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High Court hearing for UK rendition and complicity in torture cases

Hearing into the detention and illegal rendering of a Pakistani man and three Iraqi men set to begin in the High Court

Yunus Rahmatullah

23 September 2014

A three day hearing will begin on 24 September 2014 at the High Court in the case of a Pakistani man who claims he was captured and tortured by British troops in Iraq, before being handed over to US forces, illegally rendered to Afghanistan and held for over a decade without charge or trial.

Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani citizen, was captured by British forces in Iraq in 2004. He alleges that whilst in detention in Baghdad, UK soldiers dragged him across the ground behind a moving vehicle, waterboarded and beat him until he repeatedly lost consciousness, and forced him to lie in a coffin-like chamber for a prolonged period.

Mr Rahmatullah was then handed over to US forces whom he alleges also tortured him before rendering him to Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, where he remained for ten years without charge, trial, or access to a lawyer. He was released in June 2014.

In 2012, the UK Supreme Court suggested that Mr Rahmatullah’s rendition was unlawful and a breach of the Geneva Convention, 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 represented by human rights NGO Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day, in his high court legal action to determine whether the UK’s actions were unlawful.

The High Court will also hear a further three claims relating to cases of Iraqi citizens similarly transferred into US custody by UK Forces in Iraq, despite claims that the British were aware that they faced a real risk of being tortured or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment if transferred.

The Iraqi men allege that they were tortured in US custody, including one man who claims that he was subjected to appalling abuse at Abu Ghraib. All 4 men argue that the UK is legally liable for the harm that they suffered at the hands of the US.

The Ministry of Defence argues that the English Courts should not hear the claims because of the so-called‘Act of Foreign State doctrine’. The MoD argues that the claims require the English Courts to sit in judgment about US actions, which it argues, would risk harming the UK’s relationship with the US.

The UK government has raised similar arguments in seeking to resist the claims brought by the Libyan politician, Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife against former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw MP, and others for their alleged involvement in the couple’s rendition to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004.

A judgment from the Court of Appeal in respect of the UK government’s attempt to have the claims struck out of court is expected this Autumn.

Sapna Malik, partner at Leigh Day, who represents all the men at this week’s hearing, said:

“It is vitally important that our Courts uphold the rule of law, even more so in cases of egregious abuse. In our increasingly intertwined world it is imperative that our judiciary does not shirk its responsibility and consign cases such as these to a legal black hole merely because of the involvement of another state. What message would that send to torturers and despots around the world?”

Kat Craig, Legal Director for Reprieve, said: “Yunus Rahmatullah was kidnapped and subjected to horrific torture by the British, who then handed him over to the US for yet more torture and detention. It is an unimaginable ordeal that he has been put through. The UK government must fully investigate their role in this and be held accountable for what they put Mr Rahmatullah through.”

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