UK High Court Hears Case of Pakistani Held for a Decade Without Charges by UK and US

On Sept. 23, the United Kingdom High Court began its three-day hearing of a case involving the alleged kidnapping, torture, detention, and subsequent rendition of Pakistani citizen Yunus Rahmatullah who was held captive without charges by British and later American forces for a decade.

Rahmatullah’s lawyers argue that the decision by British forces to hand him over to the United States was illegal as it violated humanitarian law obligations concerning the transfer of prisoners of war, civilian internees, and civilian detainees. His legal team is also arguing that the U.K. government was aware that Rahmatullah faced a “real risk of being tortured or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment if transferred” and, therefore, the U.K. government is complicit in acts of torture by the U.S.

Rahmatullah was captured by British troops in 2004 and detained in a secret detention facility in Baghdad before being handed over to U.S forces who transferred him to Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, he was allegedly tortured and held without charge, until his release in June 2014.

Rahamatullah’s lawyers have called for an investigation into his treatment by British forces following a 2012 U.K. Supreme Court decision, ordering that he be released back to the U.K., which suggested:

“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.”

According to Richard Norton-Taylor reporting for The Guardian, the U.K. government has asked the court to dismiss the proceedings because that they will “seriously harm” the defense and security relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. Moreover, lawyers for the government argue the Court is barred from considering the claim because it offends the “act of state” doctrine — the principle that courts must exercise judicial restraint when being asked to review the legislative or executive acts of foreign States.

In late 2013, the High Court accepted that the “act of state” doctrine prevented it from considering a similar claim in Belhaj v Straw — a case involving the abduction, rendition and mistreatment of a Libyan politician and his wife in 2004. Read Just Security’s analysis of the High Court’s decision here (Note: The 2013 decision has since gone on appeal to the U.K. Court of Appeal and judgment is expected to be handed down soon).

Rahmatullah and another Pakistani citizen, Amanatullah Ali, were captured during a raid on a building in southern Baghdad by British special operations troops. According to his lawyers, who filed a 60-page Statement of Claim detailing his abuse, while detained in Camp Nama in Baghdad, “U.K. soldiers dragged him across the ground behind a moving vehicle, waterboarded him, beat him until he repeatedly lost consciousness, and forced him to lie in a coffin-like chamber for a prolonged period.”

It is also alleged that he was force-fed on at least six occasions and was not permitted any outside contact for at least six years, except for contact with International Committee of the Red Cross delegates.

You can read about the full details of his treatment and legal proceedings here and here. 

About the Author(s)

Abby Zeith

Former Legal Research Assistant at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@ZeithAbby).