Top judge condemns UK government for failure to protect rendered prisoner Yunus Rahmatullah

February 23, 2012

A senior British judge today condemned the UK Government for handing over a prisoner to the US “in questionable circumstances” and thereby “[selling] the pass with regard to their ability to protect him in the future.”

In a judgment handed down in the case of Yunus Rahmatullah, one of two men abducted by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 and subsequently rendered to a US prison in Afghanistan, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger writes that:

The melancholy truth is that the events since we handed down judgment appear to establish that … when the UK defence forces handed over the applicant to the US authorities in questionable circumstances in 2004, they most unfortunately appear to have sold the pass with regard to their ability to protect him in the future.

Mr Rahmatullah, with the assistance of legal action charity Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day & Co, had brought a claim against the UK Government for habeas corpus – the ancient British legal right to be either charged or released. Although he has been held without charge or trial for eight years, the US had promised to return him to British custody on request, under an agreement intended to insulate Britain from complicity in American war crimes.

However, the US Government has now broken that promise, made between the two allies at the outset of the Iraq War, and is refusing to release Mr Rahmatullah – laying the British Government open to investigation for their role in his torture and rendition. London’s Metropolitan Police are currently considering a criminal complaint against the UK Government, submitted to them in the last few days by Reprieve. The complaint also covers the case of Amanatullah Ali, who was seized alongside Mr Rahmatullah.

Commenting on the Court of Appeal’s judgement, Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

Translated into plain English, what the judges are saying is that Britain committed what seems plainly to be a crime in 2004, but has now given up the power to release the victims from illegal detention. Fortunately, that is not the only question here: the Metropolitan police have the power to investigate the original crime, and we anticipate that they will do so, effectively and with expedition. Ultimately, no matter how long it takes, we will get justice for Mr Rahmatullah and Mr Ali.”


Notes to editors

1. The full text of the judgement can be found here.

2. For further information, please see or contact Donald Campbell or Katherine O’Shea in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 207 427 1082.

3. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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