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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RABAT408 2009-05-15 12:12 2010-12-20 21:09 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Rabat
DE RUEHRB #0408/01 1351235
P 151235Z MAY 09
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 07 RABAT 000408



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/15/2029
AND REFORM (C-NE9-00043)

REF: A. STATE 006210 (C-NE9-00043) (NOTAL)
B. 08 RABAT 0569 (NOTAL)

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i., Robert P. Jackson for reasons 1
.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S/NF) Summary: This cable responds to Ref A request for
information and provides a broader general update on
Morocco's prison situation and the now year-old Prison
Administration. Overcrowded and underfunded, Morocco's
prisons are in a difficult, but changing situation. They
have won increasing international interest, due in part to a
large number of Islamist prisoners, and the risk of
radicalization. The Government of Morocco (GOM) reported
that among the roughly 60,000 prisoners, more than 100
inmates died in 2008, which NGOs blamed on poor conditions.
Morocco's chief warden is Prison Administration
Delegate-General Moulay Hafid Benhachem, a former top cop for
the late King Hassan II. Benhachem has been in office a year
following a shakeup after a major breakout by radical
Islamist prisoners. He told us security was his first
priority and rehabilitation next. With King Mohammed VI's
support and a larger budget, Benhachem has improved security,
increased rations, and is embarking on an ambitious building
program, but problems persist. He is beginning to open to
international cooperation. The Justice Ministry is
redrafting the penal code to allow for parole and probation,
the most effective way to ease overcrowding, and has asked us
for help. The USG so far has provided only modest support to
a prison rights NGO. We have sought new funding, including
under a Defense Appropriations Act Section 1207, to aid the
Ministry of Justice, Prison Administration and organizations
involved in post-release re-entry, to reduce the risk that
former prisoners could become suicide bombers. End Summary.


2. (C) Overcrowded and underfunded, Morocco's prisons are in
a difficult but changing situation. They have been the locus
of increasing international interest, due in part to a large
number of Islamist prisoners, and the risk that the difficult
environment could foster violent tendencies post-release.
With a population of some 60,000, estimates in early 2008
suggested that prison budgets were barely one dollar per
prisoner per day. Prisoners must receive food from family
and friends if they are to eat at a reasonable standard.
Overcrowding can be severe, as shown in some photographs of
prisoners sleeping across the floor of a large cell, packed
like sardines, a condition uncommon, but which may still
exist in some facilities.

3. (C) During the &years of lead,8 the repressive era of
Hassan II, Moroccan prisons were often forbidding places,
isolated in the desert with unspeakable conditions and abuse
common. Later in Hassan II,s reign and under King Mohammed
VI, many of these symbols of repression have been closed;
some turned in to places of remembrance but cutting prison
capacity. Despite growth in the number of prisoners in
recent years, no new prisons have been built for years,
although that is now changing. Outside interest has
increased since a young Moroccan, released on pardon after
being imprisoned for several years for alleged association
with those involved in the 2003 Casablanca bombings, blew
himself up in a Casablanca cybercafe in 2007, part of a ring
of seven such suicide bombers. In the years leading up to
2008, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) then responsible for
prisons, instituted some human rights-linked changes funded
by outside donors, including permitting NGOs to work in the
prisons. In response to agitation by Islamist/Salafist
prisoner support groups and families, it also granted
increasing privileges to some Islamist prisoners. The death
penalty has not been carried out in about a decade, although
abolition of capital punishment will not likely soon occur.

RABAT 00000408 002 OF 007

This has contributed to growing numbers of capital prisoners.
The diminution of repression in Moroccan society has
probably also contributed to the rising number of inmates,
with severe physical abuse a lesser form of crime deterrence.
We understand that as many as half the inmate population may
be awaiting trial.

4. (C) In late April 2008, after the escape of nine
Salafists (Islamic radicals) from Kenitra prison, many
convicted of involvement in the 2003 Casablanca bombings,
King Mohammed VI moved responsibility for prison
administration from the MOJ and gave it to the newly created
Directorate under the Prime Minister's Office. The MOJ had
accommodated the growing organized presence of Salafists in
the prisons by granting increasing privileges, and there was
a sense that it had simply lost control. The escape turned
the prison situation into an embarrassment for the GOM and
the King.

