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.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker