UK Government demands return of Bagram prisoner Yunus Rahmatullah from US custody

December 21, 2011

The British Government has demanded the return of a prisoner originally detained by UK forces from the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where he has been held without charge or trial for nearly eight years.Yunus Rahmatallah was picked up by UK forces in Iraq in 2004, handed to the US and rendered to Afghanistan. Under a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ – designed to protect the British Government from complicity in war crimes – the UK retained the power to demand Mr Rahmatullah’s return to British custody at any time. In response to last week’s order from the Court of Appeal that Mr Rahmatullah should effectively be either charged or released, the UK Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence have now written to the US Department of Defense, to “request that the United States transfers Mr Rahmatullah to UK custody in order for him to be released.” Should the US fail to comply with the request, Britain risks being put in breach of the Geneva Conventions, and British officials could face prosecution for war crimes.  Such a failure would also raise serious questions over how far Britain could trust the US in a range of other international agreements governing the transfer of prisoners – including the controversial extradition treaty between the two countries. Judges today gave the British Government until 18 January 2012 to secure Mr Rahmatullah’s release from US custody. Reprieve’s Legal Director, Cori Crider said: “The only question left is: does the US keep the bargains it makes with its closest ally? The Obama administration has said it wishes to restore US standing abroad and to bring the US back into line with the Geneva Conventions – well, there is no time like the present.  Were the US not to hand over Mr Rahmatullah, they would expose British officials to war crimes charges. It is inconceivable that the US would behave this way. We look forward to seeing Yunus handed to British custody in January.” ENDS Notes to editors 1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082 or see Yunus Rahmatullah’s case page for all court documents relating to the case.2. The UK Government’s letter to the US, requesting the transfer of Mr Rahmatullah, is available for download — along with all court documents relating to the case — on Reprieve’s website.3. The US-run prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, now holds over 2,000 prisoners, many of whom have been rendered from around the world, without charge or trial. Unlike detainees at Guantánamo, Bagram prisoners are still being held in a legal black hole; they have no access to lawyers and thus are unable to challenge their detention. Bagram is notorious for torture and homicides, and is often referred to as “Guantánamo’s Evil Twin”. Yunus Rahmatullah’s habeas corpus win in the UK Court of Appeals is the first time any civilian legal system has challenged the illegal detention of prisoners at Bagram.

4. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to deliver justice and save lives, 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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