Benhachem and the King: The New Old Guard

5. (C) The King named Moulay Hafid Benhachem, a former
Director General of National Security (DGSN or national
police) under Hassan II, to head the new Prison
Administration, with the quasi-ministerial-rank of Delegate
General, and reporting formally to the Prime Minister but
undoubtedly also directly to the Palace. Retired since 2003,
Benhachem had a reputation for toughness. He did not engage,
as far as we have been able to determine, in any official or
unofficial work or consulting for the GOM during his
retirement, nor did he work in the private sector. Benhachem
brought with him to the Prison Administration several
veterans of the former king's security apparatus, triggering
concerns within the diplomatic and domestic human rights

6. (C) On the day of Benhachem's appointment, King Mohammed
VI released a statement directing Benhachem and his new
Directorate to improve the reinsertion and reintegration of
former prisoners into society; guarantee security and
discipline within the prison system; ensure respect for law
within the system; bring conditions in prisons into
accordance with international norms; ensure respect for human
rights and dignity within facilities; and improve working
conditions for staff members and guards. The same statement
indicated that such improvements were crucial to combating
radical Islam. This was notable as the GOM had previously
been reluctant to publicly link militant Islam with prison
conditions. The same day, Minister of Justice Radi said that
Benhachem's appointment was part and parcel of a broader
justice sector reform process.

The Prison Administration

7. (C) The Directorate General for Prison Administration and
Reinsertion is an independent entity with its own budget and
central administrative apparatus. It absorbed all
responsibility for correctional administration from the MOJ
and is not affiliated with any other ministry or agency.
Since the removal of the Prison Administration from the
Ministry, there has been little discussion between the two
organizations except through formal channels. While the MOJ
still directs strategic penal policy, such as the possibility
of expanding alternative sentencing or judicial supervision,
it now has no input into security and daily operations of
prison facilities. Nor is there any indication of a
continuing link between Benhachem and the DGSN, or of any
influence from the DGSN/Interior Ministry (MOI). The MOI has
adamantly refused to even discuss with us prisons or related

RABAT 00000408 003 OF 007

8. (C) Benhachem's approach to his new job seems well
thought-out and strategic. On assuming his position in April
2008, Benhachem halted discussions with foreign embassies
about cooperation programs, undertook an intensive internal
organizational audit, and formulated a plan and budget. He
fired officials he felt were incompetent or corrupt.
Benhachem proceeded to issue a series of directives ordering
prison guards to begin wearing their uniforms on duty once
again and instructing all staff to apply all rules and
regulations consistently at all facilities. He warned of
dire consequences if his instructions were not followed. He
ended the policy of appeasement of Salafist inmates, who had
gained unprecedented privileges and control under the MOJ
(Ref B). However, with palace support, he also got a larger
budget, and once he reestablished security, funds were then
appropriately next allocated for improved food. In addition,
he expedited existing construction and pushed forward plans
for additional new prisons. The recapture (or death) of all
the Salafist escapees, and others as well, allowed scope for
renewed reform and cooperation with the international

Personality, Priorities and Assistance

9. (C) EmbOffs met with Benhachem on June 19, 2008 (Ref B),
and again on March 31, 2009, at the Directorate General for
Prison Administration and Reinsertion (DGAP) headquarters.
In both meetings, they found him direct, charming and
practical, but wary of USG intentions. Benhachem underscored
the ministerial status of the Prison Administration.
Benhachem told EmbOffs that he is in charge of prisoners
while incarcerated and responsible for their reintegration
into society when released, although he had earlier confirmed
that his responsibility ended at the prison gate. The DGAP's
2009 budget includes USD 128 million for general operations
and USD 86 million for capital expenses such as new
construction and renovation. Benhachem told EmbOffs that
this represented a 40 percent increase in funding. In
statements reported in the press, Benhachem said that the new
budget allowed him to increase spending per prisoner USD 50
cents to two dollars per day.

10. (C) In a separate meeting with Morocco USAID Mission
Director, he expressed a greater degree of comfort in working
with USAID than the Embassy, and recommended that all
requests for programming and cooperation with the DGAP be
sent through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) via
diplomatic note. He also floated the idea of forming an
inter-ministerial coordination group, helmed by the MFA, to
work on security sector assistance issues with the USG.
(Comment: This suggests his mandate may include increased
controls on and transparency in relations with U.S. entities.
End Comment.)

11. (C) In the March 31 meeting, Benhachem told EmbOffs that
security and rehabilitation were his twin and intertwined
priorities. However, he emphasized that he would not
sacrifice security in the name of reform, saying, "I cannot
make progress if I do not control my buildings." On the
security side, Benhachem had very specific thoughts and
highlighted renovation, new construction, and improved
technological ability to scan inmates and packages for
contraband as immediate areas of focus. He said that
establishing closed-circuit-television networks and
electronic monitoring of facilities and inmates was an
important medium-term goal that would leverage his limited
staff and financial resources to greater effect. Benhachem
also expressed a need for better equipment for his staff and
improved training.

12. (C) On the subject of rehabilitation and post-release
reintegration of inmates, Benhachem appeared open-minded but
less in command of the subject. He expressed a need for

RABAT 00000408 004 OF 007

greater life skills programming but offered no specific
ideas. He reinforced a desire for medical assistance within
prisons and encouraged EmbOffs to coordinate with Deputy
Administrator for Social and Cultural Programs Hilmi.
Benhachem also said that there needed to be greater
coordination with the private sector and local governments to
provide jobs and soft landings for released prisoners.
Benhachem maintained there was no serious overcrowding in the
women's section and was less interested in specific women's
programming. (Note: Women are a small minority of prisoners
-- perhaps only three percent. End Note.)

