Charity Sues Government for Details of Afghanistan Rendition Case

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The Guardian/UK

Charity Sues Government for Details of Afghanistan Rendition Case

Human rights group launches legal bid to force government to reveal identities of two men detained by British troops in Iraq

by
Paul Lewis

A human rights group began legal action against the government today in a case involving two alleged victims of rendition to Afghanistan who may have been tortured.

The men, whose identities are uncertain, were arrested by British forces in Iraq
in 2004 and transferred to Bagram airbase, a US detention facility in
Afghanistan, where they are still being held. US officials have
reportedly said the men have ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba, an organisation
with links to al-Qaida, and that they are being treated humanely.

Lawyers
for Reprieve said the men had not been charged with any offence, and a
periodic review of their status by the US military has been
characterised by a US federal judge as falling "well short of what the
supreme court found inadequate at Guantánamo".

The charity is suing the Ministry of Defence in an attempt to have their identities and details about their welfare disclosed.

Reprieve
said today it had tentatively identified the prisoners as Salah el Din
and Saifullah, both from Pakistan. There are concerns about the men's
welfare, and Din is alleged to have suffered serious mental problems as
a result of mistreatment in custody.

"Unfortunately, this
information is insufficient to identify the men properly, and track
down their families in order to secure authorisation to bring
litigation on their behalf," Reprieve said. "We are now suing the
government to force them to reveal the necessary information."

In
a letter to the defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, the law firm acting
on behalf of Reprieve, Leigh Day, said: "There can be no doubt that the
two individuals handed to the US by the UK, and subsequently
transported to Afghanistan, may have suffered illegal ill-treatment of
some sort, and potentially very serious torture. Indeed they may still be suffering such treatment."

The
MoD has yet to respond in detail to the action, but said in a statement
today that Reprieve's allegations about the men's welfare were
"unsubstantiated". In February, John Hutton, then defence secretary,
told parliament his department had unintentionally given "inaccurate
information" about the men to the Commons.

He added that US
officials said the men were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and were moved
to Afghanistan for interrogation because there was a lack of relevant
linguists in Iraq.

"It is clear to me that the transfer to
Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the
time," Hutton said. "We have discussed the issues surrounding this case
with the US government. They have reassured us about their treatment
but confirmed that, as the individuals continue to represent
significant security concerns, it is neither possible nor desirable to
transfer them to either their country of detention or their country of
origin."

Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, said:
"We have an urgent moral, as well as legal, duty to repair the damage
his rendition has caused."Here, the government admits its involvement
in the crime of rendition, says it apologises, but then does nothing to
reunite the victims with their legal rights. Imagine, if you will, that
a criminal was to apologise for taking part in a kidnap, but then
refused to name his victims, or to help secure their freedom. We would
hardly accept the apology as being sincere."

An MoD spokesman
said: "We are in receipt of a letter from Leigh Day and Co solicitors
regarding two detainees being held in US detention facilities in
Afghanistan. We are in the process of considering the legal points they
have made and will respond in due course.

"These individuals are
in the custody of the US government. We have no reason to believe that
Reprieve's unsubstantiated allegations about their welfare are
accurate. The US has assured us the detainees are held in a humane,
safe and secure environment within the detention facility, which meets
international standards for the care and custody of detained persons.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has had access to these
detainees."

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