UK Government claims in rendition case “highly unlikely,” says ex- US Ambassador

A former senior US Ambassador and State Department official has described claims made by the British Government in a High Court case concerning the 2004 rendition and torture of Yunus Rahmatullah as “highly unlikely.”

Lawyers for the UK Government had argued that a case brought by Mr Rahmatullah, who was detained and mistreated by UK personnel in Iraq before being handed over to the US for ‘rendition’ to Afghanistan, should not be heard for fear of damaging British relations with the United States.

However, a statement provided to the court by Thomas R Pickering, a former US Under-Secretary of State who served for four decades as a diplomat — including postings as Ambassador to the UN and Russia — said that the UK Government’s claims “misunderstand the value the United States places on the rule of law.”

Ambassador Pickering stressed that “I firmly believe that adjudicating Mr Rahmatullah’s case in UK courts is highly unlikely to cause damage to the relations or national security cooperation between the US and UK.”

Following his 2004 capture, Mr Rahmatullah, a Pakistani national, was subjected to simulated drowning and beatings which rendered him unconscious. He was later transferred to US custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, after which he was rendered to Bagram, where he was held for over ten years before being released without charge last June. The British Government denied any involvement in rendition for years following his capture — with then-Defence Secretary John Hutton only making public the UK’s involvement in Mr Rahmatullah’s ordeal in February 2009.

Mr Rahmatullah is now challenging the British Government’s refusal to investigate his allegations of torture and rendition, and is also asking the court to determine that the UK’s actions were unlawful.

Yesterday, government lawyers argued that, providing the UK acts in concert with a third party state, it should be immune to legal challenge. They claimed that if a court were to find that the UK, and by implication the US, had acted unlawfully in joint operations this would risk US-UK relations.

Legal charity Reprieve, which together with solicitors Leigh Day is representing Mr Rahmatullah, argues that Ambassador Pickering’s statement fatally undermines these claims.

Kat Craig, Legal Director at Reprieve, said: “The British Government knows that it is in the wrong — yet instead of coming clean on its part in Mr Rahmatullah’s rendition and torture, it is doing everything it can to make sure this case never sees the light of day.  Now a former senior US ambassador, with decades of experience at the highest levels of American diplomacy, has blown the UK Government’s case out of the water. It is time they dropped this shameful attempt to deny justice to a victim of brutal torture and years of mistreatment.”

Sapna Malik, partner at Leigh Day, said: “Our client strongly contests the UK government’s attempt to shield it’s actions from judicial scrutiny by hiding behind the US. It is no surprise that the independent expert evidence presented to the court establishes that the US stands to gain nothing from severing diplomatic or military ties with the UK, and that UK-US bilateral relations will remain safe, were an English court to examine and uphold our client’s grave allegations against this government.”