How Morocco Assaults U.S. Citizens and Just How Much a U.S. Senator Does Not Care

Last year, following an invitation from some folks who lived there, I was in Western Sahara in northwestern Africa.

By Tim Pluta, World BEYOND War,

Some friends of mine from the U.S. took a trip to visit me and the folks with whom I was staying. When they arrived, the occupying forces of Morocco (designated illegal by the United Nations) abused the human rights of my friends, including sexual abuse, and physically forced them to return to the U.S. even before they left the airport. Despite appeals to at least one U.S. senator and members of Congress, nothing has been done to address Morocco’s embarrassing, illegal, and shameful behavior towards U.S. citizens on Western Saharan soil.

I would like to go back to visit Western Sahara, and wonder, if they treated my friends like that, would I be treated that way if I return?

Tired of U.S. military, economic, and political support of Morocco resulting in the continued imprisonment, beatings, rapes, and social oppression of Western Sahara’s Saharawi population, and Morocco’s illegal claims to Western Saharan natural resources, I wrote to my senator in North Carolina.

I have removed specific names and slightly edited the communications to retain the bulk of our exchanges.

The following is a chronology of our communications.

January 7, 2023    (Tim)

“I want to express a concern about three friends [names removed] who underwent forced expulsion from Western Sahara at the hands of Moroccan agents giving no legal justification. My concern is that this action on the part of Morocco sets a precedent of restricting my and other U.S. citizens’ freedom to travel to Western Sahara.

I ask that you facilitate the U.S .State Department to establish an understanding with Morocco that they will not restrict Americans from visiting Western Sahara and I also ask that the State Department request that Morocco remunerate my friends for the loss of approximately $6,000 that they each spent on the aborted trip.

I request a response.

The following is an excerpt from a first hand account by one of the travellers:

On May 23, 2022 [names removed] (past President of Veterans for Peace) and I boarded Royal Air Maroc in Casablanca. We landed in Laayoune ~6:30 PM.

After landing we were sequestered in a small room. No answers were given to our questions.

We were told to gather our things. Then we were physically pushed outside. A  man shouted, put my arm in a pain hold,  and touched my breast. I screamed. One of my companions was also treated this way, to the point of leaving large visible bruises on her upper arm.

We were physically forced onto the plane. We told multiple crew members that we wanted to get off the plane. We told the men that if they provided a written legal justification for deporting us, we would comply.

[name removed] was grabbed and pulled towards a seat. I wrapped my arms around her legs. In the scuffle my shirt and bra were pulled up to expose my breast to the plane.

Eventually we were forcibly seated, each surrounded by 4 – 6 agents. The plane took off.

We landed in Casablanca ~10:30 PM and returned to our hotel. We were followed the rest of our time in Casablanca by some of the same Moroccan agents who had forced us onto the plane.”


Nearly 4 months after my email was sent to the senator’s office, this response arrived:

April 30, 2023    (senator’s office)

“Thank you for contacting [the senator’s] Office about your concerns about [names removed] expulsion from Morocco and thank you for your patience waiting for a response as we have been hard at work setting up our new office. I appreciate you sharing your opinion on this issue. Do you have an update on this situation?”


April 30      (Tim)

“Thank you for your response and welcome to your new office.

Just to be clear, as I stated in my previous communication, [names removed] were expelled from Western Sahara by the illegal occupying forces of Morocco, they were not expelled from Morocco.

I will gather an update and send it to you as soon as I have it.

Thanks again for you follow-up.”


April 30       (senator’s office)

“Thank you for the clarification. I will look out for your email.”


June 2         (Tim)

“Here is some more information for you regarding the travel incident with my friends in Western Sahara.

Another friend is sending a report of their experience, and I will forward it to you when I receive it.

“Thus far [names removed] have not obtained any answers or actions about what transpired on May 23, 2022, when unknown actors detained, kidnapped, roughed up, and sexually abused them while they were en route to visit friends in Western Sahara. They were subsequently expelled with no legal documentation with regards to the reasons why the were expelled.

