Supreme Court rules against UK Government in MI6-CIA torture case
January 17, 2017
The UK Supreme Court has today unanimously rejected the government’s attempts to prevent a case brought by victims of a British-American ‘rendition’ operation from being heard.
All seven judges ruled that a claim brought by an anti-Gaddafi dissident and his wife – who was pregnant when the couple were kidnapped, abused and forcibly transferred to a Libyan prison in 2004 – should be heard. Ministers had claimed that, because the operation was carried out jointly by MI6 and the CIA, it would be inappropriate for British courts to rule on activity which involved American officials – even if it involved kidnap, rendition and torture.
Today’s ruling comes just days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as President, who promised on the campaign trail to revive the George W Bush-era torture programme, bringing back waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse.”
The rendition victims, Fatima Boudchar and Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, have offered to drop their claim in return for an apology and a token payment of £1 from each of the defendants – the UK Government and its agencies; Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time; and Sir Mark Allen, a senior MI6 official who took credit for the operation in correspondence sent to Gaddafi’s spy chief Moussa Koussa. Sir Mark’s correspondence came to light in the wake of the fall of Gaddafi in 2011.
The UK Government has never acknowledged its role in the CIA’s rendition programme under President Bush – despite significant evidence of that role already being in the public domain. Unlike the US – where President Obama has admitted that “we tortured some folks,” and the Senate has published parts of a major report into CIA torture – there has been no public accountability in the UK.
In 2012, the British Government settled a similar claim relating to the kidnap and rendition to Libya of a family including four children aged twelve and under, but has consistently refused to apologise. Ministers have instead spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs trying to prevent the Libyan rendition cases ever being heard – despite the victims in today’s case having offered to settle in return for an apology.
Commenting, Cori Crider, a lawyer for the rendition victims from human rights organisation Reprieve, said:
“In 72 hours, a would-be torturer will take the reins of Earth’s most powerful security state. So this case isn’t ‘just’ about history – the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“We enter the Trump era with not a soul held to account for Britain’s past role in rendition. No official has condemned Trump’s torture boasts. Our intelligence agencies may well be pressured to help America torture again.
“The government bought years of delay by wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds on this appeal, when a simple apology would have closed the case. Theresa May should apologise to this family, draw a line in the sand against torture, and restore British honour once and for all.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org
2. The case is listed on the UK Supreme Court website here