Former foreign secretary named in legal documents concerning Gaddafi opponents held after MI6 tip-offs
Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, and Sir Mark Allen, a former senior MI6 officer, have been cited as key defendants in court documents that describe in detail abuse meted out to Libyan dissidents and their families after being abducted and handed to Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police with the help of British intelligence.
The documents accuse Straw of misleading MPs about Britain’s role in the rendition of two leading dissidents – Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi – and say MI6 must have known they risked being tortured. They say British intelligence officers provided Libyan interrogators with questions to ask their captives and themselves flew to Tripoli to interview the detainees in jail.
They recount how Belhaj was chained, hooded, and beaten; his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, punched and bound; how Saadi was repeatedly assaulted; his wife, Ait Baaziz, hooded and ill-treated; and their children traumatised, as they were abducted and jailed in Libya following tip-offs by MI6 and the CIA in 2004.
Belhaj and Saadi were leading members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which opposed Gaddafi. Belhaj became head of the Tripoli Brigade during last year’s revolution and is a leading Libyan political figure. They are suing Straw, Allen, MI6, MI5, the Foreign Office, the Home Office, and the attorney general, for damages for unlawful detention, conspiracy to injure, negligence, and abuse of public office. It is believed to be the first time such action has been taken against a former British foreign secretary.
The court documents, served by the law firm Leigh Day and the legal charity and human rights group, Reprieve, allege:
• MI6 alerted Libyan intelligence to the whereabouts of Belhaj and his family. They were held in Malaysia and Thailand and flown to Libya in a CIA plane.
• The CIA and MI6 co-operated in the rendition of Saadi and his family from Hong Kong to Libya via Thailand.
• Straw and his co-defendants knew that torture was endemic in Gaddafi’s Libya.
• British intelligence officers sent detailed questions to the Libyan authorities to be used in Belhaj and Saadi’s interrogations.
• Straw did not tell the truth when he told the Commons foreign affairs committee in 2005 that Britain was not involved in any rendition operations.
• Evidence by Sir John Scarlett, the head of MI6, to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) in 2006 that his agency did not assist in any rendition to countries other than the US or the detainee’s country of origin was incorrect and misleading. Bouchar is Moroccan, and Baaziz is Algerian, and neither had been to Libya before their abduction.
• Evidence by an MI5 witness to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission about the renditions was untrue and misleading.
• According to the US flight plan rendering Belhaj and his wife to Libya, the plane would refuel at the American base on the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia. If it had done so it would contradict assurances made to MPs by the former foreign secretary David Miliband. Referring to the coalition government’s plans for secret courts, Khadidja al-Saadi, who was 12 when she was abducted, said: “I tried writing to Ken Clarke [former justice secretary] about my case – I told him that having a secret court judge my kidnap was the kind of thing Gaddafi would have done.”
Her father said: “After my rendition I spent years in Gaddafi’s jails, and a secret ‘court’ sentenced me to death. Even now, after everything that happened, I hope and pray British justice will serve me better than this. My family has asked the government to apologise, and the government has refused.”
Cori Crider, Reprieve’s legal director, said: “The public have every right to know just how high the plot to kidnap these families went. Did it stop at Allen and Straw? Or did Tony Blair know what was going on in a torture chamber down the road while he hugged Gaddafi in a tent? You won’t find the answer in Straw’s book [Last Man Standing].”
If the justice and security “secret courts” bill, passes “we will never know”, Crider added.
The abductions took place after the Blair government embraced Gaddafi following the Libyan leader’s promise in 2003 to abandon nuclear weapons. Allen developed close relations with Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa, documents unearthed in Tripoli show.
Whitehall sources say that in their dealings with Gaddafi MI6 was carrying out “ministerially authorised government policy” and were given assurances by the Libyans that the detainees would not be tortured. The Guardian has asked Straw about the renditions. He has said he cannot comment because of a police investigation into the affair.
18 March 2004: “Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Behaj] This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad.” – Sir Mark Allen, MI6’s former head of counter-terrorism, to Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, from documents found in Tripoli in September 2011
13 December 2005: “Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States …There is simply no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we never have been.” – Jack Straw to the Commons foreign affairs committee
12 January 2012: “The allegations raised in the two specific cases concerning the alleged rendition of named individuals to Libya and the alleged ill-treatment of them in Libya are so serious that it is in the public interest for them to be investigated now” – the Metropolitan police