In the Media

The crime is forfeting principles

PUBLISHED December 15, 2011

Almost eight years ago, the British detained two Pakistani men in Iraq. They were Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali, although their names would remain secret for years. They were turned over to the Americans and, with full British knowledge, rendered to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. In transit and upon arrival, they were badly mistreated.

Ever since, they have languished in Bagram?s ?black hole? detention centre, sometimes described as Guant?namo?s evil twin, without charges and without trial. In 2009, John Hutton, the Minister of Defence, made a statement in the Commons, labelling them both members of the Sunni terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Since when have we tried, convicted and condemned people on the word of a politician? Yesterday the Court of Appeal unanimously reminded everyone that this is not how Britain has operated for the past 700 years. They have never been officially charged with anything and guilt may only be determined by a fair trial. Even without a trial, the US military determined last year that Mr Rahmatullah should be released from Bagram, but he remains incarcerated.

The real crime here is the wholesale forfeiture of our long-established principles by politicians who are all too keen to believe dubious intelligence, and tar someone as a terrorist without giving them a right of fair reply. Various politicians seem to think that judges and their irritating enforcement of human rights are a regrettable appendage to government. But thank goodness someone is there to remind everyone that our nation is built on decency and the rule of law.

There have been an estimated 2,400 people in the Bagram ?black hole?, but who they are and what they are supposed to have done, remains a mystery.

Clive Stafford Smith is director of Reprieve