UK confirms extended detentions of up to 90 Afghans


Under international rules, detainees can normally be held for 96 hours

British forces are detaining 80 to 90 Afghan nationals in a holding facility at Camp Bastion, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has confirmed.

UK lawyers acting for eight of the men said they had been held for up to 14 months without charge in what could amount to unlawful detention.

They compared it to when the public became aware of Guantanamo Bay and want the UK High Court to free the men.

But Mr Hammond said their release would put British troops at risk.

British forces in Afghanistan are allowed to detain suspects for 96 hours.

However, in "exceptional circumstances" to gather critical intelligence, for example - they can hold them for longer.

'Patently absurd'

Documents seen by the BBC suggest 85 suspected insurgents are being held at Camp Bastion.

UK lawyers acting for eight of the men being detained said their clients were arrested by British soldiers in raids in villages in Helmand and Kandahar provinces and have been held for between eight and 14 months without charge.

But the defence secretary dismissed claims that the UK is operating a secret facility in Afghanistan as "patently absurd".


British soldiers in Helmand will have welcomed the comments by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on the BBC today that the only alternative to holding prisoners was to "release them onto the battlefield".

They face a dilemma. No prisoners have been handed over to Afghan custody since Britain was taken to court by lawyers for a farmer who claimed he had been tortured in an Afghan jail after being arrested by British soldiers.

When it emerged last November that Britain was holding Afghan prisoners it led to a strong reaction from President Karzai, who wants all detainees in Afghanistan to be held in Afghan facilities.

US delay in handing over Bagram prison to Afghan control soured relations between the two countries. Once that handover had been completed in March, Britain became more exposed because of its decision to continue to hold prisoners. Australian forces have also stopped handing over detainees because of concern about torture.

Mr Hammond told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Parliament had been informed by this government and the previous one about the detention of Afghan suspects.

He declined to say how long some had been held and said the precise number of detainees fluctuated.

General Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, said the detentions were illegal and inhumane.

"The prisoners must be handed over to the Afghan authorities," he said. "After their handover to us, they will be dealt with according to our judicial laws, and the agreements reached with the international community."

'Secret facility'

Lawyers for the men, whom the BBC has chosen not to name over fears for their safety, launched habeas corpus applications at the High Court in London on 18 April, with a full hearing due in late July.

"The UK could have trained the Afghan authorities to detain people lawfully with proper standards and making sure that they are treated humanely," Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, told the BBC.

"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."

He said the UK was acting in an "entirely unconstitutional" way and that "Parliament has not been told that we have this secret facility".

Mr Hammond told Parliament in December that British forces were "holding significant numbers of detainees" who, for legal reasons, could not "be transferred into the Afghan system".

Start Quote

He does not know how long he is to remain detained or for what purpose”

End Quote Dan Squires Barrister

The BBC's legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the government was in a bind. He said there was a dilemma about what to do with people who are believed to be actively involved in the insurgency, whom the Army can hold for only 96 hours, and who cannot be transferred to the Afghan authorities.

In preparatory legal arguments at the High Court on 22 April, Mr Justice Collins told the government that the case raised serious questions about the British army's power to hold suspects in Afghanistan.

He said the UK could not operate a Guantanamo Bay-style prison, referring to the US facility in which suspects are being held indefinitely without trial.

Taxpayers' expense

A senior government lawyer, James Eadie QC, described this situation in court as a "perfect legal storm" because the Army suspects all the detainees have links to insurgents.

Nato guidelines on detention:

  • British forces operate in Afghanistan as part of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf)
  • They are allowed to hold suspects for up to 96 hours before they are released or transferred to Afghan authorities
  • This can be extended in "exceptional circumstances" where it is necessary to gather intelligence from the detainee to protect British soldiers and local people
  • But there has been a bar on detainees being transferred to Afghan authorities since last November because of allegations that detainees were being abused

The families of two of the men who appear to have been held the longest said they were arrested in the spring last year and interrogated in the following weeks.

But legal papers state their interrogation ended "many months ago".

The families only established where the men were being held with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

One, a teenager, has been held for 14 months, while the other, a 20-year-old father, has been held for 12 months.

In legal papers seen by the BBC, Dan Squires, a barrister for the 20-year-old, told the High Court: "He has not been granted access to lawyer nor brought before a court.

"He does not know how long he is to remain detained or for what purpose. He has asked whether he will be transferred to Afghan authorities but had been told they do not consider that he has committed any criminal offence and so do not want to receive him."

Mr Shiner said Mr Hammond had until last week refused to allow the detainees access to legal representation but had now granted lawyers an hour-long telephone call with two of the Afghans on Wednesday.

The defence secretary was keen to point out that the Afghans' case was being brought "at the expense, of course, of the British taxpayer, because Mr Shiner's actions are funded by the legal aid system".

"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 lives at risk."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    On the same day as this "news" six Bosnian Croats have been heavily sentenced for War Crimes against Muslims in former Yugoslavia.

