UK rights group accuses Britain on rendition cases

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2009 12:07 PM

A legal rights group said Monday the British government misled parliament about two terrorism suspects who were subjected to rendition.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of the London-based rights group Reprieve, said the government must reveal what it knows about the cases of two men captured by British soldiers in Iraq in 2004 and turned over to American forces, who flew them to Afghanistan, where they remain incarcerated.

Reprieve is bringing legal action against Britain to force it to reveal more about the cases, which first came to light in February when John Hutton, Britain's defense secretary at the time, told parliament the two suspects were members of a banned Pakistani extremist group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Hutton's statement came after British officials had denied for years that they were involved in cases of "extraordinary rendition" _ in which someone suspected of supporting terrorism is transferred to a foreign nation for imprisonment and interrogation without formal charges or trial.

Britain's Ministry of Defense issued a statement later Monday defending its actions in the case. It said both men were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba who posed a "significant" threat to Iraqi civilians and coalition armed forces.

"Their initial detention was appropriate, legitimate and targeted at saving lives," the statement read.

Stafford Smith said the two men have been held at Bagram, the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan, in terrible conditions without charge for five years. One has suffered a breakdown and is in a mental hospital in Bagram, he said.

"This reflects the ongoing problems with the dissolution of the rule of law," Stafford Smith said. "When you turn your back on hundreds of years of the rule of law, you get terrible mistakes."

At the time, the U.S. officials told the British the men were transferred to Afghanistan because American forces in Iraq did not have enough translators to interrogate them, Stafford Smith said, calling this justification false.

Reprieve has determined that one of the suspects is a Shiite Muslim who could not possibly be a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Sunni Muslim group, he said.

Stafford Smith said this suspect, which Reprieve identified as a rice dealer from Pakistan named Amanatullah Ali, should be set free because the allegations against him are untrue.

"We ask the British to accept they have made false statements and to correct them and to give both of them a fair hearing on their status," he said.

He also said the British government was wrong when it said the men were being held in humane conditions.

Lawmaker David Davis of the opposition Conservative Party said Monday he will press the government to answer questions about the fate of the two men.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said the Labour government seems to have misled Parliament. He called for the defense secretary to testify openly and honestly about the case.

"Parliament was never given enough detail on this incident in the first place," he said.