Panel chaired by former Bush official criticises US-UK rendition of Gaddafi opponents

April 16, 2013

A new report by a panel including former US Army Generals, a retired Director of the FBI and a senior Bush-era Homeland Security official has strongly criticised the joint US-UK “rendition” of anti-Gaddafi dissidents.

The Report of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, which also concludes that “it is indisputable that the US engaged in the practice of torture,” criticises that “the extraordinary rendition program…was extended…to deal with people like the Libyans [including Abdul-Hakim Belhaj], who had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or the September 11 attacks.”

Mr Belhaj was ‘rendered’ back to Gaddafi’s Libya – along with his pregnant wife – in a joint US-UK-Libyan operation in 2004.  Documents found in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi show that MI6’s Mark Allen wrote to the dictator’s spy chief, Moussa Koussa, to point out that while the US may have paid the “air cargo” for the couple’s rendition the “intelligence…was British.”

On his return, both Mr Belhaj – a leading Gaddafi opponent – and his wife Fatima Boudchar were imprisoned, and Mr Belhaj faced years of torture.  They are now bringing a case against the British Government over its part in their ordeal and cooperating with a Metropolitan Police enquiry into their kidnap.  Human rights charity Reprieve is assisting them in both.

Another senior Libyan opponent described in the report, Sami al-Saadi, was kidnapped with his wife and four children in similar circumstances within weeks of this operation. The UK government settled the al-Saadi case; the al-Saadis are still cooperating with the Scotland Yard investigation into these crimes.

The Task Force panel is co-chaired by Asa Hutchinson, who was Under-Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under George W Bush, and James R Jones, Ambassador to Mexico under Bill Clinton.  It includes two retired US generals who had senior roles in military intelligence, David R Irvine and Claudia Kennedy, as well as former FBI Director William S Sessions and George HW Bush’s Ambassador to the UN, Thomas R Pickering.

Their report dismisses prior claims of Bush-era officials that US abuses during the war on terror amounted to something less than torture, emphasising that “arguments that the nation did not engage in torture…are not credible.” It also notes the key role of European countries in the rendition and torture programme, noting that the “CIA created its own…‘black sites’ in…Poland, Romania and Lithuania.”

Reprieve Legal Director, Cori Crider said: “It’s refreshing to see former Bush officials and generals telling it like it is: torture – a crime – was committed and authorised at the top levels of the US government.  Blair and Bush’s ‘Deal in the Desert’, one of the ugliest episodes of the war on terror, saw whole families kidnapped and sent to Gaddafi for torture. Britain is just starting to face up to its role in this sad saga. The US has a long way to go to catch up.”

Sami al-Saadi said: “My wife and four young children suffered terribly when we were ‘rendered’ and delivered to Colonel Gaddafi.  I still don’t understand how the US and UK got into the business of kidnapping children and sending them to the prisons of murderous dictators.  I hope this report ensures that these incidents are fully examined in all responsible countries, and never allowed to happen again.”

Khadidja al-Saadi said: “Being kidnapped and sent to Gaddafi’s prison when I was only 12 was the most terrifying experience of my life. It had a huge effect on my brothers and sister, who were even younger than me.  So far, neither the US nor the UK have apologised for what they did to us.  I hope this report will open people’s eyes to how badly these two countries lost their way.”

Abdul-Hakim Belhaj said: “I thank the Task Force for its work – my wife and I appreciate that these hideous acts do not reflect the American people’s true values.  We take this report as a hopeful sign that US officials will now look into the crimes committed against us, just as the UK are now doing. We intend to pursue justice as far as we can.”

ENDS

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell or Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / 8161 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. The report is available from http://detaineetaskforce.org

3. Further information on the cases of Mr Belhaj or the al-Saadis can be found at: www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/abdelhakimbelhadj and www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/samialsaadi