`Tortured' pilot sues Kuwait for compensation in UK court

Emirate to contest claim against royal family by air force officer who stayed to fight the Iraqis, reports Tim Kelsey
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The Kuwaiti government is to defend itself in a British court against allegations that it assisted in the torture of one of its own officers after the Gulf war.

The unprecedented legal action, to be heard next month, has been brought by Suleiman Al-Adsani, a former Kuwaiti pilot who is in hiding in Britain after receiving death threats.

British courts have historically ruled that foreign governments are immune from prosecution in the UK. But last year, in a landmark decision, the Court of Appeal allowed Mr Adsani to serve writs for compensation on Kuwait through British courts. He also issued writs against three members of the ruling family.

The Foreign Office was asked to serve the writs last summer and the defendants have since appointed lawyers in Britain. They insist they are immune from a compensation claim over the torture allegations and are to contest the Appeal Court ruling at the first pre-trial hearing on 13 March.

Kuwait argues that, under the rules of immunity, it cannot be held liable for acts of torture in its own country. But Mr Adsani argues that he was tortured with the knowledge and assistance of the Kuwaiti government.

If Mr Adsani is successful, the case is likely to promote a flood of similar claims against foreign governments in cases of alleged human rights violations.

The Kuwaiti government has tried to stop the case coming to court by applying pressure on Mr Adsani's family.

An earlier High Court judgment accepted that the Kuwaiti ambassador in London warned Mr Adsani that if he did not stop pursuing his case he could be killed by agents of the ruling family.

When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, Mr Adsani stayed in the country while most, including those who persecuted him, fled to Saudi Arabia. He was born in London, but had lived for most of his life in Kuwait where he served as a flight lieutenant in the air force. During the occupation he worked with the resistance and was badly wounded in encounters with the Iraqi military.

According to claims made in the High Court, when the Iraqis arrived, Mr Adsani was asked to hide a videotape from the invaders. It allegedly depicted one of the most senior members of the ruling family, Sheikh Jabar Al-Sabah al-Saud al- Sabah, being intimate with women. Mr Adsani says that the tape was then distributed without his knowledge.

After liberation, Mr Adsani claims the sheikh began a witch-hunt of those responsible for the tape's distribution. More than 140 Kuwaitis were rounded up and held without charge. On 2 May 1991, the sheikh and another member of the ruling family, Sheikh Talal Fahad al-Ahmed al-Sabah - a nephew of the Emir of Kuwait - came to the pilot's door with a henchman. All were armed with machine-guns.

Mr Adsani says he was whipped with the guns, forced into a jeep and taken to prison. He claims he was handcuffed, blindfolded and beaten.

On the fourth day of his detention, he alleges he was taken to a cellar. His blindfold was removed and he saw Sheikh Jabar and two soldiers. One pointed a gun at Mr Adsani's head, while the sheikh said he should sign a confession or he would die. As he was led into a room, he says he saw a pregnant Palestinian woman being forced into a chair wired to electrodes. He signed the confession and the sheikh let him go. His possessions, including his yacht and cars, had been destroyed.

Two days later Mr Adsani alleges he went to the sheikh's palace to help him find the remaining copies of the tape. He was taken to another palace with a swimming pool in which five or six bodies were floating. He was forced into the water and his head repeatedly held under so he thought he was drowning.

He says he was then taken to a small room, empty except for two petrol- soaked mattresses. The sheikh lit a match, and he and Sheikh Talal and a third accomplice watched the fire through a window. Mr Adsani wrote the names of his torturers on his longjohns and signed. If he died, he said, he wanted them to be discovered.

The sheikh then opened the door and, with his foot on the man's back, poured mineral water over his badly burnt victim. The fire was put out and the sheikh said he would shoot Mr Adsani. But the pilot told the sheikh that his father knew that he was with him and was expecting him home.

He was taken to a hospital, and warned not to tell anyone what had happened. His father took him back to England a week later, where he has been ever since.

Mr Adsani suffered 25 per cent burns. Despite repeated threats to his life, he chose to pursue the sheikh and his accomplices for compensation. The High Court accepted there was a real risk to his life in taking action through the Kuwaiti courts.

Keith Carmichael of the Redress Trust, which has been helping Mr Adsani prepare the case, said: "Our hope is that this case will not go to court but that Kuwait will recognise its responsibility and compensate him. He should not have to endure more pain and suffering from a protracted legal process."