Blair’s Comments Underscore Need For Belhaj Public Inquiry
May 22, 2018
On the Today programme this morning, former Prime Minister Tony Blair again denied that he knew about the rendition of Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar to Libya in 2004 – the same month as his infamous ‘deal in the desert’ with Muammar Gaddafi.
He declined to echo Theresa May’s fulsome apology to Mr Belhaj and his wife, saying only that he was “content” to “go along” with the Government’s apology. He insinuated that there was more to the story than he can publicly discuss. “There’s a lot of things in this case, some of which have been out in the media, some of which have not,” he said. “I think that’s all I can say.”
There is ample evidence about the Belhaj rendition in the public record. Files out of Tripoli show that a Libyan dissident and his pregnant wife were abducted by the CIA, with the help of British intelligence; that they were delivered to Gaddafi’s torturers in Tripoli; and that MI6’s second-in-command took credit for the operation, in a fax to Libya’s secret service.
But Mr Blair is correct about one thing: there is much we still don’t know about the extent of British complicity in these abuses.
In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that only a “judge-led inquiry” could “get to the bottom” of the British role in rendition and torture. Two years later, the Detainee Inquiry steered by Sir Peter Gibson was wound up. The Lord Chancellor at the time, Ken Clarke, promised: “The Government fully intends to hold an independent, judge-led inquiry once all police investigations have concluded.”
Following the historic apology to Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar from Theresa May, that moment is upon us. While the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament may wish to examine the case, that is only a starting point: the government has a veto over its key functions such as what material can be made public. Only a statutory, judge-led inquiry can provide the answers the country needs.
In accepting the government’s apology, Mr Belhaj said Britain had set “an example for other nations to follow.” If the UK is to live up to Theresa May’s promise to “provide a moral lead in the world,” it should establish, once and for all, how it failed Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar so badly.
Commenting, Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar’s lawyer Cori Crider said: “Mr Blair’s non-apology to Mr Belhaj and his wife raised more questions than it answered. His hug with Gaddafi happened just two weeks after Belhaj and his wife were delivered to Tripoli, and two days before MI6 helped abduct another entire family for the Libyan dictator.”
“Sir Mark Allen’s infamous fax to Moussa Koussa, in which he called my clients ‘air cargo,’ also shows him personally arranging Blair’s mission to Libya in minute detail – down to asking for the photo op to be held in Gaddafi’s tent because ‘the journalists would love it’. Perhaps Mr Blair would like to publish the ‘five requests’ Gaddafi made to him directly in a letter in October 2003 as they sought to strike a deal. Are we meant to believe the dictator never mentioned the ‘stray dogs’ he hated so much?”
“Both Reprieve and Scotland Yard amassed a mountain of evidence about this case. If the British public want the whole truth and nothing but the truth, let’s have a full public inquiry and be done with it.”
Mr Belhaj said: “I think the people of Britain have the good sense not to get distracted by spin in my case. To me, this just shows how sensible the current Prime Minister and Attorney General were to do the honourable thing and apologise. Mrs May had it right: my wife and I were ‘subjected to appalling treatment’ and Britain should never have been involved. My wife and I have accepted her apology. If the people of Britain want to know more, that is a democratic matter between them and their government.”