The U.S. Consulate in Rabat has turned a blind eye to this behavior instead of ensuring that future U.S. tourists are safe and allowed to visit Western Sahara. Thus far, any help that [names removed] have been soliciting from their congressional representatives has not materialized.

The U.S. State Department 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices documents that the Moroccan government engages in serious human rights abuses. In light of this report, clearly what happened to my friends is not an isolated incident.

Here are some detailed questions that we believe the U.S. Consulate in Rabat needs to answer:

  Has the U.S. consulate ascertained why they were detained and by whom? What are their names and affiliations, and are they being criminally charged by the Moroccan authorities. Two of them had never been to Western Sahara before and had certainly never protested or spoken out about Western Sahara. So, what were the reasons for their detention and expulsion?
  Has the U.S. Consulate demanded that Morocco reimburse them for the cost of the trip? What redress is the U.S. Consulate demanding of the Moroccan government over their sexual abuse and mistreatment?
  Is the intent of the U.S. government to constrain or otherwise reduce US tourism to Western Sahara? Is the US consulate purposefully trying to increase risks of attacks and mistreatment of U.S. citizens in the future?
  What is the U.S. Consulate doing to ensure that U.S. tourists, whether or not they are nonviolently protesting (and [names removed] were not) will not be mistreated or killed? Has the US consulate decided or been ordered to promote a policy of Moroccan impunity towards sexual abuse and mistreatment of U.S. citizens?
  Can [names removed] go back to Western Sahara or will they be subject to detention and abuse again without support from the U.S. Consulate? Are they banned for life from visiting Western Sahara again?
  What is the U.S. consulate doing to ensure that Morocco abides by Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing free speech to all…particularly with regards to U.S. citizens?
  Does Moroccan Airlines have a policy of forcibly abducting and/or transporting passengers without their consent? If so, does the U.S. support such a policy?

One of the women that [names removed] were going to visit, [name removed], told them that they would be Saharawi guests and Morocco had no right to stop them from visiting her. Although [names removed] are not in your district, I am, and I am very interested in visiting Western Sahara again. I would like to know that I will be able to do it free from fear of being abused or expelled.”


June 2, 2023         (Tim)

“May this note find you well. Thank you for your patience.

As mentioned in my previous correspondence, here is a first hand report of a second concerning incident while friends travelled in Western Sahara and Morocco:

American Citizens Interrogated and Threatened by Moroccan Officials in

El-Ayoune, Western Sahara

The following is a Saharawi-American’s account of what happened to her when she went to visit her family in Western Sahara.

“February 11 I arrived at the El-Ayoune airport in Western Sahara with my traveling companion [name removed], a fellow Saharawi-American. I was questioned and asked the same questions over and over again; I was the last one from the airplane to be admitted to Western Sahara. On March 8th to avoid these kinds of harassment I inquired about applying for permanent residency so I could care for my family’s property in El-Ayoune. I was informed by a Saharawi contact that as an American citizen, I qualified, later assured by the Moroccan commissioner, [name removed] (No Last Name Given). I was then directed to go to a meeting with another agent who would finish the request that same day. I asked that [name removed] be allowed to accompany me. Initially I was denied my request but I insisted, and after a long delay, the agents finally permitted [name removed] to accompany me.

My application was examined by an officer named [name removed]. He asked numerous questions for nearly two hours, the majority of which were unrelated to my application. Officer [name removed] contacted me via phone the next day (March 9) and continued his inquiries about my late uncles and siblings. He called me once again to request that I attend the last step in the procedure.

On March 10th, I went with [name removed] to meet [name removed]. When we arrived we were surprised that he was not there. Instead, we were met by a security agent who asked that I go alone to the second level. I declined to go without [name removed]. Finally, the officer permitted [name removed] to come with me.

We were escorted to a room filled with men and numerous electronic devices, including cameras, microphones, and flashing lights on a computer. We felt alarmed and confined. We considered fleeing. When I questioned the men about Officer [name removed]××, one of them replied that he would arrive soon. We were asked to sit down by one of the eight men who appeared to be in control. It didn’t feel right. We were extremely uncomfortable and anxious, particularly when we heard the door locks.

