In 2004, British intelligence colluded with the CIA to detain the al Saadi family and render them back to Libya into the hands of Gaddafi’s spy chief. Sami al Saadi was subsequently imprisoned and tortured for six years, until his release following the Libyan revolution in 2011.
The rendition was part of a wider political and financial deal with Libyan dictator Gaddafi. At the time, Sami’s daughter Khadija was 12 years old. His other children were aged 11, nine, and six.
When I was 12 years old, I was bundled onto a dark plane, separated from my parents, and told to keep my two younger brothers and younger sister quiet and calm. They were 11, nine, and six years old. All we could hear was our mother crying, saying that we were being taken back to Libya to be executed by Colonel Gaddafi. When we landed, I was told to go and say goodbye to my father, who was bound up and had a needle in his arm. I fainted, because I was sure we were going to be killed. We now have the actual faxes and flight plans that prove that the CIA arranged the whole thing. That is what the rendition programme involved, however hard the politicians try to black out the truth from their report.
– Khadija al Saadi
After the rendition operation, Sami, an outspoken political opponent of the Gaddafi regime, was imprisoned and tortured for six years. He was treated so badly that when he was finally released – following the Libyan revolution that deposed Gaddafi in 2011 – he had to be helped to walk out of the prison.
Assisted by Reprieve, the al Saadi family brought legal action against the British authorities for their complicity in the rendition, and for Sami’s subsequent unlawful detention and torture at the hands of the Gaddafi regime.
This notorious case is one of few known examples of the rendition of an entire family, including young children, to a country where British intelligence would have known that they would face torture. The al Saadi family accepted a substantial out-of-court settlement in December 2013.
We now know that Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’ was bought with ugly compromises. Perhaps the ugliest was for MI6 to deliver a whole family to one of the world’s most brutal dictators.
– Kat Craig, Reprieve’s Legal Director
As outspoken opponents of Colonel Gaddafi, the al Saadi family were forced to move around the world in order to escape detection by his agents. In 2004, MI6 were alerted to their detention in Hong Kong on immigration issues. They alerted the CIA, who then worked closely with the Libyan intelligence services to arrange the family’s rendition back to Libya.
The family was forced on to a plane in Hong Kong and flown to Libya. During their rendition, they were all separated from each other, and Sami – an insulin-dependent diabetic – was bound to a seat. Sami’s wife and children were crying throughout the flight at the thought that they faced death on arrival. When the plane landed in Libya, Sami’s eldest daughter Khadija was told to “go and say farewell” to her father. When she saw him bound up and with a needle in his arm, she fainted.
The whole family was imprisoned, and only released after some days. Sami remained in Gaddafi’s most notorious jails, and was ill-treated for years before his release.
Evidence of the UK’s part in the operation emerged after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011.
CIA correspondence with Libyan intelligence, found in spy chief Moussa Koussa’s office by Human Rights Watch after the fall of Tripoli, states that “we are…aware that your service had been cooperating with the British to effect [Sami al Saadi’s] removal to Tripoli…the Hong Kong Government may be able to coordinate with you to render [Sami al Saadi] and his family into your custody.”
My family suffered enough when they were kidnapped and flown to Gaddafi’s Libya. They will now have the chance to complete their education in the new, free Libya. I will be able to afford the medical care I need because of the injuries I suffered in prison.
– Sami al Saadi
Hear Khadija al Saadi describe her experience to the BBC: