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.”
The legal charity Reprieve says that if the US fails 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, says the charity.
Judges have given 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.”