‘These two men have been held in appalling conditions for five years, and for all that time the British government chose to do nothing,’ legal charity Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith told a news conference at Westminster yesterday.
He was announcing litigation against the British government over the alleged cover-up of the truth about the illegal rendition to Afghanistan of two prisoners captured by the British in Iraq in 2004.
Reprieve said in a statement: ‘In early 2004, the British arrested two men in Iraq. The British handed them over to the Americans, and were told that they would be rendered to Bagram. This illegal rendition happened, without UK protest, around June 2004. 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. 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 immediately wrote to Mr Hutton asking for information that would allow Reprieve to bring a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the two men, thereby reuniting them with their legal rights.
‘Three months later, the MoD wrote back asserting that the men’s identity was secret, and that it would violate their rights under the Data Protection Act to reveal this information.
‘Reprieve has tried to identify the men through independent investigation. 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.’