I asked to know with whom I was speaking, but none of them were willing to give me their names or badge numbers. I asked repeatedly and they continued to refuse to identify themselves. We were trapped inside that room for nearly an hour, during which I was interrogated and asked the same irrelevant and very personal questions, some of which I answered and some of which I refused to answer.

During this interrogation, one agent pretended to be a Saharawi, but [name removed] and I questioned him and found out that he was in fact a settler who learned some Hassaniya and had become a Moroccan agent who resides among the Saharawis to spy on them.

During that hour, I pretended to be fine, but I was completely frightened and overwhelmed. I kept thinking about the Saharawi women who are beaten, sexually abused, and in some instances detained. I was certain that these men were aware of the human rights work that [name removed] and I do in the United States. The application process became an interrogation. We were finally allowed to leave but with no clear outcome. The status of my application went unresolved and we left the country.

On March 28, a few days after returning to El-Ayoune from abroad, I got a call from someone called [name removed] asking me to come in person to receive a decision about my application. He was unwilling to tell me over the phone so I agreed to go to the security office. [name removed] and I waited in the foyer for nearly an hour, which was difficult given that we were fasting, tired, and jet lagged.

An agent of Saharawi origin that we had previously met with came to the lobby and greeted us.

He asked if the card was ready. We told him that we didn’t know anything about a card. He was surprised and asked his Moroccan coworkers. None of them answered him, nor did they tell him that my application had been denied.

For the record, according to Saharawi human Rights activists; “the majority of Saharawi agents who work in Moroccan-occupation offices are not given full clearance, but are subject to removal whenever they show solidarity or refuse orders of abuse.”

After an hour, a new agent arrived and told me that my application had been rejected because I refused to accept the statement that “I was born in El-Ayoune and consider myself Moroccan.” I decided to end the conversation and withdraw the initial application. I requested my docu⁷ments I paid for ; to be returned. The Moroccan agent flatly refused. I insisted on receiving my only copy of some documents and stated that I would not depart until my entire file was returned to me or I was given a written receipt.

At that point, another man in the suite began a conversation with [name removed] and told her that I had to accept Moroccan nationality or else. I said to all of them that I’m an American of Saharawi Origin. I pointed to a copy of my American passport that verified that I am an American citizen who was born in the Western Sahara. I said that you will not force me to accept Moroccan nationality when Moroccans themselves die at sea running away from Morocco.

More agents surrounded me and [name removed] and began shouting at us and approaching us in a threatening way. One of the agents, who claimed to be a Saharawi and was present on the 10th, was making graphic, disturbing, and threatening gestures to us with his fingers.

At that point, another man came over to tell the agents to cease shouting at us. We heard them call him “Chief.” He asked us in English what the problem was. We repeated that we required my file be returned to me and that I would not accept being forced to say that I am Moroccan because I am an American citizen with a Western Saharan origin. He, too, became louder and stated that there is no such entity as Western Sahara, only Morocco. [name removed] responded that he needs to wait until the referendum to be able to say that. The other agents became more threatening and were too near to both of us.

We rushed out because we were no longer safe. I was forced to leave with only an unsigned copy of the application and a copy of my passport.

We are still being watched during our visit in El-Ayoune and it feels unsafe for us to leave the house openly!

Saharawis who have other nationalities and reject the imposed Moroccan identity are often prevented from traveling or, in some cases, from spending their dying days in Western Sahara due to Moroccan occupation.

Thank you for your attention.”


June 6, 2023            (Tim)

“May this note find you well.

Below you will find a rough translation of an article published 3 days ago in the Spanish newspaper, El Independiente (The Independent).

The lawyer, Inés Miranda, is a friend of mine and has been travelling back and forth to Western Sahara for decades defending the human rights of the Saharawi people.

This is another example of the illegal ways that Morocco suppresses the people of Western Sahara and their friends and visitors.

The U.S. government supports this action politically, financially and militarily. A shameful example of an obsolete system of colonial rule that our government still employs while ignoring the dire consequences including those that I witnessed last year while visiting.

