Speaking in the Commons, the attorney general acknowledged the “appalling treatment” of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, after they were hooded and shackled and flown to one of Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons.
Mr Belhaj was tortured and sentenced to death, while Ms Boudchar – who was four-and-a-half months pregnant at the time – was taped head-to-toe to a stretcher for the 17-hour flight to Tripoli.
Reading out a letter of apology sent by Theresa May, Jeremy Wright said: “It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least the affront to the dignity of Mrs Boudchar who was pregnant at the time.
“The United Kingdom government believes your accounts. Neither of you should have been treated in this way.”
And he added: “On behalf of Her Majesty’s government, I apologise unreservedly. We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it.”
Ms Boudchar would receive compensation of £500,000, but Mr Belhaj “did not seek and has not been given any compensation”, the attorney general said.
The couple had battled for compensation and an apology for more than six years, suing former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6.
The role played by British intelligence officers in the 2004 rendition, from Thailand, was exposed by papers that came to light during the Libyan revolution.
Mr Belhaj was also interrogated by British intelligence agents – something the attorney general admitted for the first time – linked to Tony Blair’s infamous “deal in the desert” with the Libyan dictator.
Mr Wright stopped short of directly criticising the former prime minister, but said the current government’s approach was very different, adding: “Tony Blair has been told about the outcome of this process.”
Mr Belhaj, who is in Turkey, welcomed the apology, saying: “For more than six years I have made clear that I had a single goal in bringing this case: justice. Now, at last, justice has been done.
“We hope our case will serve as a marker for future generations. A great society does not torture, does not help others to torture.”
And Ms Boudchar, who was in the Commons’ public gallery with her son to hear the statement, said: “This case has forced me to relive the lowest moments in my life for many years and at times it has been a real struggle to keep going.”
Mr Wright said there was still a “considerable international threat to the United Kingdom”, which meant it had to “respond properly to keep our country safe”.
But he added: “It is also important that we should act in line with our values and in accordance with the rule of law.
“That means that, when we get things wrong, it is right and just that we should acknowledge it, compensate those affected and learn lessons.”
The “full and final” settlement included no “admission of liability” by Mr Straw or Mr Allen – suggesting that a challenge to the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute the ex-MI6 chief has also been dropped.
There are likely to be protests that it leaves open the question of whether the rendition was the work of rogue agents, or was given political authorisation.
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