13. (C) Despite public statements of support from Minister
of Justice Radi, who told then-Ambassador Riley in November
2007 that he sought the creation of an independent prison
authority, relations between Justice and the DGAP remain
tense. M'Hammed Abdenabaoui, the number three at the MOJ,
still holds the pre-sentencing and post-release portfolio for
his Ministry. He told PolOff in a February meeting that the
MOJ was interested in collaborating with the USG in designing
reentry programs. Abdenabaoui said that communication with
the DGAP was still tense but improving. He thought Benhachem
seemed to have little respect for the MOJ's former prison

The Two Deputies

14. (C) Two deputies assist Benhachem. Mustapha Hilmi, a
former prosecutor who also served at the upper echelons of
the MOJ's Central Prison Authority, was given the title of
Director of Social, Cultural and Reintegration Activities.
Soufiane Ouamrou, formerly of the police (DGSN) became the
Director of Inmate and Physical Security. Hilmi is known to
EmbOffs and is respected within the legal community. He
assisted the American Bar Association in Rabat in efforts to
reform the Moroccan Bar Association. Under the MOJ, he was
known as a moderate voice on prison issues. At the March 31
meeting, Benhachem appeared to have a collaborative,
respectful and easy relationship with Hilmi, who also
attended. Benhachem appeared to trust his insights and
delegated tasks to him easily. Mission staff have not met
with Ouamrou and little is known about him.

Current Conditions

15. (C) Overcrowding remains the largest single challenge to
the Moroccan prison system. Its 59 prisons, many of which
are outdated and poorly maintained, hold 60,000 inmates, 40
percent more than they were designed to house. Almost half
of those detained are in pre-trial or preventive detention.
Since Moroccan law allows for up to a year of pre-trial
detention, and Morocco has no jails in which individuals
awaiting trial can be held separately from convicts, this
class of inmate contributes significantly to the overcrowding

16. (C) According to the Moroccan Prison Observatory (OMP),
an independent, non-profit watchdog group, inmate complaints
of abuse or substandard conditions increased by 22.48 percent
in 2008 compared to 19 percent in 2007. OMP received 520
letters from prisoners or their relatives related to
mistreatment, poor conditions, malnutrition, lack of medical
treatment, sexual assault and violence. The OMP's report
linked 18 deaths directly to substandard conditions and
inmate violence as a result of overcrowding, and reported
greater than 100 inmate deaths overall. The OMP also
strongly criticized poor working conditions for the system's
5,228 guards, most of whom only make USD 240 per month. In
press statements, Abderrahim Jamai, a member of the OMP
board, said that the organization's attempts to raise issues
of concern with Benhachem were rebuffed and their letters to

RABAT 00000408 005 OF 007

the DGAP remain unanswered.

17. (C) The DGAP's Hilmi, in a public statement, countered
that cases of violence were down 12 percent in 2008 compared
to the period between 2003 and 2007. In a separate
statement, Benhachem said that 2008's inmate mortality rate,
while high, was less than the previous year's rate of 125
deaths, and well within norms for a system of this size. He
added that 32 percent of mortality cases were due to chronic
diseases, and that 66 percent of deaths among the prisoners
were registered in hospitals. Benhachem said that there was
one suicide every two months in 2008.

Status of Islamist Prisoners

18. (C) The majority of Salafist or terror-related inmates
are held in prisons in Tetouan, Sale and Ain Sebaa outside
Casablanca. Although they no longer enjoy the broad
privileges they once did they, like most inmates in the
system, they have easy access to mobile phones and contraband
smuggled in when family members bring food. On January 29,
Embassy received a letter from Reda Ben Othman, an "Islamic
detainee at the local prison of Ain Sebaa." He alleged that
he and his fellow religious prisoners still suffer "assault
and torture" at the hands of authorities for their beliefs.
There is a formally recognized NGO, "Anassir" (victory),
which advocates for the prisoners as individuals or as a
group. In 2007, a photograph of a police officer beating the
wife of a Salafist prisoner at an Anassir demonstration was
carried by al Qaeda websites, accompanied by threats against
perfidious Moroccan authorities. Benhachem has apparently
dispersed some Salafist prisioners, but most remain
concentrated in a few higher-security prisons.

Plan of Action

19. (C) In a speech at a national workshop on implementing
the International Convention against Torture (ICAT) in
Morocco, Benhachem said that harmonizing Moroccan legislation
with the ICAT was in the interests of society and that
protection of human rights was a central aspect of his
mandate. He said that he had issued directives on respect
for rights to all staff members and would not hesitate to
punish violators. He also encouraged all security sector
staff to meet both the spirit and the letter of laws and
agreements. Since his appointment, Benhachem has suspended
or fired five prison directors and more than 20 guards and
officials for dereliction of duty or malfeasance.

