Up to 90 Afghans held without charge by British forces
THE UK is holding up to 90 Afghan nationals in a facility at Camp Bastion, the Defence Secretary has revealed as lawyers claim unlawful detention of the prisoners.
UK lawyers acting for some of the men said their clients had been held for up to 14 months without charge and compared the revelations to when the public became aware of Guantanamo Bay. They are campaigning for the UK High Court to free them but Philip Hammond has denied that the men were being held illegally, claiming that detentions in Afghanistan are legal under the UN mandate.
The MoD says it will now 'restart' the process to hand over detainees at Camp Bastion to Afghan authorities.
Responding to accusations that the facility had been kept secret, Mr Hammond said: “I'm not going to comment on individual cases. What I will say is that the assertion that this is a secret facility is patently ridiculous.”
He admitted that the figure for the number of men held was “in the high tens, around 80, 90”.
Legal documents obtained by the BBC suggest that dozens of suspected insurgents are being held at the largest British military base in Afghanistan, in what their lawyers claim could amount to unlawful detention and internment. They have also been critical at the lack of access they have had to their clients.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers claimed that the Ministry of Defence has refused them access to their clients and only as a result of legal proceedings have they managed to establish telephone contact.
“What happens is the UK could have trained the Afghan authorities to detain people lawfully with proper standards and making sure that they are treated humanely.
“They could have then monitored that, including with ad hoc inspections to make sure that the Afghans were obeying the law. They have chosen not to do so.
“And they have chosen to go down a route which I think is completely worrying and entirely unconstitutional where no one's been told, Parliament has not been told that we have this secret facility. Whatever the solution is, flagrant breaches of the common law and international law, that's not the answer.”
Mr Hammond though, dismissed the claims, suggesting the lawyers' requests would pose a security threat to British troops.
"Let's be clear what they are asking for: they are asking the court to release these people to turn them back to the battlefield so they can carry on with the activities for which they were detained in the first place, putting British troops and other Isaf (International Security Assistance Force troops) lives at risk," Mr Hammond said.
British forces in Afghanistan, operating as part of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), are allowed to detain suspects for 96 hours but can hold them for longer in “exceptional circumstances”, the Ministry of Defence said.
But lawyers representing eight men said the British Army has no power to continue holding their clients, who were arrested by soldiers in raids in villages in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
They have now launched a bid at the High Court for the right to have the cases brought before a court to determine whether the detainment of their clients is lawful or not, the BBC reported.
Mr Hammond conceded that the number of men held was not ideal and usually no more than 20 would be held at any one time.
"Of course, these numbers that we currently have are far higher than traditionally we would expect to have because the system effectively has been blocked up by the problems with transfer into the Afghan system. You would normally expect to be holding only in the region of 20-odd people."
Richard Stein, from law firm Leigh Day who is representing one of the detainees, said: "Our client has been held at Camp Bastion since August 2012. He has not been charged with any crime and has had no access to a lawyer to receive legal advice about his detention.
"We have been asking for access to our client since March and, to date, it has still not been provided. The right of access to a lawyer is a fundamental and constitutional principle of our legal system. Unimpeded access to a lawyer is part of our concept of the rule of law.
"The Government states that one of the objectives of its current work in Afghanistan is to establish the rule of law and build a fair justice system by the time UK forces leave in 2014.
"In such a context, for the UK Government itself to be refusing my client and other individuals the right to access justice is wrong and completely unlawful."
Public Interest Lawyers, acting on behalf of eight detainees held without charge at the UK temporary holding facility in Camp Bastion, issued the following statement: "Our clients have been held for between eight to 14 months without charge and without access to lawyers in clear breach of UK and international law.
"Applications for habeas corpus were issued on behalf of two of the men on April 18 2013 and the court has ordered a four-day hearing from July 23 2013."
Independent News Service