Labour being sued over Bagram rendition

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Legal charity Reprieve on Monday warned the Brown government that it is suing it to obtain the necessary information in order to identify two men who have been held without charge in the notorious US-run Bagram prison camp in Afghanistan since June 2004.

Reprieve has accused the UK government of attempting a ‘cover-up of the truth about the illegal rendition to Afghanistan of two prisoners captured by the British in Iraq in 2004’. It alleges that in early 2004, the British arrested two men in Iraq and handed them over to the Americans.

The legal charity insists that British officials ‘were told that they would be rendered to Bagram’ adding that ‘this illegal rendition happened, without UK protest, around June 2004.’ Reprieve added in a statement: ‘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 characterised by a US federal judge as falling “well short of what the Supreme Court found inadequate at Guantanamo.”

‘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 added that it has tried to identify the men through independent investigation. It said: ‘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 authorisation to bring litigation on their behalf. We are now suing the government to obtain the necessary information.’

Reprieve noted: ‘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 thirteen prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay with similar allegations, the intervention of lawyers has resulted in ten (76 per cent) 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 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 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.’

In a briefing on the Bagram Airbase Prison near Kabul, Reprieve states: ‘Reports exist of three prisons in Bagram airbase: the main prison, operated by US Army Military Police units; a prison operated by US Special Operations forces; and detention facilities operated by the CIA. This report only concerns the main US Army prison.

‘The first official announcement of detentions at Bagram was on January 8th, 2002, when the US government announced that 38 detainees were being held at “Bagram Collection Point”.

‘At this point, the primary site for detentions in Afghanistan was at Kandahar, while Bagram was only a “temporary collection centre.” Nevertheless, Bagram was already receiving individuals brought in from sites outside of Afghanistan, such as at least one prisoner taken to Bagram from aboard the USS Bataan as of January 8th, 2002.

‘At that time, prisoners from nine states were present at Bagram. The justification for rendering prisoners to Bagram was to take advantage of interrogation capacities that were available there but were not available at Kandahar or on the Bataan.

‘In May 2002, Bagram was redesignated from a “temporary collection centre” to a “primary collection and interrogation point,” replacing Kandahar as the principal site for prisoner detention in Afghanistan.

‘Prisoners were brought to Bagram from as far away as central Africa and Southeast Asia, in addition to “scores” of detainees who were brought there from Pakistan.

‘Many were delivered there after being held at secret CIA prisons around the world, according to American officials and former prisoners. Some detainees were taken from Bagram by CIA teams and rendered to intelligence services in countries around the Middle East and elsewhere.

‘To the extent that Bagram was both receiving prisoners and sending prisoners to other sites, it effectively became not merely a detention “centre”, but rather a “hub” of the US government’s global detention and rendition practices.

‘In 2004, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rasul v Bush, and in response to the increased visibility of activities in Guantanamo, the US government stopped receiving prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. On the other hand, the number of prisoners at Bagram started to escalate from approximately 100 at the beginning of 2004 to 500 in mid-2005.’

‘An internal Department of Defence report cited among the advantages of Bagram prison that it permits indefinite detention of prisoners. Although never formally announced as such, the increasing numbers of renditions to Bagram, the movement of prisoners from Guantanamo to Bagram, and the practice of using Bagram prison as a site of indefinite detention show that following 2004 Bagram replaced Guantanamo as the principal hub in the US government’s global detention network.’