20. (C) At the ICAT workshop, Benhachem said that a special
240 million dirham (USD 30 million) allocation is being used
to complete six new prisons in the first half of 2009. He
added that renovations at the "priority prisons" of Oukacha
in Casablanca and Kenitra are well underway. The end result
of this investment, he explained, would be to increase inmate
living space from the current level of 1.6 meters per person
to three meters. (Note: International norms call for nine
meters. End Note.) The new facilities will include areas
for enhanced inmate training and counseling. Benhachem
indicated that the DGAP will begin to recruit an additional
6,000 guards in 2012.

21. (C) In terms of health services, Benhachem said that the
DGAP directly employs 107 general practitioners and has a
large number of medical specialists under contract to provide
inmates with additional care as needed. According to
Benhachem, the DGAP has also increased per person medical
expenditures from less than USD .01 to USD .50 per day.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Pretrial Diversion, Parole and the Justice Ministry

RABAT 00000408 006 OF 007

--------------------------------------------- ------

22. (C) As part of a longer-term strategy to decrease
overcrowding and provide incentive-based rehabilitation
programs, the GOM with the MOJ in the lead is revising the
penal code to allow for parole and probationary release of
convicts. There is no such provision under current law; so
inmates must either serve their entire sentence or hope to
benefit from a royal pardon. Some prisoners convicted of
terrorism won early release in pardons, in some cases due to
an admittedly wide dragnet after the 2003 Casablanca
bombings. Both Benhachem and the MOJ's Abdenabaoui
separately told EmbOffs that the creation of a parole and
probation system is a crucial aspect of correctional reform
in Morocco. Abdenabaoui, who would have MOJ authority over
any conditional release structure, informally requested USG
help in setting up such a system in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Abdelaziz Nouyaidi, President of NGO Adala (Justice), told
EmbOffs in April that the GOM had not yet invited civil
society comment on the draft penal code and was playing its
cards close to the chest.

Partners and Other Actors

23. (C) The largest actor working on rehabilitation and
correctional issues outside of the DGAP is the Mohammed VI
Foundation for Reinsertion. Founded in 2002 with strong
royal patronage, the GOM-funded private foundation aims to
lead the effort to improve vocational and educational reform
in prisons. Overseen by a board made up of human rights
activists and private sector leaders, the Foundation has laid
out a plan to provide vocational training to 26,570 inmates
(11 percent female) between 2008 and 2012. The Foundation
has established Post-Release Coaching Centers designed to
ease the transition to freedom.

24. (C) Other potential partners include:

-- The Observatory of Moroccan Prisons (mentioned earlier).
OMP was the recipient of the first USG funded prison
assistance in Morocco, initially in 2006 through a grant from
the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for technical
assistance to this human rights civil society organization
and, in 2008 in a modest USD 80,000 grant of Counterterrorism
(S/CT) funds administered by Middle East Partnership
Initiative (MEPI);

-- Relais Prison, a social work organization run by Fatna
Elbouih, a prominent former political prisoner, who works
with inmates on vocational, health and counseling issues;

-- Association Annasir (or Al Nasir), an Islamist prisoner
support and advocacy organization;

-- Other small NGOs, including one in Western Sahara, support
prisoner welfare and education;

-- The Belgian Embassy, which works with released prisoners;

-- The British Embassy, which is funding a mediation training
program in prisons through U.S.-based NGO Search for Common
Ground and has funded curriculum development programs in the
past at the DGAP's training Academy in Ifrane;

-- The Danish Embassy, which is funding an agricultural
vocational skills program at a minimum-security prison in
central Morocco; and

-- The European Union, which has expressed an interest in
working on penal issues in Morocco.


RABAT 00000408 007 OF 007


25. (C) Comment: Although still steering a firm,
security-focused course, Benhachem appears to have somewhat
assuaged those who feared he would focus only on walls and
guards and not rehabilitation or reform. Once he established
control, he seems ready to begin engaging with donors. Given
his apparent lack of trust over USG motives in wanting to
fund prison programs, it would be advisable to proceed slowly
and closely engage only if identifiable funds are already
available for a program that could be implemented with input
from the DGAP. Conversely, assistance to the MOJ, with which
our relations are good and growing, in revising the penal
code and setting up conditional release programs might be
easier and less controversial first steps towards building
broader trust and programming. The Mission has also
requested Washington funding for a longer-term, more
comprehensive approach, including under Section 1207 and/or
MEPI, that would also focus on pre-intake, prison conditions
and vital support for the re-entry into society of those
whose term is finished. End Comment.

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