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Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali

Photo: Reprieve

 

Yunus Rahmatullah

Nationality: Pakistani (raised in the Gulf States)
Date of Birth: 27 October 1982
Aliases: Salahuddin; Saleh Huddin

Capture: Iraq, February 2004

Detentions: Iraq, Afghanistan


Current Status: Released, May 2014

Photo: Reprieve

 

 

 

Amanatullah Ali

Nationality: Pakistani
Date of Birth: 1964

Capture: Iraq, February 2004
Detentions: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan


Current Status: Released, October 2014

 

 

Timeline of Key Events

February 2004
Detained, near Baghdad, Iraq

11 or 12 March 2004
Rendition to Afghanistan

12 March 2004 - January 2005
Detention, secret prison, Afghanistan

January 2005
Transfer to Bagram Airbase

January 2005 - Present
Detention, Bagram Airbase

Analysis

Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali are Pakistani nationals who were captured in a mission codenamed Operation Aston by British forces in the Baghdad area of Iraq in February 2004, following a raid on a building MI6 believed was a safe house for foreign fighters. The capture was carried out as part of a wider set of operations by a joint Task Force, codenamed Task Force 121, made up of US and UK forces. Task Force 121 was initially designed to detain individuals suspected of knowing about Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction programme. Once it was confirmed that there was no WMD programme, the Task Forces was reassigned to identify and capture Al Qaida suspects. UK intelligence had incorrectly identified both men as members of the Sunni extremist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET).

Ali is in fact a Shia Muslim, a minority sect that are targeted by LET. As a rice merchant, he had been on business in Iran repeatedly since 2002, since Iran is a major rice importer. During his February 2004 trip to Iran, he had crossed the border into Iraq to see the Shia holy sites at Karbala and Najaf, important pilgrimage sites for Shia Muslims, made much more accessible following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Following his capture in February 2002, Ali’s family heard nothing from him until they received a letter through the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2005. This was when they were first informed that he had been rendered to Bagram. They also learned he had been shot in the foot during his initial capture. But his letters revealed very little about how he was captured and how he has been treated, since the rules at Bagram forbid any discussion of his case, and letters out are heavily censored. It was only through telephone calls that he was able to tell his family that it was British forces that captured him. 

Rahmatullah also denies any involvement with LET, and no evidence has ever been produced to the contrary. Indeed the US cleared him for release to Pakistan on 15 June 2010, provided ‘appropriate security assurances’ could be given by the Pakistani authorities that any threat posed by the detainee could be mitigated.  

After they were captured by British forces, the men were handed over to US forces, and were held at the Camp Nama prison, a secret detention facility at Baghdad International Airport operated by US and UK military forces. Guardian reporter Ian Cobain reported details of the way the prison operated and the nature of the torture and other human rights violations that detainees were subjected to. UK forces were involved in capture operations but were denied access to the area of the facility where interrogations took place. This was restricted access for US military and CIA interrogators only, although some members of the UK’s SAS were permitted to attend interrogations.

Human Rights Watch found that detainees at Camp Nama were subjected to beatings, exposure to extremes of cold, death threats and various other forms of psychological abuse and torture. Members of one of the US units that ran the prison have also come forward and reported that detainees were held in cells the size of large god kennels for prolonged periods, were routinely hooded, and were subjected to electric shocks. They also described detainees being taken to a soundproof shipping container for interrogation, and emerging in a state of physical distress. Rahmatullah and Ali allege that while they were held thre, they were tortured by beating with chains, were threatened with execution, and were held in cells just 18 inches wide.

Within a month of their initial capture, Rahmnatullah and Ali were rendered by the CIA to Afghanistan, where they continue to be detained. Analysis of flight data demonstrates that the two men were rendered on board the CIA-owned Boeing 737 with registration number N313P. Eurocontrol and Federal Aviation Administration data shows that this aircraft had undertaken the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj and his wife, Fatima Bouchar, on 9 March 2004 from Bagkok to Tripoli, via Diego Garcia, before flying on to Palma de Mallorca, where it remained for 48 hours, before departing for Baghdad. Conflicting flight plans were filed for this leg of the journey, one which has the aircraft landing on the 11th March, the other on the 12th. Here it almost certainly picked up Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali and transferred them to Afghanistan. Click here for a full analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with the multiple renditions of Belhadj and Bouchar and Rahmatullah and Ali. 

On arrival in Afghanistan, Rahmnatullah and Ali were initially held in a secret prison, and then were transferred to Bagram Airbase in January 2005.

Investigations by UK legal action charity Reprieve, representing both men, initally to secure their release, then in legal action to secure damages for thier mistreatment, found that Rahmatullah has been held incommunicado continuously. They were also told by numerous sources that ‘he is in catastrophic mental and physical shape, and now spends most of his time in the mental health cells at Bagram’. Rahmatullah was eventually released in May 2014, and Ali in October 2014. Mr Rahmatullah calimed that while in detnetion, he was subjected to torture and other serious mistreatment including severe assaults, incommunicado detention, exposure to extremes of temperature and sound, tear gas and long periods of darkness, being placed in a tiny ‘air lock’ cell, being kept naked with other detainees, being beaten on the soles of his feet with rubber flex, and being immersed upside down into tanks of water.

