The British wing of an American arms company was upgrading the communication equipment of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's most feared army unit when the revolution against his rule broke out, documents unearthed in Tripoli show.
General Dynamic UK, the British offshoot of the American arms giant, had a contract with the previous Libyan regime to install new radio units for tanks, artillery and armoured troops carriers of the Khamis Brigade, an elite unit led by Colonel Gaddafi's youngest son.
When the popular revolt against the Libyan dictator broke out in February, the Khamis Brigade spearheaded the regime's military crackdown and has since been implicated in human rights abuses, torture and hundreds of extra-judicial killings.
Researchers for Human Rights Watch and the Reuters news agency unearthed letters from General Dynamic UK updating the Libyan military on the progress of their work at the Khamis Brigade headquarters. The latest letter, written by UK project director Simon Kirkham, was dated 25 January and listed a variety of armoured vehicles that the radio units would be installed in.
General Dynamics pulled its 12 staff out of Tripoli on 19 February two days after popular revolts were violently suppressed across the country.
The radio deal was the only contract work General Dynamics had with the Libyan regime. It was part of an £83million arms deal that the previous Labour government pushed through at a time when London was trying to court Colonel Gaddafi following a diplomatic rapprochement.
Andrew Boyle, a spokesperson for General Dynamics UK, defended the company's role in Libya. "General Dynamics worked with the Libyan government to deliver a communication system to one unit of the Libyan army. It was part of a wider deal by the UK government to bring the Libyan regime in from the cold. We did not provide any weaponry to the Libyan army."
But Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director with Human Rights Watch, said Libya's elite units were able to become so strong thanks in part to procurement from Western countries.
"These elite brigades ... had access to the most modern weapons," he said. "We've documented arms sales from not just the usual suspects but also Western companies. I think the lesson is that if you're going to sell weapons to dictators, at some point down the line you're going to be deeply embarrassed."
With the old regime fled from Tripoli, reporters and human rights researchers have been unable to uncover reams of documents detailing how western governments and businesses co-operated closely with Gaddafi in the last few years of his rule.
Britain's secret services appeared to share close contacts with their Libyan counterparts whilst the Gaddafi regime was feted by the previous government as an ideal arms buyer.
Documents unearthed earlier this week also revealed that the British army had made an offer to two of Gaddafi's sons - Khamis and Saadi - to watch "VIP demonstrations" of the SAS and its sister service the SBS. SAS soldiers are now thought to be helping rebels hunt down the fallen dictator.
Amnesty International UK Arms Control Programme Director Oliver Sprague said he was "not remotely surprised" that further documents had been unearthed showing "the substantial role played by the UK in arming the Libyan regime."
"By the time the UN imposed an arms embargo on the Gaddafi government earlier this year, Libya was one of the UK's best arms customers in the region, with our government allowing the sale of virtually any item on the UK military list," he said. "These weapons should never have been sold. It demonstrates serious shortcomings in the way the UK government applies its own rules to supposedly prevent arms exports where it's likely the equipment will be used in human rights violations.
"Now, with the UK seemingly rushing to promote further arms sales to the region, we need to see the government putting into place much more robust risk-assessment procedures over arms exports."
Arms campaigners are particularly concerned that next week's DSEi in London - the world's largest arms fair - will herald a return to "business as usual" within the arms industry targeting notoriously authoritarian regimes as potential lucrative cusotmers.
Yesterday The Independent revealed how the state owned Royal Bank of Scotland and the government's foreign trade department, the UKTI, are speaking tomorrow at a London Chamber of Commerce event titled: "Middle East - a vast market for UK defence and security companies."Reuse content