Reprieve demands the British government investigate the secret illegal detention of ‘ghost’ prisoner Mustafa Setmariam Naser on Diego Garcia

August 3, 2009

Image of a plane runway by the beach

Reprieve today demanded the British government reveal details of the secret illegal detention of ‘ghost’ prisoner Mustafa Setmariam Naser on Diego Garcia and asked two U.N. Special Rapporteurs to urgently investigate the case.

Mustafa Setmariam Naser was ‘disappeared’ while in US custody in 2005. Reprieve has learned that he was sent to Syria, where he wis held incommunicado in shocking conditions and almost certainly tortured. It seems the US deliberately ‘disappeared’ him to a rights-abusing regime once he stopped being useful for intelligence purposes.

The UK shares responsibility for Mr Naser’s disappearance because of its complicity in his ‘ghost’ detention on the Diego Garcia and elsewhere.

Reprieve has:

1) Written to the UK government on behalf of Mr Naser’s wife demanding the UK fulfils its legal obligation to investigate his disappearance.

2) Join the American Civil Liberties Union in reporting Naser’s disappearance to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism, requesting they take up the case with the UK and US governments.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

 “Enforced disappearance is a crime most associated with ruthless South American dictatorships, yet here we have the US and British governments embroiled in the same dirty deeds. Kidnapping is a crime in anyone’s language, and it is about time that powerful governments are held to account for their crime against Mustafa Naser.”

ACLU Staff Attorney Steven Watt said:

“It is a shocking that the US and UK are willing to deliberately ‘disappear’ a father of four to a regime where he will likely be tortured, held incommunicado and never see his wife and children again. Naser’s family are desperately worried about his welfare, and the U.N. must ensure that he is immediately found and his legal rights restored.”



Reprieve and Leigh Day and Co. are writing to the British Foreign Office on behalf of Mr Naser’s wife Helena Moreno. She and her husband have four children, one of who was born in Britain. Both Mr Naser and Helena are Spanish citizens.

Reprieve is asking for three actions:

(a) That the UK investigate Mr Naser’s disappearance. Reprieve is asking the UK government to investigate the disappearance of Mustafa Naser into a secret prison regime that concededly and routinely involved torture of prisoners. Diego Garcia and its surrounding waters have been a US/UK “legal black hole” for many years before the existence of Guantanamo Bay, and continues to be. However, under international law, the UK is under a positive obligation to conduct a prompt, impartial, independent, effective and thorough investigation into Mr Naser’s disappearance.

(b) That the UK reveal all information they may have which would allow Reprieve to make a habeas corpus application in the US for Mr Naser to ensure his basic legal rights. If the UK has been complicit in his disappearance, then it is only fair that the UK should provide Mr Naser with assistance in order to reunite him with his rights. If the UK does not assist in this was, this effectively ensures that he remains “disappeared”.

(c) That the UK demand information from the Americans about Mr Naser’s whereabouts. This is necessitated by the Obama Administration’s regrettable resistance to transparency. Obama’s CIA boss Leon Panetta recently said that the CIA “could neither confirm nor deny if Mr Naser is or is not in US custody”.


Together with the American Civil Liberties Union, Reprieve has reporting Naser’s case to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism.

The Rapporteurs will be asked to investigate the circumstances of Naser’s forced disappearance and raise his case with the governments of the United Kingdom, United States and Syria.


Mustafa Setmariam Naser

Mr Naser was born in Aleppo, Syria on 27 October 1957. He fled Syria in the early 1980s after a challenge to the dictatorship failed. He arrived in Spain in 1985, and in 1988 married Helena, our client, in Madrid. Mr Naser subsequently became a Spanish citizen. Mr Naser and our client have four children.

Mr Naser wrote a number of books and other publications and was viewed as an influential theorist and intellectual in the Islamist movement.

Mr Naser and his family moved to the UK in 1995.

He has been alleged to have been involved in various offences. He and his family have always denied involvement, and he has never been convicted of any of them.

In 1999, they moved to Afghanistan. From 2002 until his disappearance, Mr Naser lived in Pakistan. In late 2005, Helena and the children moved to Kuwait as the situation in Pakistan became dangerous. Mr Naser was to join them, but in October 2005 he disappeared.

Numerous media reports have stated that Mr Naser was arrested by the Pakistani authorities and subsequently handed over the US authorities. It has been reported that he was transferred to US naval custody in the Chagos Islands (Diego Garcia) in November 2005.

Attempts by NGOs, journalists and Spanish prosecutors to ascertain whether Mr Naser is in US control and/or his whereabouts have all been either ignored or met with a “neither confirm nor deny” response.

What is known for certain is that the US Government removed Mr Naser from the FBI’s most wanted list and its “Rewards for Justice” list shortly after his reported detention.

Helena Moreno’s only wish is to find her husband and, if the allegations against him are maintained, that he is given a fair and open trial.

Evidence that Naser was held at Diego Garcia:

Reprieve has complied many witness sources to confirm this, including: two recently retired CIA members confirming the fact in private conversation; Judge Balthazar Garzon from Spain (who was investigating Mr Naser) confirming it to El-Pais newspaper; Spanish police and Syrian officials confirming it off the record. Syrians have said off the record that the Americans handed Mr Naser to them and now they have him. If this has been done, Mr Naser was rendered to a state known for persecution in violation of the Convention Against Torture.

Renditions and Diego Garcia

Between October 2003 and January 2008, the US government provided numerous assurances that no detentions or renditions had occurred within the jurisdiction of British Overseas Territory Diego Garcia.

For almost five years the British government accepted these assurances, and to Reprieve’s knowledge did nothing to further inquire into these serious and persistent allegations.

Finally, in February 2008, Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced that his US counterparts had ‘checked their records’ and had discovered that two rendition flights, each carrying one prisoner, had passed through Diego Garcia in 2002.

Mr. Miliband maintained, however, that the planes had only landed for refuelling, and that no prisoner had ever set foot on Diego Garcia.

However, there is strong evidence that Diego Garcia was used to actually hold at least three prisoners (Abu Zubaydah, Hambali and Mustafa Setmariam Naser) at various times between 2002 and 2006. The former US commander of SouthCom, General McCaffery, has confirmed on two occasions that prisoners have been held on Diego Garcia, and the Council of Europe (June 2007) spoke of receiving ‘[c]oncurring confirmations that United States agencies have used the island territory of Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of the United Kingdom, in the “processing” of high-value detainees.’

Recent research and reports suggest that the rendition flights conceded by David Milliband are the tip of the iceberg in terms of Diego Garcia’s role in the US rendition programme, and that prisoners likely classed as “High Value Detainees” have been held on the island or off its coast over a period of five years.

The US government has admitted that prisoners held in its “High Value Detainee” programme were routinely subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including water-boarding, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation, in the context of prolonged incommunicado detention.


For further information, please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office on 020 7427 1099 or or the American Civil Liberties Union on (212) 549-2666;

Notes 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’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, 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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