UK judges say they cannot free Afghanistan detainee

Yunus Rahmatullah
Image caption Yunus Rahmatullah has been held for seven years without charge

High Court judges have refused to free a man in Afghanistan after the charity Reprieve sought his release under one of England's most ancient laws.

Yunus Rahmatullah was seized by British soldiers in Iraq in 2004 as a suspected insurgent and then secretly taken by US forces to Bagram air base.

His lawyers wanted a writ of habeas corpus, forcing the government to ask Washington to release Mr Rahmatullah.

But the High Court ruled the UK had no control over the prisoner's fate.

Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Silber dismissed Reprieve's application and refused to grant a writ of habeas corpus, a right in English law which dates back to the Magna Carta.

Under habeas corpus, an accused person has to be either charged or released if they are detained for too long.

But Lord Justice Laws said Rahmatullah, who is from Pakistan, was "in the hands of the Americans" and British ministers were not in a position to "direct (his) delivery".

Admitted 'jihad'

Mr Rahmatullah's case emerged in 2009 after ministers admitted two detainees, formerly held by British forces in Iraq, had been transferred by the Americans to Afghanistan, a process dubbed extraordinary rendition.

The 28-year-old was seized by British forces in February 2004 during an operation against insurgents in Iraq.

The soldiers handed him over to their US counterparts under a Memorandum of Understanding covering how prisoners would be managed. Within weeks he was at Bagram and was held incommunicado until his family were permitted to speak to him on the telephone last year.

Mr Rahmatullah told US interrogators he was the victim of brainwashing and regretted ever joining the jihad in Iraq.

In June 2010, a detention review board accepted his pleas and authorised his release, saying he posed "no enduring security threat" - but he remains in detention.

Nathalie Lieven QC, for Mr Rahmatullah, told the High Court on Friday his client was being held in breach of international law and added: "It is UK forces which detained this man. It is the UK who have the power to get him back."

But James Eadie QC, for the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, said Mr Rahmatullah was "in the power, custody and control of the US" and he said it was not right for a British court to "opine" on the legality of an American detention and any such action could affect Britain's relationship with the US.

Following the court's decision, Reprieve said it would appeal against the ruling.

Its legal director Cori Crider said: "The court clearly understood the importance of habeas corpus and was troubled that a cleared man could be held for over seven years, but found against Mr Rahmatullah because the UK continues to hide the ball about its role in his detention and transfer to a black hole, as well as its power to get him out now."

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