PRESS CONFERENCE: 1:30 pm, Monday 17th August 2009
August 17, 2009
Room Q, Portcullis House
Westminster SW1A 2LW
Reprieve will today announce litigation against the British Government over the cover-up of the truth about the illegal rendition to Afghanistan of two prisoners captured by the British in Iraq in 2004
Speakers: Clive Stafford Smith OBE, Edward Davey MP, Omar Deghayes
In early 2004, the British arrested two men in Iraq. The British handed them over to the Americans, and were told that they would be rendered to Bagram. This illegal rendition happened, without UK protest, around June 2004.
Since that time, the two men have been held beyond the rule of law and miles from their families in Bagram Air Force Base. They have never been charged with an offence, and the periodic review of their status by the US military has been characterized by a US federal judge as falling “well short of what the Supreme Court found inadequate at Guantánamo.”
The British government failed to admit to the rendition until John Hutton issued a statement, which amounted to an apology, to Parliament, on February 26, 2009. However, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) statement failed to identify the victims.
Reprieve immediately wrote to Mr Hutton asking for information that would allow Reprieve to bring a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the two men, thereby reuniting them with their legal rights. Three months later, the MOD wrote back asserting that the men’s identity was secret, and that it would violate their rights under the Data Protection Act to reveal this information.
Reprieve has tried to identify the men through independent investigation. This is very difficult, as a shroud of secrecy hangs over Bagram. However, by interviewing prisoners who have been released from the prison, we had tentatively identified the prisoners as Salah el Din and Saifullah, both from Pakistan. Salah el Din, in particular, suffers from serious mental problems as a result of his mistreatment in custody.
Unfortunately, this information is insufficient to identify the men properly, and track down their families in order to secure authorization to bring litigation on their behalf.
We are now suing the government to obtain the necessary information.
In his parliamentary statement, John Hutton seemed to suggest that the mere American allegation that these two men were associated with Lashkar e Tayyiba obviates the need for the rule of law. Yet this is the essential mistake that is always made when we advocate holding people without due process: of the 13 prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay with similar allegations, the intervention of lawyers has resulted in 10 (76%) being cleared of the allegation.
Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith said:
“These two men have been held in appalling conditions for five years, and for all that time the British Government chose to do nothing. While we have not been able to identify their full names, we have learned that at least one of the men is now suffering from very serious mental problems as a result of his mistreatment. We have an urgent moral, as well as legal, duty to repair the damage his rendition has caused.
“How many more times is the Government going to say one thing – that they never cover up complicity in torture – while doing the opposite. Here, the Government admits its involvement in the crime of rendition, says it apologizes, but then does nothing to reunite the victims with their legal rights.
“Imagine, if you will, that a criminal was to apologize for taking part in a kidnap, but then refuse to name his victims, or to help secure their freedom. We would hardly accept the apology as being sincere.”
Former prisoner Omar Deghayes says of Bagram:
“Lying on the floor of the compound, all night I would hear the screams of others in the rooms above us as they were tortured and interrogated.
“My number would be called out, and I would have to go to the gate. They chained me and put a bag over my head, dragging me off for my own turn. They would force me to my knees for questioning, and threaten me with more torture.”
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 Guantánamo 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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