A Libyan dissident has won the right to sue the British Government and intelligence agencies in the English courts over claims he was unlawfully abducted and tortured with the involvement of MI6.
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a military commander who fled the Gaddafi regime in 1998, claims former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and senior members of the security services were “co-conspirators” in his illegal detention and torture in 2004, when he and his wife were kidnapped in China and transported via Malaysia to Thailand and, finally, to Libya.
Mr Belhaj, who claims he was interrogated in Libya at least twice by British agents, launched his claim following the discovery in 2011 of a cache of secret documents in the rubble of Tripoli between a senior lieutenant to Muammar Gaddafi, CIA officials and Mark Allen, then head of counter-terrorism at MI6.
Lawyers for the Foreign Office tried to resist his claim on the grounds “act of state doctrine”, arguing that the UK courts could not inquire into what happened because it also involved agents from a foreign state, namely the US.
But in a potentially devastating blow to the UK Government, the Court of Appeal yesterday said the case involved such serious allegations that it took precedent over allies’ concerns.
“There is a compelling public interest in the investigation by the English courts of these very grave allegations,” the judgment by Lord Dyson, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Lady Justice Sharp said. “The stark reality is that unless the English courts are able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations against the executive will never be subjected to judicial investigation. The risk of displeasing our allies or offending other states... cannot justify our declining jurisdiction on grounds of Act of State over what is a properly justiciable claim.”
British injustice: cases that shamed the UK
British injustice: cases that shamed the UK
1/4 Abdel Hakim Belhadj
The prominent Gaddafi opponent and now politician alleged that the British government allowed a CIA rendition back to Libya in 2004 where he was tortured, incarcerated for years and interrogated by agents including, he claimed, British ones. His case was ruled out by a High Court judge who said it risked harming British interests
2/4 Baha Mousa
The Iraqi died in Army custody in 2003 after he was beaten and abused by troops. The case resulted in the jailing of Corporal Donald Payne in 2007 – the first member of the British armed forces to be convicted of a war crime
3/4 Binyam Mohamed
The Ethiopian-born UK resident was secretly rendered to Guantanamo Bay after being seized in Pakistan in 2002. Eight years later, British judges disclosed CIA information which showed that MI5 and MI6 knew that he had been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment
4/4 Paulo Muoka Nzili (2nd left)
One of three Kenyans to sue the British government in 2012 claiming they were tortured during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s. He said colonial authorities responded with lethal force. The case was settled out of court
Mr Belhaj, who is now head of Libya’s Al-Watan political party, claims he was abducted in China and transported to Tajoura prison, near Tripoli, where he says he was chained to a window, deprived of sleep, beaten, hung from the walls and kept in solitary confinement. He also alleges he was interrogated by British intelligence officers who visited his cell.
Mr Belhaj launched his action after human rights organisations found hundreds of secret letters and faxes that MI6 and the CIA had sent to Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa.
The documents suggest MI6 tipped off Libya as to Mr Belhaj’s location. One fax from Mark Allen congratulated Koussa on the “safe arrival” of Belhaj, stating it was “the least we could do for you and for Libya”.
The Belhaj family launched a bid for compensation and declarations of illegality, but have also indicated they would settle the case for just £3, providing they receive an unreserved apology from the Government.
Cori Crider, of human rights organisation Reprieve, said: “The court was right: embarrassment is no reason to throw torture victims out of court. The Government’s dubious and wasteful delay tactics in this case need to end. Enough is enough.”
Lawyer Sapna Malik, who represented Belhaj, said: “The Court of Appeal has rightly recognised that the gravity of the allegations raised by our clients makes it all the more compelling for the English courts to get on and deal with their case.”
The Foreign Office is now deciding whether to appeal.Reuse content