In a deviation from the dry, legal language that marks the
opinion, even the judges described Bagram as "a place said to be notorious for
human rights abuses."
As in the United States, lawyers and human rights activists here have successfully turned to the courts to staunch the erosion of civil liberties released by the Bush Administration's war on terror, which the Blair government joined. While the British government steadfastly denied that it had ever been complicit in the American program of extraordinary rendition--under which terrorist suspects were secretly spirited away, bound and gagged, to third countries where they were tortured--court cases have shown otherwise.
In perhaps the most notorious case, Reprieve, representing Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohammed, sued the British government to obtain documents showing that Binyam, a British citizen, had been tortured (including having his genitals sliced with a razor) while in Morocco, before being transferred to Guantanamo. Binyam was seized in Pakistan, where the Americans alleged he was plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States.
The British Government fought hard in the courts to avoid releasing any documents, arguing that to do so would harm relations with the United States. The Obama Administration even went so far to argue that if the judges ordered the release of the documents, the United States might discontinue sharing intelligence with Britain.
The judges weren't cowed. Ultimately, Reprieve prevailed, securing Binyam's release without any charges ever being filed against him.
Along with several other former Guantanamo prisoners, Binyam sued here for damages arising out of their imprisonment, arguing that the British Government had been complicit. The men were represented by lawyers from several private firms. The government settled the cases for undisclosed amounts of money, but thought to be substantial.
In seeking Yunus's release, Reprieve lawyers relied on, and
the Court accepted, the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and a bilateral
agreement between the United States and Britain signed during the Bush
The Geneva Conventions govern the treatment of prisoners of
war. In addition to requiring humane treatment, the treaty requires that prisoners
not be held indefinitely without trial. The Bush Administration cavalierly
declared that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to their "war on terror."
It was a policy decision that alarmed most American military
commanders, who rely on the conventions to protect their soldiers when
It also disturbed the British Government, which proceeded to
seek a bilateral agreement with the United States, known as a Memorandum of
Understanding. First signed in 2003, the MOU requires the United States to
treat any prisoner turned over by the British to the United States in
accordance with international humanitarian law. The MOU also required the "Accepting
Power" (in this case the U.S.) to turn over any detainee transferred by the
"Detaining Power" (the U.K.) upon the request of the Detaining Power. Stripped
of legalese, the British were saying, It's okay if you want to ignore the
Geneva Conventions, but not for prisoners we turn over to you.