ISC report reveals it was ‘asleep at the wheel’ over lawyer-snooping allegations

March 12, 2015

Image of Abdul-hakim Belhaj

A report published today by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) reveals that MPs have questioned the security agencies over allegations that “information obtained through GCHQ’s interception activities may have enabled them to ‘rig’ ongoing civil and criminal cases” brought by victims of a joint MI6-CIA ‘rendition’ and torture operation.

The victims concerned are Abdul-hakim Belhadj, a former Gaddafi opponent, and his wife Fatima Boudchar, and the al Saadi family – of whom Sami al Saadi was also an opponent of the former Libyan leader.  All were subjected to kidnap and forcible transfer to Gaddafi’s prisons in 2004, in an operation which was found to have been orchestrated by MI6 and the CIA after the fall of the Libyan regime in 2011.

The section of today’s report concerning the case is titled “allegations in the media,” strongly suggesting that the Committee learned of the issue of surveillance of confidential lawyer-client communications only after reading reports in the press.

The families are being assisted in their legal challenges against the Government over their rendition and subsequent illegal surveillance by legal charity Reprieve.  Tomorrow (Friday March 13), a hearing at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal is seeking to determine whether, if the Government illegally intercepted legally privileged communications between the families and their lawyers, victims and the public have a right to know. The Government has insisted all such illegal conduct must be kept secret.  The hearing will take place in Court 27 of the Rolls Building, London, at 9.30am.

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and one of the families’ lawyers said: “Once again, the ISC has been caught asleep at the wheel.  It took a court case brought by Reprieve on behalf of torture victims – and significant media coverage – for the committee to become aware of a threat to the fundamental British right to a fair trial.  State snooping on confidential lawyer-client communications carries the serious risk that court cases will be skewed in the Government’s favour.  Yet, due to the redactions in this report, we know nothing about what the agencies told the committee when it finally got round to calling them in for a chat.

“An oversight committee which only acts once it reads about something in the papers is hardly worthy of the name.  Fortunately, tomorrow’s hearing at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal may answer a crucial question: can the Agencies engage in wholesale violation of the law like this for years, and never have to tell anyone about it? Victims of MI6-sponsored rendition and torture – and the wider public – have a right to know if they were illegally spied on, so that Reprieve can urgently seek to restore their right to a fair trial.”


Notes to editors

For further information, please contact Reprieve on +44 (0) 207 553 8140.  The ISC’s report can be found here.  The reference to the Belhadj case is at the top of p99.