The story behind today’s breaking news: the Prime Minister’s apology for UK’s role in abduction, torture and rendition of Libyan dissident and his pregnant wife.
In March 2004, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan dissident and head of an anti-Gaddafi opposition group, and his pregnant wife and Fatima Boudchar were detained at a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand. The couple were tortured in CIA custody, including beatings and stress positions.
“I’ll never forget the sight of my kidnappers, dressed all in black and wearing ski masks, waiting for me in a white cell in the Bangkok detention site. […] A man grabbed my head and shoved me into a truck. They blindfolded and trussed me. […] I have no idea how long I was in the Thai secret prison because no one would let me sleep. The cell was white and stark, with nothing in it but a camera and hooks on the wall. The masked abductors were waiting. I was terrified. They chained me to the hooks. Because I was midway through my pregnancy, I could barely move or sit.
Some of what they did to me in that prison was so awful I can’t talk about it. They hit me in the abdomen just where the baby was. To move me, they bound me to a stretcher from head to toe, like a mummy. I was sure I would shortly be killed.”i
Ms Boudchar describing her abuse by the CIA in The New York Times:
Subsequently, the CIA and Libyan intelligence rendered Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar to Libya.
Upon arrival in Libya, Mr Belhaj was imprisoned for six years and brutally tortured. He was sentenced to death after a sham trial. Ms Boudchar was held in a Libyan prison until shortly before the delivery of her son. At birth the baby weighed four pounds.
In 2011, Human Rights Watch researchers recovered a cache of files from a Libyan intelligence office during the uprising against the Gaddafi dictatorship. These documents indicated that UK played a role in the detention and rendition of Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar.
The documents included faxes between Sir Mark Allen and Moussa Koussa. Sir Mark Allen was a senior MI6 officer.ii Moussa Koussa was the head of the Libyan external intelligence agency. In one fax, dated 18 March 2004, Sir Mark congratulated Mr Koussa on the “safe arrival” of Mr Belhaj and claimed that the intelligence about Mr Belhaj “was British”.iii
In 2012, Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar initiated legal proceedings against the UK Government for its involvement in their detention and rendition. In 2013 the Government passed the Justice & Security Act which permits secret hearings known as ‘closed material procedures’ in civil claims concerning allegations of Government wrongdoing.
The Government then sought to have the case discharged without trial on the basis that hearing it would damage foreign relations – in particular, with the United States. In January 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s application and held that the case could proceed.iv In July 2017, the High Court held that secret hearings could be used in Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar’s case.
Operation Lydd and judicial review
Separately, the Metropolitan Police announced Operation Lydd to investigate the complicity of UK officials in the detention and rendition of Mr Belhaj, Ms Boudchar and another family of Libyan dissidents.v Evidence and information was obtained from a large number of records, individuals and organisations including the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service, other Government Departments and authorities in other countries. In October 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service handed a “comprehensive file of evidence in excess of 28,000 pages” to the CPS requesting a charging decision in respect of Sir Mark Allen.vi
In June 2016, the CPS declined to prosecute Sir Mark Allen, citing “insufficient evidence”.vii Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar initiated judicial review proceedings against the Director of Public Prosecutions. Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar have separately decided to withdraw that claim.