As Ian Cobain has shown, Ali's US captors appear to have mistaken him for Ahmad Dilshad, an LET member. But at some stage during his detention in Afghanistan, US authorities seem to have accepted his true identity, and indeed began referring to him as Amanatullah Ali instead of Dilshad in correspondence. This was also the position of the International Committee of the Red Cross. On his release he returned to Pakistan where he was able to produce his birth certificate, and the Pakistani authorities issued him an identity cardin the name of Amanatullah Ali on that basis. It would appear that Rahmatullah was captured simply because of his assocation with Ali. Despite the fact that US and Pakistani authorities appear to have accepted that his was a case of mistaken identity, British authorities haverepeatedly instited that both men were members of LET.

Legal Proceedings

From 2004 to 2009, the UK government repeatedly denied that it had played any part in rendition operations, even though by March 2004, British officials knew that the US was planning their rendition, and by mid-June, it was confirmed to British officials that the rendition had taken place. Despite this, in December 2005, before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw denied any UK involvement in renditions. His denials were repeated by Tony Blair and again by Straw on various occasions in 2005 and 2006. Yet as Reprieve note, references to the case of Rahmatullah and Ali had been included in papers that were sent to Jack Straw and to Home Secretary Charles Clarke in April 2006. In December 2008, Defence Secretary John Hutton ‘became aware’ of the case and instructed officials to investigate.

In February 2009, then UK Secretary of State for Defence John Hutton announced to Parliament that in February 2004, British forces had captured two men in Iraq and handed them over to US forces, who he insisted were members of LET. The government refused to identify the two men. Hutton insisted that the transfer to Afghanistan related to the ‘linguistic’ capacity of US forces operating in Iraq, although he acknowledged that the transfer should have been queried. Despite this partial admittance, the UK government sought to silence a former SAS member, Ben Griffin, who had been stationed in Iraq and had been involved in capturing detainees as part of Task Force 121, from making any disclosures about UK involvement in the capture and transfer of detainees to US custody in Iraq. The British High Court upheld the government’s application for that injunction on 29 February 2009.

Reprieve, undertook costly investigations spanning three continents between June and November 2009 to identity the two men. In April 2010 Reprieve publically named them as Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali. 

Following their investigations, Reprieve sued the British government to formally identify Rahmatullah, and then sued for the Ministry of Defence for denying his habeas corpus rights. The basis of the case was that a Memorandum of Understanding between the US, UK and Australia, entitled ‘An Arrangement for the Transfer of Prisoners of War, Civilian Internees, and Civilian Detainees between the Forces of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Australia’, signed in Qatar on 23 March 2003, stipulates that where one of the parties violates the fourth Geneva Convention, the Detaining Power (in this case the UK) ‘must take effective measures to correct the situation or request the return of the transferred person’. The Memorandum further states that where a Detaining Power seeks the return of a detainee, the Accepting Power (the US in this case) must grant the request ‘without delay’. Reprieve argued that the rendition of Rahmatullah to Afghanistan and his subsequent detention was a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the forcible transfer of detainees protected under the Fourth Convention from the occupied territory, in this case, Iraq. The British government had previously refused to request Rahmatullah’s return. His lawyers  maintained that there was no reason for thinking that the US would not comply with such a request, especially as a US Detainee Review Board held on 5 June 2010 found that Rahmatullah’s detention was ‘not necessary’

On 14 December 2011 Judges Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Sullivan and Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger of the UK Court of Appeal issued a writ ordering the UK government to request Rahmatullah’s release. The government was given one week to comply. On 21 December, the UK government reported that a request had been made to the US. Judges gave the government an extension to 14 February 2012 to secure his release. However, on Monday 20 February, the appeal judges cancelled the writ after being told that US authorities were not going to comply and British ministers had ‘reached the end of the road’, since US authorities did not accept they had any obligations under international law to return him to the UK government.

Reprieve and Leigh Day took the case to the UK Supreme Court, where they argued his case in October 2012. UK government lawyers insisted they had no power to compel the US to hand Rahmatullah back. A panel of seven Supreme Court judges rejected the government’s claim, and ruled the UK did not have to have custody to exercise his release, based on their reading of the Memorandum between the US, UK and Australia. They also ruled that his rendition and detention was a clear breach of international human rights law.  However, the judges were split 5-2 over whether there was more that the UK government could do to secure his release.  The two dissenting judges, Lord Carnwath and Lady Hale, argued that the UK should have put more pressure on the US:

Where liberty is at stake, it is not the court's job to speculate as to the political sensitivities which may be in play […] The governing consideration for the court should be that the applicant remains in detention in Afghanistan, many years after the conflict in Iraq ceased, and after Geneva convention IV (as seen through British eyes) required him to be released. He has now also been assessed by the US detainee review board as suitable for release … In our view, the court should not rest on an inconclusive response [from a US government official], but should require the resubmission of the request in terms specifically relying on the UK's continuing responsibility under Geneva convention IV and its continuing rights under the memorandum of understanding.

