Former UK home secretary faces legal action over rendition

By Robert Stevens
27 April 2012

Information published by the Sunday Times has revealed how the Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown facilitated the deportation and torture of opponents of the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

The information highlights the utter hypocrisy surrounding British foreign policy—in this case, how, since the NATO-led war to depose Gaddafi, yesterday’s terrorists have become today’s freedom fighters and trusted allies.

However, one of their number, Abdul Hakim Belhadj, is not minded to forgive and forget his past treatment. He has decided to pursue legal action against former home secretary Jack Straw.

Belhadj was once a leader of the anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and now acts as the Libyan Military Council commander.

The LIFG was founded by members of the CIA-backed Islamist Mujahideen, who fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s—a conflict that also saw the emergence of al Qaeda. In the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden acted as a financier and recruiting sergeant for the Mujahedin.

The LIFG sought to overthrow the Gaddafi government throughout the 1990s.

Belhadj was imprisoned by the Libyan government in 2004 and only released in 2010. Last year, as the military commander of Tripoli and along with other ex-LIFG members, he played a leading role in NATO’s proxy war against Libya waged by the National Transitional Council.

Belhadj alleges that Straw personally approved his “illegal rendition” to Libya, following which he was subjected to years of torture, including being savagely beaten, hung from walls and deprived of sleep to the point of delirium. While on a flight bound for London from Kuala Lumpur with his pregnant wife, Belhadj was seized on a scheduled stop in Bangkok. His capture was carried out in a joint operation between British and Libyan agents and the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The Sunday Times article disputes Straw’s comments last year that “The position of successive foreign secretaries, including me, is that we were opposed to unlawful rendition, opposed to torture or similar methods and not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it, nor did we turn a blind eye to it.”

It states, “According to well-placed sources, within days of those comments MI6 officers met Straw. ‘They reminded him [Straw] that he had signed off on it. He was shown evidence and [then] he did accept that he had signed off on the rendition,’ said one insider.”

Sapna Malik, representing Belhadj, said of the new information, “The picture of evidence that we have got so far strongly suggests the involvement in what is effectively a crime by Jack Straw. In something so serious, effectively complicity in torture, it is right for the individual to be held to account, not faceless government bodies.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair’s response to the Sunday Times exposé was to claim he had “no recollection” of Belhadj’s rendition.

His claim lacks credibility. It was only weeks after Belhadj was spirited away that Blair arrived in Tripoli to complete his “deal in the desert” with Gaddafi.

Belhadj has already initiated legal action against both the British government and its security services. Tony Blair could also face legal action. Malik commented, “It would be surprising to us if something of this magnitude was not done with Mr. Blair’s knowledge. Our clients would like us to follow this case up the chain of command. He was at the top of the chain of command.”

Also being personally sued is the former senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen.

Following the brutal murder of Gaddafi on October 20 last year, a letter was discovered dated March 18, 2004, from Allen to Moussa Koussa, head of the Libyan Secret Service. The letter congratulates the Gaddafi government on Belhadj’s arrival in Libya.

The horrific treatment of Belhadj was just the tip of the iceberg. A report in this week’s Mail on Sunday, based on a batch of Libyan government documents, suggests that officers from MI5 forced Libyans seeking asylum in Britain to cooperate with the regime from which they had fled.

According to the Mail, British collaboration with Gaddafi’s external security operation, EOS, saw Libyan agents enter Britain in 2006 in order to make joint “approaches” to Libyan asylum seekers living in London and Manchester.

“Gaddafi’s secret agents were supplied by MI5 with intelligence, secure mobile phones and a luxurious safe house in the heart of London’s Knightsbridge”, the Mail writes.

The minutes of a May 17, 2006, meeting in Tripoli, attended by an MI5 agent and the two Libyan agents who subsequently came to Britain, reveals details of the operation later carried out in Britain.

The MI5 agent, named as “Caroline”, states: “Target 2 could become a very good source and we can pressure him to work for us because he’s not a British citizen.”

The Mail comments, “Another individual is identified as a possible target because he is ‘very emotional’ and would be deeply affected if any of his friends were to be arrested”. The document records, “He could be a good source because he works in a library inside a mosque and he has close links to Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.”

The minutes record that MI5 was prepared to use the fact that Libyan agents were to speak to the targets, in order to later use this to deport them from the UK if necessary. The minutes record, “Libyan operatives could ask him [the target asylum seeker] about problems at home in Libya or in Britain.

“They offer to help in return for giving information we want about other targets. If he refuses, British police will arrest him and accuse him of associating with Libyan secret agents. He will be told that as a non-resident of Britain he could be deported if found guilty.”

The Mail reports one of the MI5 staff saying, “The target person has the right to make a complaint or seek police protection. British intelligence must be careful how they approach a target because this individual could call on human rights or the press and cause a security scandal that exposes the co-operation between British and Libyan secret services.”

A later memo from an MI5 officer to a Libyan general claims that the operation against the Libyan targets in Britain had gone well.

Speaking to the Mail, the “top QC and refugee law expert” said the documents suggested that British law, granting asylum seekers the strictest confidentially in their cases, was broken. Threatening refugees “with deportation if they refused to co-operate with the very regime they had fled” is “a core breach of both the 1951 Geneva Convention, and the Human Rights Act,” he said. “It also appears they were coerced.”

As the cases of Binyan Mohammed and others testify, there is no longer any doubt that the British government and security services were complicit in the most heinous crimes and were fully aware that those being “rendered” would end up being tortured.

The author also recommends:

The Binyam Mohamed case and the threat of dictatorship
[23 February 2010]

Documents reveal how UK backed Gaddafi’s repression
[29 October 2011]