Torture victims have “well-founded claim” that UK complicit in their abuse, says High Court
December 20, 2013
A High Court judge has today expressed his “concern” over a case brought by an anti-Gaddafi dissident and his wife who were kidnapped and forcibly sent to Libya in a 2004 “extraordinary rendition” operation orchestrated by MI6.
Mr Justice Simon described the case, brought by Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar as “what appears to be a potentially well-founded claim that the UK authorities were directly implicated in the extra-ordinary rendition of the Claimants.” Although he ruled in favour of the British Government’s argument that the case should not be heard for fear of damaging relations with the US, he expressed his “concern” that such a case might not be determined in a UK court, adding that “Parliamentary oversight and criminal investigations are not adequate substitutes for access to, and a decision by, the Court.”
The High Court judge’s comments come a day after retired judge Sir Peter Gibson produced a report which found that “the United Kingdom may have been inappropriately involved in some renditions.”
MI6’s role in Mr Belhaj’s and Ms Boudchar’s abuse emerged after the fall of Gaddafi, when a fax was found in which MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen congratulated Libyan spy chief Moussa Koussa on the “safe arrival” of the “air cargo,” and stressed that the intelligence that enabled the operation “was British.” Ms Boudchar was heavily pregnant at the time of the kidnapping, and was chained to a wall and taped tightly to a stretcher so she was unable to move during her ordeal. Mr Belhaj, as an opponent of Col. Gaddafi, was imprisoned on his return to Libya and suffered years of torture.
Commenting, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, Cori Crider said: “Judge Simon was right to be concerned about his own judgment. As the judge said himself, today’s decision shuts out of Court a man who was rendered to Gaddafi’s torture chambers with his pregnant wife in 2004. The Libya renditions cases are the most ignominious episode of Britain’s role in the ‘war on terror’ to date. The judge is also entirely right that the discredited Intelligence and Security Committee is no substitute for British justice in a court of law. Abdel-Hakim and Fatima will keep fighting for their day in court, and still have high hopes that one day they will get it.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / firstname.lastname@example.org
2. A copy of the judgement is available on request – the key paragraph is as follows:
151. My hesitation arises from a residual concern that (on the basis of the Particulars of Claim) what appears to be a potentially well-founded claim that the UK authorities were directly implicated in the extra-ordinary rendition of the Claimants, will not be determined in any domestic court; and that Parliamentary oversight and criminal investigations are not adequate substitutes for access to, and a decision by, the Court. Although the act of state doctrine is well-established, its potential effect is to preclude the right to a remedy against the potential misuse of executive power and in respect of breaches of fundamental rights, and on a basis which defies precise definition. It is a doctrine with a long shadow but whose structure is uncertain.