Jack Straw faces legal action over allegations he personally approved rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj

 

Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, faces a court cross-examination over allegations he personally approved the rendition of a Libyan military commander.

Lawyers representing Abdel Hakim Belhadj took the dramatic step of serving legal papers on the senior Labour MP following claims he gave the go-ahead to the illegal operation.

Mr Belhadj claims Britain was complicit in his seizure by the US and return to Libya, where he was jailed and tortured by the Gaddafi regime for six years.

Mr Straw has always appeared to deny approving or even knowing about the rendition – a denial recently echoed by Tony Blair.

However, fresh claims have surfaced that he authorised the operation.

The Independent has been told that he was approached recently by Foreign Office lawyers and shown evidence apparently contradicting his public statements.

Mr Belhadj’s lawyers, who are also representing another Libyan man, Sami Al Sadadi, have called for the former Foreign Secretary to produce all the paperwork relating to the case, as well as his diaries and notes over the relevant period.

The Metropolitan Police are already examining allegations of rendition. The Libyans’ lawyers, Leigh Day and Co, say the recent claims of Mr Straw’s alleged complicity in the rendition could lead to a criminal prosecution.

Mr Straw, the MP for Blackburn, has denied approving any unlawful rendition operations, or having any knowledge of them. Last autumn he said it had always been the position of Foreign Secretaries that they were opposed to unlawful rendition, were “not complicit in it” and did not “turn a blind eye to it”.

He said yesterday: “I am sorry that I can’t say more about this case, but with a police investigation pending and this intended civil legal action, I am sorry that it is not appropriate for me to say any more about it.”

The lawyers said Mr Belhadj was claiming damages personally from the former Foreign Secretary in recompense for the “trauma involved”. But they stressed his main aim was to seek an apology for the events and for the truth to emerge.

Sapna Malik, a partner at Leigh Day & Co, said: "We have said all along that liability must follow the chain of command.

“These latest revelations bring us closer to that goal. If the former foreign secretary does not now own up to his role in this extraordinary affair, he will need to face the prospect of trying to defend his position in court.”

Cori Crider, legal director of Reprieve, said: "At last it seems we know who signed off Britain's involvement in rendition to torture.

“Jack Straw must come clean with Mr Belhadj, Mr al Saadi and their families. They deserve an apology for the appalling way they were treated.”

Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia director John Dalhuisen said: "This latest announcement of legal action by a rendition victim could be an important step towards accountability through the civil courts."

He added this was "an ongoing reminder of the failure by UK authorities to establish a human rights-compliant inquiry into these and wider allegations of UK involvement in torture and other human rights violations, in Libya and elsewhere.”

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Government's position on torture is well-known. We stand firmly against it and any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. We do not condone that and we do not ask others to do it on our behalf.

"We take the allegations very seriously. What is important now is to ensure a fair trial and civil proceedings when people accuse the Government of mistreatment and seek compensation.”

Who is Abdel Hakim Belhadj?

Today, as the head of the Tripoli Military Council, he is a powerful figure with the Libyan transitional government.

Before last year’s civil war he was one of the most prominent rebels calling for Muammar Gaddafi’s removal from power. He led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was previously listed by Britain and the US as a terrorist organisation. It was also accused by the Gaddafi regime of links with al-Qa’ida – a claim it strongly denied.

How did he come to be arrested?

Following a tip-off from MI6, Mr Belhadj was arrested in March 2004 with his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, as they attempted to fly from Malaysia to Britain. They were picked up when their plane stopped in Thailand, handed over to the CIA and returned to Libya. According to documents uncovered following Gaddafi’s fall, the “rendition” flight carrying the couple refuelled on the British island of Diego Garcia.

What happened to them in Libya?

Mr Belhadj spent six years in jail – he says he was tortured, beaten and left hanging from the wrists. Ms Bouchar, who says she was chained to a wall and deprived of food for five days, was only released after she had given birth.

What is the British link?

Papers unearthed in Tripoli show the extraordinary efforts made by the Blair Government to bring Gaddafi in from the cold. One letter, allegedly sent in March 2004 from Sir Mark Allen, the former MI6 director of counter terrorism, to Moussa Koussa, the former Libyan foreign minister, is said to pass on thanks for helping to arrange Tony Blair’s recent visit to Gaddafi. It adds: “Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq [an alternative name for Belhadj] “This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built.”

Why is Straw being sued?

The Sunday Times this week quoted “well-placed sources” as alleging that Mr Straw did approve the rendition operation.Mr Straw has always denied approving unlawful rendition.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn