First evidence filed in Libya renditions case as UK government rushes secret courts bill

October 10, 2012

Two Libyan families whom Britain rendered to the regime of Col. Gaddafi have filed the first evidence in their cases against the UK government. The evidence was lodged with the High Court Tuesday afternoon. All defendants in the case – the government, former counter-terror head Sir Mark Allen, and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw – now have 27 days to respond.

Sami al-Saadi and Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, two senior Libyan opposition figures, were flown with their wives and Mr al-Saadi’s four children in March 2004 from exile in Southeast Asia back to Libya. UK and US officials orchestrated the operation. The men spent years in Gaddafi’s prisons, where they were severely tortured and questioned by agents from both CIA and MI6.

Meanwhile, the government is trying to push through a law that would block key facts in these cases being discussed in open court. The so-called “Justice and Security Bill’ seeks to extend ‘closed material procedures’ – secret trials that exclude both claimants and their lawyers – to cases where an individual claims the UK security services were involved in his torture. The Belhaj and al-Saadi cases are likely to be among the first the government seeks to have heard in these secret courts. Parliament will shortly be debating the law.

The Bill has come under heavy fire from rights groups, politicians, prosecutors and ‘special advocates’ – security-cleared lawyers who deal with secret evidence in immigration and other cases. The Lib Dem half of the coalition will be opposing the bill after a motion brought by Jo Shaw passed overwhelmingly at last week’s party conference. Yet the bill remains government policy. Ken Clarke continues to front the legislation despite having lost the Justice Secretary post in Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle. In a prior letter to Khadija al-Saadi – the eldest al-Saadi daughter, rendered at the age of 12 – he says she need not fear closed courts because secret evidence would at least be placed before a judge.

Khadija al-Saadi, speaking today, said she disagrees:

“I tried writing to Ken Clarke about my case – I told him that having a secret court judge my kidnap was the kind of thing Gaddafi would have done. All he would say was that secret trials do ‘justice’ because more evidence would go to the court. But how is it fair for spies to whisper in the judge’s ear?”

Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, who was also rendered and went on afterwards to play a key role in the battle for Tripoli, said:

“Britain helped Libya fight Gaddafi, and we will never forget it, but justice for past wrongs is essential. Now, we in Libya are struggling to build a system where the rule of law applies to everyone. I hope the way Britain handles our case will set an example for all the Libyans who are watching.”

Cori Crider, Legal Director at Reprieve, added:

“The public have every right to know just how high the plot to kidnap these families went. Did it stop at Allen and Straw? Or did Tony Blair know what was going on in a torture chamber down the road while he hugged Gaddafi in a tent? You won’t find the answer in Straw’s book, and if this law passes we may never know. But it’s not too late: the Lib Dems have rejected secret courts, and now the other half of the coalition should follow suit.”

Sapna Malik, Partner at Leigh Day & Co, said:

“The evidence in this case shows that senior members of the Blair government misled the public, the ISC, and SIAC about torture in Libya and their involvement in it. We very much hope we are able to get justice for these families before the Justice and Security Bill covers this sad story up.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: 0 207 427 1099 / clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk

2. Documents seized from revolutionary Libya show Sir Mark Allen wrote Libyan spy chief Moussa Koussa in 2004, congratulating him on the ‘safe arrival’ of the ‘air cargo’ – Mr Belhaj and his then-pregnant wife. Anonymous UK officials previously told journalists that Jack Straw, then Foreign Minister, authorised the operation to render the two families.

3. The detailed allegations describe how in the 1990’s Mr Belhadj became involved in the Libyan movement opposing the dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi. He helped found and ultimately became a leader of a Libyan opposition group, now known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), whose aim it was to overthrow the regime of Colonel Gaddafi. Mr Al-Saadi also joined the LIFG in the 1990’s ultimately becoming a senior member of the group. They had fled Libya in fear of their lives and were living in exile in East Asia when they were picked up by British agents in March, 2004, and rendered to face certain imprisonment and torture in Tripoli.