The Government must secure the release of a Pakistani man captured by the SAS in Iraq and held for seven years without charge by US forces in Afghanistan, judges ruled yesterday.
In a legal victory hailed by human rights organisations as unique and historic, judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that the 29-year-old Pakistani, Yunus Rahmatullah, must be produced for trial before a British court within seven days, or be released.
The three judges ? Lord Neuberger,the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Sullivan ? overturned a previous High Court ruling from June.
They ruled that Mr Rahmatullah?s continued detention was illegal and that the British Government had the means to seek his return because of a memorandum of understanding with the US, giving Britain the right to retain control of prisoners taken by British troops in Iraq. Lawyers representing the Government and Mr Rahmatullah are expected to discuss the next steps at an appeal court hearing this month.
?Today?s historic decision marks the first time any civilian legal system has penetrated Bagram , a legal black hole,? said a spokesman for Reprieve, the legal action group.
Cori Crider, Reprieve?s legal director,said: ?The court is quite right ? once the UK takes a prisoner it cannot simply wash its hands of him.? The group mounted the challenge in the courts under the medieval writ of habeas corpus, demanding that he face charges and legal process before a British court or be released immediately.
Jamie Beagent, of the solicitors Leigh Day, which represents Mr Rahmatullah at the instruction of a cousin of the prisoner in Pakistan, said: ?We hope that the writ of habeas corpus will finally bring to an end our client?s nightmare of indefinite detention without charge in appalling conditions at Bagram.?
Lawyers for the Government had argued before the courts that Mr Rahmatullah was ?in the power, custody and control of the US? and attempts to intercede or ?opine? on the legality of his custody were not appropriate and would damage Britain?s relations with the US.
Mr Rahmatullah was handed over to US custody together with another Pakistani man after their capture by the SAS in February 2004. A year later he was transferred as part of the US Government?s secret programme of extraordinary rendition to the prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. He has since been held without charge and his physical and mental condition has been described as catastrophic by released prisoners. The British Government only admitted its role in the US programme of rendition in February 2009. It maintained that the two men were members of the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Reprieve has argued that there is no reason to believe that the US Government would not respond to a request for Mr Rahmatullah?s return because a US military tribunal on June 5, 2010, concluded that further incarceration of the prisoner was not necessary.