An appeals court issued a landmark ruling Wednesday ordering the British government to free a Pakistani detainee who has been held in U.S. custody for nearly eight years without charge.
It was unclear whether Yunus Rahmatullah would be released as required, however, because the U.S. government is not bound by the ruling. It announced that it was reviewing the ruling.
Britain has seven days to produce Yunus Rahmatullah, who is being held by American forces in Afghanistan, according to the Appeals Court's ruling.
Although Rahmatullah, 29, is not a British national, the UK-legal charity Reprieve filed a habeas corpus petition claiming that his detention lacked sufficient cause or evidence, and that British forces violated international law when they rendered him to U.S. custody.
British forces in Iraq seized Rahmatullah in 2004, but then handed him over to the Americans who sent him to the U.S. Air Base in Bagram, Afghanistan _ a sprawling base that includes the Parwan detention facility where just under 3,000 detainees are being held.
Wednesday's ruling marks one of the first times that a habeas corpus petition has been successful for a detainee at the U.S. base. It puts the United States and Britain in an awkward position _ Britain is bound by the ruling, but the United States is not because the decision was handed down by a foreign court.
Britain's Foreign Office and the Pentagon both said they were reviewing the court's decision.
"We are aware of the opinion and are reviewing the decision by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)," said U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Defense Todd Breasseale.
Reprieve first sued the British government to formally identify Rahmatullah. It then filed a habeas petition asking for his release. Wednesday's ruling reversed an earlier decision by the High Court, which refused to grant habeas relief _ a principle enshrined in English law for centuries.
"The court is quite right _ once the U.K. takes a prisoner it cannot simply wash its hands of him, or of the Geneva Conventions," said Cori Crider, Legal Director of Reprieve. "The (British) government stands warned: failure to get Yunus out of Bagram now may be to aid and abet a war crime."
The appeals court found that the British government has to take action.
"On the face of it (Rahmatullah) is being unlawfully detained and (British ministers) have procedures at their disposal ... to enable them to take steps which could bring the unlawful detention to an end," said one of the three appeal judges, Lord Justice Maurice Kay, in the ruling on Wednesday.
James Eadie, the attorney representing the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, said it wouldn't be appropriate for a British court to make a judgment on the lawfulness of U.S. detention and said ordering British ministers to demand Rahmatullah's freedom could affect Britain's relationship with America.
Unlike the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, detainees have no access to lawyers at Parwan.
The detention facility is slated to be turned over to Afghan authorities in the future.