful officials in the kingdom emerges once again, who is due to receive the Legion of Honor on 14 July 2015, Bastille Day.

He should be the most secret figure in the kingdom but he has contrarily become the most mediatized official. His cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies (namely the French) in the fight against terrorism saw its beginnings nearly ten years ago with both discretion and appeasement. He has now become one of the most powerful figures, among the most cited in the media, as well as one of the most controversial. Abdellatif Hammouchi, forty-nine years old, has not only been the head of Morocco's intelligence agency (Direction de la sécurité du territoire, DST) for ten years, but he was just also recently named director of Morocco's entire police force. Hammouchi is, without a doubt, the most informed figure in Morocco and reports directly to the monarch, even if the matter administratively falls under the Ministry of Interior.

Born in 1966 in Taza, northeastern Morocco, media sources close to the regime describe him as a director who is "competent," "pious," "hard-working," and "discreet."[1] Hammouchi completed his studies in the University of Fes, one of the last bastions of the student left, where confrontations between Islamists and Marxist-Lenininsts were very frequent. After receiving his bachelor's degree in law in 1991, Abdellatif Hammouchi joined the Ministry of Interior--which, at the time, was under the leadership of Driss Basri (1938-2007), the powerful Minister of State under Hassan II (1929-1999). It was under the effective mentorship of the Direction de la sécurité du territoire (DST) that the young Hammouchi took his first steps in the intelligence services. The beginning of the 1990s was marked, on the one side, by the emergence and proliferation of Islamist movements, and, on the other side, by the decline of Communist ideology following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The evolution of Islamism, which took place in Morocco, just as elsewhere in the region, was one of the topics Abdellatif Hammouchi was initially inclined toward during his first years at the DST. The quantitative data and information Hammouchi had access to likely allowed him to monitor these movements, decipher their actions, and analyze their most significant changes. 

Collaboration with the CIA 

After the death of Hassan II, a period of "deBasrization" in the Ministry of Interior was one of the main priorities for the officials under the new king. The goal? Detaching the DST from the Ministry of Interior so that it may acquire autonomy under the leadership of a military official, General Hamidou Laanigri, who King Mohammed VI appointed only three months after his accession to the throne. A small team of young collaborators, among which included Hammouchi, comprised the entourage surrounding Laanigri. 

After the attacks of 11 September 2011 in New York, the CIA noticed that there existed connections between certain detainees in Guantanamo and the Moroccans who spent varying amounts of time in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Morocco quickly became one of the United States' "partners" in their "war against terrorism." The "missions" at Guantanamo were carried out by Laanigri just as they were carried out by his agents in order to proceed to more strong-armed interrogations of Moroccan detainees. Later, during the end of 2002, torture was also "delocalized" to Morocco, and became a systematic practice for the DST in a secret detention center in Temara, near Rabat.

In 2003, terrorism hit Morocco: fourteen suicide bombers aged between twenty and twenty-five committed massive carnage on 16 May 2003 in Casablanca, Morocco's economic nerve. Forty-five were killed and nearly a hundred were injured. 

A few days after the attack, Laanigri was brutally sacked and replaced by Ahmed Harrari--who, at the time, was the DST's regional head in Casablanca. But Harrari's tenure at the head of the DST was short-lived. In 2005, Abdellatif Hammouchi was named, at thirty-nine years old, director of what would become the Direction générale de la surveillance du territoire (DGST). 

The arrival of this young jurist, however, did not raise any doubts about the use of torture. On the contrary, testimonies affirming mistreatment at the secret detention center in Temara between 2006 and 2010 multiplied. In October 2010, a Human Rights Watch report delved into the details surrounding the conditions of secret detention facilities in Morocco and the ways in which they operate outside the law, implicating agents in the Direction générale de la surveillance du territoire for their role in kidnapping prisoners. 

Two years later in September 2012, it was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, who confirmed these allegations. He expressed his "deep concerns over several testimonies relating to torture and mistreatment in cases of alleged terrorism or threats against national security...In such circumstances, torture and systematic mistreatment during detention and arrest could be lifted."

But despite these accusations, Abdellatif Hammouchi managed to preserve discretion, the assumed secret character of the status, and nature of his position. He is certainly one of the most informed officials in Morocco but will no longer remain the most "secret official" after a certain day in the spring of 2014.

The Socialist Government's Surrender

In front of the Moroccan ambassador's residence in France, in the opulent neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine, four French police officers presented themselves on 20 February 2014 to communicate a French court's request for a hearing with Abdellatif Hammouchi, acting under the principle of universal jurisdiction. [2] Four French-Moroccans filed complaints for complicity in torture and failure to help a person in danger, among whom included Zakaria Moumni. Moumni, thirty-five years old, is a former world champion in light contact kick-boxing and claims to have been tortured in 2010 for four days in Temara. He also claims to have formally recognized Hammouchi as one of the torturers. The head of the DST joins the list of Moroccan regime dignitaries facing French justice, including the current head of the Royal Gendarmerie, General Hosni Benslimane, and the former director of the Direction générale des études et de la documentation (DGED), General Abdelhak Kadiri, two figures suspected of being implicated in the kidnapping and disappearance of Moroccan opposition figure Mehdi Ben Barka in Paris during 1965. For King Mohammed VI, it is one of the pillars of the security system that is covered well under the French judiciary. Perfectly fluid, the relations between the Moroccan monarchy and the various French governments have a strength that transcends the right-left political divide

Reacting to the "incident of Neuilly," Morocco froze judicial cooperation with France, forcing Manuel Valls' government to draft a hasty and controversial bill: French judges will now be forced to refer complaints about crimes committed in Morocco by Moroccans to the Moroccan justice system, even when the victims are French and suffered crimes of torture. An article on Le Monde highlights the dangers of such a bill, stating that: "By signing this protocol with Morocco, France sacrifices some of its sovereignty, independence of its judiciary, and fundamental rights of its citizens. It is all the more important to reject this text that will set a precedent. If adopted, soon enough, other countries will start demanding similar agreements, warn lawyers." Beyond the case of Hammouchi are several victims of torture in Morocco who will bear the brunt of this procedural lock, which Moroccan authorities skillfully negotiated. 

Despite protests from human rights organizations in France and Morocco, the National Assembly adopted the bill. But the "worst is done," highlights a high-ranking Moroccan official. "The law in France is not retroactive and adoption of this bill does not erase the incident of Neuilly. Additionally, the French justice system, can, at any moment and if informed of Hammouchi's presence on French soil, can convoke him again." On 14 July 2015, the director of Morocco's police force will be decorated with the Legion of Honor. Another gesture demonstrating France's submission vis-a-vis its former colony. Will Hammouchi go to Paris on July, or will he be content with receiving the French ambassador in France? The response will come to light soon enough.

[This article was originally published in French on OrientXXI.]


[1] "Reserved, pious, a family man, and workaholic...At forty-eight years old, Hammouchi cultivated, more than an ever, a discretion--that of his bureau in Temara and that of a life of a security official devoured by files," reads an article in Jeune Afrique from 24 February 2014

[2] Conventionally, a court's jurisdiction of a State with regard to a crime is limited o the principles of territoriality and personality; which means it can only be exercised if the crime was committed within the territory of that State or if the offender is one of its nationals. An exception, however, was made for the most serious crimes. The Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols have allowed for a universal jurisdiction of national courts with respect to serious violations of international humanitarian law. Any State party to these conventions has jurisdiction over any person allegedly guilty of serious crimes within its territory, regardless of the nationality of that person or place where the offense was committed. Definition from the Documentation française.

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