While I am familiar with where your boss’ party stands on this issue, I  beseech you, (name omitted), as a caring human being outside of political manipulation, to figure out a way to help bring this issue to a wider audience so that we might “democratically”, as in by the people, decide together whether this is truly the type of behavior we want to protect, support, and cultivate.

Thank you for your attention.”

Here is the rough translation of the article  mentioned above that was published on June 3, 2023:

June 3, 2023

They had not even been able to descend from the stairs of the plane in El Aaiún, the capital of Western Sahara.  The Moroccan authorities have prevented this Saturday the access to the occupied territories of the Sahara of the lawyers [names removed], members of a delegation accredited by the General Council of the Spanish Lawyers whose task was to verify the situation of the Saharawi population in the last territory of the African continent pending decolonization.

“We have suffered this Saturday the impediment of entry by the Moroccan authorities to the territory of Western Sahara, to its capital of El Aaiún”, both have indicated in a brief video statement on board the plane.  “We denounce the occupation and show our rejection of the violent treatment we have received when they have not even let us get off the plane and we also denounce the treatment that the Saharawi civilian population is receiving,” they added.

For its part, the General Council of Spanish Lawyers has denounced the expulsion in writing this Saturday before the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs “without there being any kind of cause to justify it.”  «The Spanish Lawyers have reiterated their support for the work carried out by the aforementioned association of jurists, which is none other than verifying respect for human rights and denouncing their abuse in the former Spanish colony, and considers that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should formulate a written complaint to the Moroccan authorities for preventing the access of the two Spanish lawyers,” the council said in a statement.

Both lawyers belong to the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara (IAJUWS, for its acronym in English) and were part of a legal technical delegation whose purpose was to “monitor in situ, through a process of direct observation, the situation and respect for the human rights of the Saharawi population in the non-autonomous territory of Western Sahara in full escalation of the repression of Saharawi activists.  The delegation has been working since 2002.

The organization denounces that both lawyers have been expelled and forced to return to the Canary Islands “after illegal detention and vexatious treatment for several hours at the El Aaiún airport.”  The UN and the Spanish Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Equality as well as Moncloa and the President of the Government of the Canary Islands had been informed of the three-day visit, frustrated by the Alaouite regime.

They also recall that “Western Sahara is on the United Nations list of territories pending decolonization and that, legally, Spain is its administering power, however, since it abandoned the territory in 1975, the obligation has been breached, not only to decolonize it but to report on the situation of its population, as required by Article 73 of the United Nations Charter”.

This new ban on accessing the territory comes just a week after another similar episode in which [name removed], a former Saharawi prisoner, and his wife were expelled after landing in the city and being held at the airport for more than 15 hours.  In May a researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona was also expelled after secret police officers stormed the hotel where he was staying in the occupied territories.

The association to which [names removed] belong emphasizes that this action to prevent access to international observers is not isolated.  “It also affects the Personal Envoy of the Secretary General of the United Nations, [name removed], who has been trying to access the territory for two years to fulfill the mission entrusted to him by the international community in the search for a solution to the conflict, as well as numerous rapporteurs. of the UN Human Rights Council and to any NGO that seeks to clarify the serious crimes perpetrated by Morocco against the people of Western Sahara”.

The association of jurists alleges that since the Moroccan occupation in 1976 “numerous cases of persecution, kidnapping, forced disappearances and summary executions against the civilian population have been registered and denounced, facts that are being investigated before the Criminal Chamber of the National Court.  “Likewise, with the interruption of the ceasefire sponsored by the UN last November 2020 and the resumption of hostilities between the parties, this association has been able to verify an alarming increase in repression and political persecution against the Saharawi civilian population in the areas occupied by Morocco”, they add.

A deterioration of the situation that leads the group to urge the “international community in general and the Government of Spain in particular to demand compliance with international law in Western Sahara and the protection of the human rights of the Saharawi people.”


June 20, 2023      (Tim)

“I am wondering if your office has any follow-up regarding my several communications since January 7, asking questions and providing information that you requested.

