UK was involved in Libyan torture flights and politicians knew, say British prosecutors
June 9, 2016
UK Government prosecutors investigating the kidnap and ‘rendition’ of two families to Libya by MI6 and the CIA have today announced their conclusions that a senior British intelligence official was involved in the operation and had – to a limited extent – sought political approval for it.
However, despite confirming the complicity of UK officials and politicians in the operation, which saw a pregnant woman and four children aged 12 and under kidnapped and rendered to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has claimed there is “insufficient evidence” to bring charges.
The al Saadi and Belhaj families were kidnapped, forced onto planes and flown to Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya in a joint MI6-CIA operation in March 2004. Sami al Saadi and Abdul-Hakim Belhaj were both prominent Gaddafi opponents who had been living with their families in exile, and suffered years of torture after their forcible return.
Mr Belhaj’s wife, Fatima Boudchar, has told of how, despite being pregnant at the time of the rendition, she was chained to a wall in a secret CIA prison – or ‘black site’ – in Bangok, before being bodily taped to a stretcher for the entire 17-hour flight to Libya. One of Mr al Saadi’s children, Khadija, who was 12 years old at the time, has described how she was so terrified during the kidnap that she passed out.
Evidence of the UK’s central role in the operation emerged after the fall of Col. Gaddafi in 2011, when documents discovered by Human Rights Watch in the office of his spy chief, Moussa Koussa, were found to include correspondence from MI6 in which senior officer Sir Mark Allen took credit for the intelligence behind the operation. In a fax to Mr Koussa, Sir Mark wrote “I congratulate you on the safe arrival of…the air cargo [Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar].”
In a letter sent today to the families’ lawyers at international human rights organization Reprieve, Sue Hemming, Head of the Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division at the CPS, writes that:
“Following careful review, I have concluded that the suspect [believed to be Mark Allen] had:-
(a) been in communication with individuals from the foreign countries responsible for the detention and transfer of the Belhadj and Al Saadi families;
(b) disclosed aspects of what was occurring to others within this country; and
(c) sought political authority for some of his actions albeit not within a formal written process nor in detail which covered all his communications and conduct.”
The UK Government has never denied its role in the operation, but has also refused to either acknowledge it or apologize to the families who were kidnapped. Both Tony Blair, and then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who was responsible for MI6 at the time, have denied knowledge of the operation. Mr Straw told MPs in 2005 that claims of UK involvement in CIA renditions – which saw detainees flown to countries where they would face torture – were ‘conspiracy theories.’ However, it has emerged in the past few days that the head of MI5 at the time, Eliza Manningham-Buller, wrote to Mr Blair to protest MI6’s involvement in CIA rendition and torture.
Cori Crider, a lawyer for the two families at international human rights organization Reprieve, said:
“With today’s official acknowledgement that British officials were involved in this rendition, the fig leaf of official secrecy in this case is in tatters. There is one crucial question: who knew who was on those planes, and for those who knew, what possible reason can there be for them to evade justice? Top British officials helped abduct a pregnant woman and four children, and so far, we have no apology, no explanation, and now no one held responsible. Sir Mark Allen took credit, in writing, for the operation. Jack Straw, we are told, signed it off. The head of MI5 was so incensed about all this she wrote to Tony Blair at the time.
“Strangely, the CPS’s attitude to all this is ‘see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil’. It is hard to escape the conclusion that this decision has a great deal to do with political power and very little to do with the rule of law. While these families have been denied justice at every turn, we are determined to keep fighting for it.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
2. In December 2005, over a year after the renditions took place, then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that:
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop…”
However, the Sunday Times has reported MI6 claims that Mr Straw approved the Libyan renditions.