The mother of a Pakistani man who disappeared six years ago urged the British Government today to confirm whether he is one of two suspects arrested by British Special Forces in Iraq, handed over to the US military and secretly flown to a notorious detention centre in Afghanistan in 2004.
Looking for answers in a case that could bring further embarrassment to Britain over its alleged complicity in torture and extraordinary rendition, Reprieve, a legal charity, said it has sued the Government to establish whether the detainee is Yunus Rahmatullah, a name it uncovered following a lengthy investigation.
Clive Stafford-Smith, director of Reprieve, which aims to protect the human rights of prisoners on death row as well as individuals in Guantanamo Bay and other such detention facilities, also accused the British authorities of trying to intimidate the charity into giving up the case by making it cost prohibitive.
Last year, John Hutton, then Defence Secretary, admitted that, despite repeated official assurances to the contrary, two Pakistani men captured and detained by British forces outside Baghdad in 2004 were subsequently removed by the US to Bagram airbase near Kabul where they remain in detention.
He said they were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a proscribed organisation with links to al-Qaeda.
The Ministry of Defence has since refused to reveal the identity of the pair, despite repeated requests by Reprieve, which wants to act for the men and their families. The charity believes it has proof that one of the detainees is Yunus Amanatullah, a rice farmer and father of five from the Pakistani province of Punjab, who it says was shot in the foot when he was arrested by British forces.
Reprieve has already begun legal proceedings in the United States on his behalf, rejecting the allegation that he belongs to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Sunni Islamist movement, because the farmer is from the Shia sect of Islam. He “is therefore no more likely to be a member of LeT than Mr Hutton himself,” it said.
The charity wants to offer the same legal support for the second man but needs to establish his name in order to progress. Adding to the sense of urgency, it said that former inmates from Bagram claim the individual has suffered severe mental trauma because of his alleged abuse while in detention.
Fatima Rahmatullah, the mother of Yunus, is desperate to know if her son is the same man being held in Bagram. She is quoted as telling Reprieve that she was shocked to learn that Britain might have played a part in his disappearance.
“All we ask now is that Britain should give us the information that we need to identify our lost son, and to reunite him with justice,” Mrs Rahmatullah, speaking from an undisclosed location, said in a statement released by the charity.
“As a mother, this is a position that I struggle to understand. My plea to the British Government is simple: Tell me whether you picked my son Yunus up, and gave him to the Americans.
“It is my basic right as a mother to know whether my son is still alive. I cannot bear further suspense. You have the power to help me recover my disappeared child. Six years is far too long to live without knowing whether my son is dead or alive. But I still have hope that the British Government will not make me wait a seventh year in agony.”
Mr Stafford-Smith said the lawsuit, first threatened last year, would have been avoided if Britain had given the name of the detainee. The MoD argues that confirming his identity as well as that of the other man who was arrested at the same time would breach their rights under the Data Protection Act.
Reprieve’s director also highlighted a warning regarding costs that was made by the MoD’s lawyers as part of ongoing correspondence between the two sides.
The Treasury Solicitor’s Department wrote in a letter dated February 10, 2010 that it “will not provide any undertaking that we will not be seeking to recover any legal costs associated with these proceedings from your client”.
The charity is seeking a protective costs order that would require the MoD to cover its expenses even if it won the case. Failure to secure such a guarantee could make legal action prohibitively expensive for the charity.
Mr Stafford-Smith wrote to Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, this week to complain. “The Government may think that bully-boy tactics will intimidate us. In truth, they merely steel our resolve,” he said.
“Yunus Rahmatullah’s mother cries herself to sleep at night because the Government refuses to do the decent thing, and confirm or deny whether her son is alive, and whether her son was rendered from Iraq six years ago. We will never diverge from doing what is right because some misguided official decides to threaten us.”
Asked yesterday whether there had been any developments in the case, a spokesman for the MoD said its position remained unchanged.
A previous statement from the ministry said: “The operation referred to by John Hutton in his February statement was directly related to threats to security and stability in Iraq. The individuals detained in this operation were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and were a significant threat to the lives of Iraqi civilians and to coalition forces.
“Their initial detention was appropriate, legitimate and targeted at saving lives. The ICRC has had regular access to these detainees.”