Although the war in Iraq is over, the fate of two rice merchants by the names of Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali remains in limbo, as it has for the past eight years. Now the British government has five days to release Rahmatullah or otherwise be investigated for war crimes.
A Brief History of the Case
In 2004, the two men were on a business trip to Iran where they were captured by British forces, suspected of being members of a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida. As reported in the Guardian, MoD didn’t release their names because it would violate the Data Protection Act. So the two men were held incommunicado “in appalling conditions”, before they were transferred to American custody. The Americans then sent them to the notorious Bagram Theater Internment Facility in Afghanistan.
This is where their situation becomes sticky because Bagram is like a black hole of legal jurisdiction. In 2010, two human rights organizations, Reprieve and International Justice Network, sought a writ of habeas corpus that mandates that the men be brought before a judge and be given legal justification for being kept in custody. The organizations argued that the two men are being detained in violation of the Geneva Convention.
But the Americans said the writ did not apply because Bagram is in a war zone and out of is authority. The British claimed the writ did not apply because the prisoner was no longer in its custody. However, in accordance with international law mandated by the Geneva Convention, “the Power by whom the prisoners of war were transferred shall, upon being notified by the Protecting Power, take effective measures to correct the situation or shall request the return of the prisoners of war. Such requests must be complied with.” In other words, prisoners must be returned to the country that originally transferred them if said country requests their return.
In December of 2011, the UK court ordered the government to secure Rahmatullah’s release by February 20th of 2012. If the Ministry of Defense fails to as a result of the US breaking its obligation to hand him over, writes Reprieve, they will be left open to war crimes charges. This makes things awkward between the two countries who have been allies since the War On Terror began.
In his op-ed piece in the New York Times, contributor Eric Lewis, who sits on the board for International Justice Network, wrote:
“Responsibility for human beings cannot be shifted around like a game of diplomatic three-card monte. When Britain rendered these men to the Americans, it did not abdicate responsibility for their fates and it is therefore liable for aiding and abetting breaches of the Geneva Conventions. And the American government, which moved these men out of one theater of war and into another, cannot use that as an excuse to evade accountability.”
Reprieve’s Legal Director, Cori Crider said:
“It is now nearly eight years since Yunus Rahmatullah was seized by the British, only to disappear God knows where and turn up in Bagram months later. This was a war crime, and the UK has a duty to remedy the breach. As yet we just don’t yet know what the UK government have done to try to retrieve their prisoner. What we do know is that it will be disastrous for both the US and the UK if Britain fails.”