The US has released Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani citizen held at Bagram Airbase for ten years without charge, trial, or access to a lawyer after his capture by British forces in Iraq and subsequent rendition to Afghanistan in 2004.
After years of government denials that the UK had been involved in any rendition operations, Mr Rahmatullah’s capture by British forces was finally revealed to Parliament in February 2009 by then-Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton. Despite admitting playing a part in Mr Rahmatullah’s illegal detention and transfer, the government persisted in refusing to assist him. As a result legal action was brought on Mr Rahmatullah’s behalf.
The UK government subsequently revealed that British officials were aware of a US intention to transfer Mr Rahmatullah from Iraq to Afghanistan at the time, yet did nothing to prevent it. In 2012, the UK Supreme Court suggested that his rendition may have amounted to a war crime, stating: “The, presumably forcible, transfer of Mr Rahmatullah from Iraq to Afghanistan is, at least prima facie, a breach of article 49 [of the fourth Geneva Convention]. On that account alone, his continued detention post-transfer is unlawful.” Mr Rahmatullah is said to be in a grave mental and physical condition as a result of sustained abuse in UK and subsequently US custody.
The news comes as the US Senate’s Intelligence Committee prepares to release its long-awaited report on the use of torture by the CIA, which is expected to implicate UK officials in the abuses of the ‘war on terror.’
The legal charity Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day have brought legal proceedings on Mr Rahmatullah’s behalf to force the UK government fully to investigate his rendition and torture.
Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve, said: “After ten years of unimaginable abuse and imprisonment at the hands the British and US forces, Yunus Rahmatullah deserves a full investigation into the circumstances of his capture. He must receive justice, so that he and his family can move on and return to some semblance of their old, peaceful life. As its pernicious role in the worst abuses of the ‘war on terror’ continues to come to light, the British government must hold its hands up and right the wrongs of the past.”
Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “The UK government must now take immediate steps to properly investigate the role it played in Mr Rahmatullah’s mistreatment and abuse. The UK authorities transferred our client in to US custody, when it knew there were was a real risk such a transfer would expose him to torture, mistreatment and abuse. They failed to take proper steps to try to ensure the US returned him to UK custody. To date, the UK government has refused to undertaken such an investigation.
"Upon receipt of the news today, we hope the UK government will now finally agree to conduct the investigation needed so Mr Rahmatullah, and the UK public in general, can finally know what role our government played in the appalling abuse our client has had to suffer for over a decade.”