Illegal rendition cover up continues: Government seeks secret hearing for first time in victims’ case

March 5, 2017

The Government is asking the High Court to use secret proceedings in a case brought by victims of a UK-US rendition during the ‘War on Terror’. This is the first time such powers are set to be used in a rendition victims’ case, and it is being sought so the Government may avoid embarrassing revelations on how parliament and the public continue to be misled as to what happened.

At a hearing next Tuesday (7th), lawyers for the Government will argue that the case of two men who were rendered to Afghanistan in 2004 should be heard in secret.

The men, Amanatullah Ali and Yunus Rahmatullah, are challenging the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence over the UK’s involvement in their rendition.

The pair were detained by the UK in Iraq and transferred to US custody where they were badly abused. Mr Rahmatullah believes he was held in Abu Ghraib.

The US subsequently rendered them to Afghanistan where they were held without charge, trial or access to a lawyer for a decade. In 2012, the UK Supreme Court ruled the rendition was unlawful.

The Government is arguing that the two men’s cases should be heard wholly or partially in secret, using a so-called closed material procedure, or CMP. If the Court approves the measure, it will mark the first time that the controversial practice – introduced through the Justice and Security Act 2013 – has been used in a case brought by rendition victims.

Under CMPs, the side opposing the Government is excluded from the courtroom, along with the press and the public, and is unable to hear or challenge evidence used against them. The measures have attracted criticism, because they hand an advantage to the Government’s lawyers – as well as a mechanism by which ministers can prevent embarrassing facts from becoming public.

Next week’s hearing follows a recent, unanimous UK Supreme Court ruling that the case could proceed against the UK Government for its complicity in his torture and rendition. The Court found torture was “abhorrent” and that English law has rejected rendition since the signing of the Magna Carta.

Central to the case is how Government ministers have misled parliament and the public. In 2005, then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told MPs emphatically that “unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying … there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.” However, ministers subsequently had to correct this assertion. In 2008, then Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted to Parliament that contrary to “earlier explicit assurances”, the UK had supported some rendition operations. As Reprieve began to expose the truth in this case, in 2009 Defence Secretary John Hutton said that the rendition of Mr Rahmatullah and Mr Ali “should have been questioned at the time.”

Unfortunately, to this day ministers continue to mislead parliament, saying that the two men involved in this case were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Sunni extremist group. This is simply untrue, and it is in the public interest that there be an open evaluation of how ministers themselves continue to be misled.

Commenting, Omran Belhadi, a lawyer with Reprieve, said:

For years, Ministers have made false statements about this sordid affair. Now they are trying to use secret courts to cover up the cover up. With a torture apologist in the White House, it’s more important than ever that the Government recognise the horrific mistakes of the Blair years and ensure robust procedures to make sure it never happens again. Instead, the official dissembling continues.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org