Human rights lawyers took legal action against the British government yesterday, accusing it of involvement in the illegal transfer of a terrorism suspect from Indonesia to Egypt where they say he was tortured.
Reprieve, a British-based rights group, says Britain knowingly allowed Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni to be transferred from Jakarta to Egypt via a US airbase on Diego Garcia, a British-ruled island in the Indian Ocean, in 2002.
Once in Egypt, Madni says he was tortured with cattle prods for three months and then sent to the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where he was held for six years before being released last August without charge. He now lives in Pakistan.
If successful, the case could formally link Britain to the illegal transfer of suspects across borders for the first time. Britain has admitted US “rendition” flights passed through its territory but said it had been unaware of this at the time.
“We have made our disappointment about these flights clear with the US and secured firm new assurances that on no other occasion since September 11, has a US intelligence flight with a detainee on board passed through UK territory,” the Foreign Office said in a statement when asked to comment on Reprieve’s case.
Reprieve, which represents several detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, says Britain must have known about Madni’s rendition via Diego Garcia because a specific chain of command was needed to authorise “unorthodox” flights.
The case aims to make the British government come clean about how much it knew about rendition flights.
Financial compensation for Madni, 31, who has suffered physical and mental injuries as a result of seven years in US detention, could also be sought, Reprieve said, while law suits may also be filed against the US and Egyptian governments.
Indian Ocean detention?
“For too long, Diego Garcia has been used as a safe haven for the US and UK to commit criminal acts,” said Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve.
“It is about time this territory was subjected to the scrutiny of UK and international law. Madni’s case is the first step towards restoring the rule of law to Diego Garcia.”
Diego Garcia, one of a collection of islands in the Chagos Archipelago, has been under British jurisdiction since the 1960s. The population was forcibly removed from the islands in the 1960s and 70s and an airbase built. Since then it has been leased to the US for military use.
The British government has always fought through the courts to keep access to Diego Garcia restricted, winning a legal fight last year to keep the descendants of forcibly removed Chagos Islanders from returning to resettle the island.
Andrew Tyrie, a British member of parliament who heads a committee looking into Britain’s role in rendition said: “The litigation announced today will contribute to the growing amount of information on rendition and British involvement in it.”
“But the drip-drip of revelations about UK involvement in renditions is hugely damaging.”
Pic: Guantanamo Bay prision