Despite the Supreme Court's ruling, the Ministry of Defence continued in its efforts to prevent the case being heard. A case was brought before the UK High Court in which the Ministry of Defence argued that they should not face the UK courts as the alleged unlawful behaviour against Rahmatullah and Ali had been at the hands of US forces, and that they should either have state immunity or that the Courts do not have jurisdiction over the acts of a foreign state. However, lawyers acting for Mr Rahmatullah argued that the British Forces released him and others into US custody knowing that they were likely to be subject to unlawful detention and torture, and that they should share joint liability for the treatment of the men. The High Court ruled against the Ministry of Defence on 19 November 2014, with Mr Justice Leggat finding that the High Court would be failing in its duty if it did not hear the claims of unlawful detention and torture made against UK forces, and that neither the doctrine of state immunity, nor the doctrine of 'foreign act of state' applied.

The Ministry of Defence appealed this decision, whereupon the case was considered by the Supreme Court. Handing down its judgement on 17 January 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Government's appeals. The Court ruled, 'state immunity is no bar to the claims, and the appellants have not, on the assumed facts, shown any entitlement to rely on the doctrine of foreign act of state to defeat the present proceedings. The appeals are dismissed and the cases may proceed to trial'.

On 7 March 2017, there was a brief hearing in the UK High Court in the case being brought on behalf of Rahmatullah and Ali, in which their lawyers are seeking damages for their mistreatment. The Government argued for a 'closed material procedure' meaning the case should be heard in secret. At that hearing, journalists, members of the public and lawyers from Reprieve were asked to leave the court after 45 minutes. The case proceeded behind closed doors with the judge, the Government and a ‘Special Advocate’ for Mr. Rahmatullah. The Special Advocate is not allowed to discuss the case with his client.The judge is currently considering the case for closed material procedure. If he agrees, neither man, nor their lawyers, will be permitted to see the evidence that the government claims to have to support their arguments the men were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

 

Further Reading

 

Reprieve, The truth about two men rendered by the UK to Bagram, 7 December 2009.

Reprieve, Yunus Rahmatullah.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve, Yunus Rahmatullah: the US and UK caught committing a crime together, 31 October 2012.

Maya Wolfe-Robinson and Ian Cobain, The Guardian, UK Supreme Court says rendition of Pakistani man was unlawful, 31 October 2012.

Joshua Rozenberg, The Guardian, Yunus Rahmatullah's unlawful detention? UK should have tried harder, 31 October 2012.

Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Yunus Rahmatullah cannot be freed by habeas corpus, appeal court rules, 23 February 2012.

Ian Cobain, The Guardian, Yunus Rahmatullah case complaint lodged with Scotland Yard, 20 February 2012.

Ian Cobain, The Guardian, Camp Nama: British personnel reveal horrors of secret US base in Baghdad, 1 April 2013.

David Rose, Mail Online, Why Bagram is Guantánamo’s evil twin and Britain’s dirty secret, 9 December 2009.

Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Terror suspects held ‘illegally’ in Afghanistan prison named by charity, 15 April 2010.

Ian Cobain, The Guardian, Special report: Rendition ordeal that raises new questions about secret trials, 8 April 2012.

UK Supreme Court, Judgement: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs and another (Apellants) v Yunus Rahmatullah (Respondent) and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and another (Respondents) v Yunus Rahmatullah (Appellant), 2012.

Reprieve, The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Defence (Apellant) and Yunus Rahmatullah (Respondent), The Appellant’s Case, 2012.

Rahmatullah v MOD and FCO, Reamended Particulars of Claim, 25 July 2014.

Leigh Day, High Court allows torture trial to go ahead against MoD, 19 November 2014.

UK Supreme Court, JUDGMENT Belhaj and another (Respondents) v Straw and others (Appellants) Rahmatullah (No 1) (Respondent) v Ministry of Defence and another (Appellants), 17 January 2017.

UK Supreme Court, Press Summary: Belhaj and another (Respondents) v Straw and others (Appellants) [2017] UKSC 3 On appeal from [2014] EWCA Civ 1394 Rahmatullah (No 1) (Respondent) v Ministry of Defence and another (Appellants) [2017] UKSC 3 On appeal from [2014] EWHC 3846 (QB), 17 January 2017.

Repreive, UK renditions case pushed into secret court, 7 March 2017.

Ian Cobain, Blair era 'mistaken identity' rendition case goes to high court, 15 March 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rendition Research Team - © University of Kent
University of Westminster University of Kent E.S.R.C