    Clearly this piece of news (showing Western powers acting in favour of persecuted Muslim people) doesn't warrant a mention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    Well, the golden rule is being voted down. Tough crowd.

    However, it does seem that "helping our troops" has morphed into "for god's sake don't talk about the rule of law".

    There seems to be a belief that the rule of law makes a people weak. That seems shortsighted to me. Seems to me that the reason we have jets and they have attack camels is exactly because we had a thing called the rule of law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    Well it looks like the beeb has won and these people will be passed over to the Afghan authorities who have been accused of torturing detainees.

    We await the ramifications of your actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    All our soldiers are NOT 'heroes' by default.

    Heroes protect the most vulnerable and non-combatents.

    Soldiers however (of any country, not just British and American soldiers) can act honourably, without being labelled 'Heroes'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    407.Jeremy - "..........Many of these detainees have been lifted in the act of planting IEDs"

    You missed out "allegedly" which is of vital importance - without a fair trial there can be no certainty whatsoever that these detainees are actually guilty of anything.

    Look at Guantanemo Bay - OVER 80% of those taken there we COMPLETELY INNOCENT & were mostly just cases of mistaken identity....

  • Comment number 504.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    Andrei Dascalu
    3 Minutes ago

    ".. Assumption of torture is not a reason. What might happen is not a reason.."

    If you read the stories' small print, there was a case last year where the British Courts penalised our government for handing an Afgan to the Afgans who promptly tortured him.

    The BBC might like to explain why that part of the story is in small print, the handwringing in large.

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    The Taleban rarely take Prisoners and when they do, they usually behead them or worse.
    Perhaps ISAF should have the same policy, Take no Prisoners and them that do surrender get a nice trip to the Firing Squad!
    In other words, we should emulate the values of the Taliban, strive not for fairness & democracy but strive to be ruthless killers with a 16th century mentallity??

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    #468 democracythreat

    are you saying that these radical jihadists are not involved in a genocidal war against us , when an off duty soldier is killed on a british street by radicals with the same agenda I would say that detention should be the least of their worries .

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    How do we know if they are getting food and water? And do the prisoners have to wear black bags over there head and stand up in uncomfortable positions for hours at a time?
    This seems to be the customary treatment of prisoners of war these days. I think its more to satisfy the soldiers perverse and malevolent urges than anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.


    "All the prisoners have been arrested due to evidence of involvement of illegal activities against British forces."

    Oh i see now i was a little confused. It seems it is ok for our forces to kill them whilst occupying their country as a foreign invader, but any retaliation is deemed illigal.

    We can shoot them but they cant shoot us because thats cheating.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    If the judicial system in Afghanistan is dysfunctional, we should not leave until it is sorted out.A foreign army incarcerating people in their own country without charge is the best recruiting tool for the Taliban I can think of. They are not prisoners of war, as we never declared war on this nation, only a "war on terror" which is nothing more than a slogan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    Prisoners of War.

    They should be released into their own country once the war is over.

    I remember there was once rules in war. Honour among men.

    Now we torture people, and don't get me started on calling every british death ''unlawful killing''

    Unlawful killing? In a war? erm.....can someone direct me to the new rule book?

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    These suspects should be treated according to the rule of law that is meant to underpin any modern democracy. If we have evidence that the Afghan Jurisdiction are likely to use torture or other unacceptable measures, we should still endeavour to give them a proper trial, and then work with the Afghan authorities to get assurances of fair treatment after they have have actually been convicted

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    The BBC should be ashamed of itself - again! This story is going to stir up anti British forces feeling. It should be pulled.

    But I like to think you're just stupid lefties and anti government rather than anti British forces?

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    "Legal documents seen by the BBC suggest 85 suspected insurgents are being held at Camp Bastion"
    Really? ...and why would the BBC be reading "legal" documents provided, one assumes, by the HR lawyers acting for the prisoners...Rescue these poor men from the wicked British Army immediately and hand them over to Afghan authorities with the compliments of the BBC and UK lawyers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    What if opening to this article read:
    Afghan forces are detaining 80 to 90 British nationals in a holding facility in southern Afghanistan, Defense Minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi has confirmed.
    Makes a BIG difference, right? As though only westerners have families, hopes, fears, & rights under the law!

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    Hand them over or they will be claiming british citizenship next, hurry up out of the rat hole country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    I'm lost, these surely are prisoners of war, and as such surely they can be detained until all hostilities have ceased.
    Just because they are not wearing a uniform does not make them civilians, If they are Taliban they are enemy combatants, Lets not forget it was a taliban government in afghanistan that gave sanctuary to Bin Laden and Co and made necessary the incursion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    These are prisoners of war are they not?
    Perhaps the captors strongly suspect the prisoners are enemy combatants but have no way to prove it?
    Or perhaps they are high-ranking Taliban who would either be freed upon release to the Afghans or executed?
    In the last documentary I watched, Afghan drug barons were hardly ever convicted for their crimes within the court system due to bribery.


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