I realize that I submitted quite a number of detailed questions. Please let me know if I can expect a response soon from your office, or if you have provided all of the follow-up that you plan to offer.”


June 20, 2023

“Sincerely apologize for the delayed response and appreciate the follow up. I have received your correspondence and will review. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any further questions.”


There was no further communication from the NC senator’s office for over one month. On July 22, this email was sent to the senator’s office:

July 22, 2023        (Tim)

“May this note find you well. I am taking you up on your offer to “reach out” in our continued communication.

I will say that I am disappointed that neither you nor [the senator] have addressed any of the issues [more than a dozen questions] I brought up regarding Western Sahara. At one time years ago I thought that senators were more attentive to human rights abuses. Nowadays it appears to me that they are not.

Although I have received nothing of a substantive response from your office, I do have an offer for you that will give [the senator] some media time.

I have contacted (name deleted) at World BEYOND War, and [they] would be delighted to give you and/or [the senator] some air time on [their] radio show to discuss the senator’s views regarding my requests and questions about what happened to my friends in Western Sahara.

Before writing an article describing my experience with [the senator’s] lack of response, I would like to give you and him a chance to respond to [World BEYOND War’s] offer of a radio interview.

Just to let you know, if I do not hear from you by the end of this month, July, I plan to write and disseminate my article with the information I have.

Thank you for your attention.”


I am uncertain what portion of my communications prompted their next move. Perhaps it was the attempt on June 6 to appeal to a staffer of the senator’s office as a “…caring human being outside of political manipulation”, or perhaps it was the threatening insinuation in the same email that we might “…democratically, as in by the people, decide together whether this is truly the type of behavior we want to protect, support, and cultivate.” Whatever prompted it, a national security advisor was assigned the task of picking up the communications with me and sent the following:

July 24, 2023

“We will reach out to the State Department with concerns about U.S. citizens being detained and/or expelled from Morocco.

As to the specific cases of [names removed], are any North Carolina residents? Without written consent, we are unable to contact federal agencies directly about constituent cases. If any are a North Carolina resident, I’m happy to connect them with a constituent service representative from our office. If they are not North Carolina residents, we recommend they reach out to their respective members of Congress.

Thank you for the invitation for [the senator] to appear with [name removed] on Talk World Radio. We respectfully decline.”


Still having received no answers to a single one of my original questions, the following email was sent back to the advisor for national security:

July 24, 2023         (Tim)

“Thank you for your response, (name omitted).

If you do “reach out” to the State Department, I would be most interested to read your thoughts about any response they might offer you regarding my questions, which still have not been addressed. You are in a much better position than I am to understand their stance.

In March of 2022 when a team of us were in Boujdour and “reached out” to the State Department for assistance, there was none. Nor was there any from the US embassy, even though representatives drove by us within a kilometer or two on their way to celebrate business deals with the illegal Moroccan occupiers of Western Sahara while human rights abuses were being committed against Saharawi citizens.

All that aside, thank you for the reminder that my friends are not from NC. They have already contacted their congressional representatives.”  [with no responses to date].


Many of us scream and holler about the conflict that we helped create between Russia and Ukraine. How many of us are even aware that U.S.  citizens have been physically and sexually abused by Moroccan government agents illegally attempting to annex Western Sahara?

Will we scream and holler about Morocco’s flagrant and open violence against US citizens? Will we ask our government officials why we support Morocco with money, political support and military equipment when their lengthy list of egregious human rights abuses are recorded by the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, Amnesty International and many other organizations? Will we insist that our government officials do more than provide limp apologies for tardy communications and ignore citizen  requests for answers to questions regarding physical and sexual abuse of our citizens by agents of the  Moroccan government?

If we agree with the United States government support of Moroccan brutality against our citizens, then we don’t need to do anything. If there is even a little doubt as to whether or not we want to support and accept  Morocco’s human rights abuses of US citizens, and the rape, torture, illegal annexation, and oppression of Western Sahara and the Saharawi people, then let’s make some noise.

World Beyond War