As new evidence emerges that ‘War on Terror’ prisoners were held on Diego Garcia, Reprieve demands immediate action from the British Government

July 31, 2008

Image of an island

Today, following revelations that the British Overseas Territory of Diego Garcia was used to hold three prisoners in the US ‘War on Terror’ (Abu Zubaydah, Hambali and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar) at various times between 2002 and 2006, Reprieve, the British legal action charity that represents 30 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, demands that the British government hold an open and transparent public inquiry into the use of its territory to house a secret prison.

The UK government – relying on assurances from its US counterparts – has consistently denied that prisoners have been held on Diego Garcia. These denials are clearly no longer tenable, and Reprieve is therefore obliged to remind the British government that holding prisoners in secret imprisonment is illegal under domestic UK and international law.

Reprieve is also obliged to remind the British government that it has a duty to make representations for the fair treatment for any individuals rendered through or held on its territory by the United States. Reprieve also notes that the torture of Abu Zubaydah is well-documented (see the biographical notes below), and, while we are unable to ascertain at present if either he or the other two prisoners were tortured on Diego Garcia, this remains a distinct possibility. By allowing such acts to happen on British territory, the British government may have breached its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, said: “Today’s news confirms that the British government has allowed itself to be duped by its US allies on a colossal scale. While Ministers have spent years looking the other way, British territory has been used for kidnapping, ‘extraordinary rendition’, illegal imprisonment and possibly torture. However, ignorance is no excuse when it comes to crimes of this magnitude.”

He added: “Moreover, the United States must also come clean about the existence of its secret prison. Whether by accident or design, a senior US official has recently misled the public about Diego Garcia. In February, Gen. Michael Hayden, the Director of the CIA, stated categorically that Diego Garcia had never housed a secret prison. It is time for these evasions to come to an end, and for the full details of the CIA’s secret prison system to be revealed.”

The background to the story:

Between October 2003 and January 2008, the US government provided numerous assurances that no detentions or renditions had occurred within the jurisdiction of Diego Garcia. For almost five years the British government blindly accepted these assurances, and to Reprieve’s knowledge did nothing to further inquire into these serious and persistent allegations.

These denials finally came to an end this February, when David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, announced that his US counterparts had checked their records and had discovered that two flights, each carrying one prisoner, had passed through Diego Garcia in 2002. Mr. Miliband maintained, however, that he had been assured that the planes had only landed for refuelling, and that no prisoner had ever set foot on Diego Garcia. Mr. Miliband repeated these claims just four weeks ago, after apparently receiving further confirmation from his US counterparts that no other rendition flights had passed through British territory.

Now, we have learned that three prisoners were actually held on Diego Garcia.

The prisoners:

Abu Zubaydah. A Saudi citizen born in March 1971, Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn) was seized in Faisalabad, Pakistan in a joint operation by Pakistani forces and the FBI on 28 March 2002. His torture in secret prisons run by the CIA is well-documented.

In February 2008, Gen. Michael Hayden, the Director of the CIA, admitted that he was one of three prisoners who had been subjected to waterboarding (an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning) in CIA custody. He was also subjected to ‘Long Time Standing’, when a prisoner is forced to stand, handcuffed and with his feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours, and ‘The Cold Cell’, in which a prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees” and is repeatedly doused with cold water.

Held initially in Thailand, and later in Poland, Abu Zubaydah is one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006. He has not yet been put forward for trial by military commission at Guantanamo, but it remains possible that he will be charged and will face the death penalty if convicted.

Hambali. An Indonesian born in April 1966, Hambali (Riduan Isamuddin) was seized in Ayutthaya, Thailand in a joint operation by Thai forces and the CIA on 11 August 2003. In 2003, TIME reported that he was being held on Diego Garcia , but the British government, citing US assurances, said that this was not the case.

Hambali is one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006. No details of his treatment in US custody have emerged, although it is likely that he too was subjected to torture. Like Abu Zubaydah, he has not yet been put forward for trial by military commission at Guantanamo, but it remains possible that he will be charged and will face the death penalty if convicted.

Mustafa Setmariam Nasar. A dual Spanish and Syrian national, born in 1958, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar was seized in Quetta, Pakistan in October 2005 and handed over to US forces a month later. Since then he has completely disappeared. It is not known whether he is being held in a secret CIA prison or if he has been rendered to a third country.

It is clear, however, that the US authorities know of his whereabouts. In March 2006, the United States removed him from a list of terrorism suspects, and in July 2006 his name was included in the US government’s list of “Terrorists No Longer a Threat.”

— ENDS —

For further information, please contact Reprieve’s Press Office on 020 7427 1099 or email Andy@reprieve.org.uk.

Note for editors

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 lawyers currently represent 30 prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay.

For more details about Reprieve, visit: www.reprieve.org.uk.