July 28, 2009— -- The British government is being sued for the first time over its complicity in the operation of the CIA rendition program.
A former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, now living back in Pakistan, claims the CIA plane that took him to be interrogated in Egypt stopped to refuel on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S. has an air base.
Mohamed Saad Iqbal Madni is filing a lawsuit in the High Court in London that alleges the stopover makes the British complicit in the torture he received at the hands of the Egyptians and Americans – and, moreover, the British government now has a duty to help him win justice.
Madni says he was first beaten up, tied in chains, and then packed on a Gulfstream jet in a wooden box when he was picked up in Jan. 2002 in Jakarta, Indonesia. He says he was still bleeding from his nose, mouth and ears when the plane touched down to refuel six or seven hours into the flight.
After the stopover, flight records show the plane went on to Cairo, where Madni says he was badly tortured. He told the BBC World Service, "When I arrived in Egypt I was blindfolded and left in a room... they interrogated me three times. Each was for 17 hours and they electrocuted me in my knees. And they asked if I knew Osama Bin Laden or went to Afghanistan or if I met Richard Reid or knew anything about a shoe bomb or future attacks."
Madni was accused of being an Al Qaeda operative and of plotting attacks on U.S. officials. He was released last year from Guantanamo, where he had attempted suicide, and returned to his native Pakistan, where he now lives. His lawsuit is being filed on his behalf by a British legal charity, Reprieve, that has represented many inmates at Guantanamo Bay. Reprieve claims to have worked out that it was Madni who landed on the island by analysing statements made by the British government.
Island of Diego Garcia
Ever since 2002, news reports have alleged the CIA was using Diego Garcia as a secret site to hold terror suspects, either in a prison or to transport them.
The British Government was always pretty strong and sharp in denying all that. But they based their firm denials on what the Americans told them, until the U.S. changed its position.
Last February, British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was forced to make what was quite an embarrassing statement that two planes – rendition flights- did in fact stop there, each with one prisoner.
From its database of the records of prisoners held at Guantanamo and comparing them to the details released by Miliband, Reprieve claimed it worked out that Madni was one of the two prisoners involved. It will deploy the legal argument that since torture is a crime, the British government needs to do everything in its power to help its victims seek justice from the perpetrators. Reprieve successfully deployed the same legal argument last year to force the British government to release its files on a British resident, Binyam Mohamed, then held at Guantanamo, and to secure his release.
Speaking of the Madni case, Clive Stafford Smith, legal director, of Reprieve told the BBC program, " I would defy the British government to deny that we are right." He said, "The issue for Britain is that Diego Garcia is a British territory, we're responsible for it and what happens on it... the Americans are meant to tell us what they are doing and we, as supervisor of Diego Garcia, have a responsibility to make sure that crimes do not happen on it."
The British Foreign Office said it could not comment in detail because of the pending legal action. But, in a statement, they said that while the movement of prisoners through UK territory without permission was "concerning….it did not mean that the UK has been complicit in torture."
Stephen Grey, an ABC News consultant, is the author of "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA's Rendition and Torture Program" (St. Martin's Press). He is an award-winning investigative reporter who has contributed to the New York Times, BBC, PBS and ABC News among others.