By Nigel Ash
London 4 March, 2013:
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former leader of Tripoli Military Council, has given the British government a week to admit his claims the UK was involved in his 2004 CIA rendition and the apologise. In return he is prepared to drop a major civil action in London and settle for token damages equivalent to six Libyan dinars.
Belhaj and his wife Fatima, then five months pregnant, were seized in Bangkok by the CIA and flown to Libya, via the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia. Documents discovered after the revolution are alleged to show UK government involvement at high levels. Belhaj spent four years in Abu Selim jail.
In a letter sent last Thursday to UK premier David Cameron, to Tony Blair’s former foreign secretary, Jack Straw and a former top MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, Belhaj offered to abandon his claim against Straw and Allen, as well as the British state, but he said that he wanted a reply within seven days.
His London solicitor, Sapna Malik of human rights law firm Leigh Day & Co, told the LIbya Herald this evening that the offer had come directly from Belhaj himself, and she did not think the short deadline was unreasonable.
“We feel it is realistic. The government can make quick decisions when it wants to. It is not as if the allegations or the details of the case or the issues involved are unknown or a real surprise. So we don’t think the timing is unrealistic This is a relatively cheap, if not easy way for the government to get out of the case.”
Malik went on to say that if the British government demonstrated that it was seriously considering the deal, the deadline could be extended “if we thought that that was genuine and it [the delay] was not totally open-ended.”
In his letter Belhaj wrote: “Today I write to offer a swift resolution. As I have said before, I will forever be grateful to Britain for helping the Libyan people end Qaddafi’s rule. I believe it is essential to Libya’s future that relations between Libya and Britain remain warm.
“For this reason, I am making an open offer to settle our litigation. My wife and I are willing to end our case against the UK Government and Messrs Straw and Allen in exchange for a token compensation of a British pound from each defendant, an apology and an admission of liability for what was done to us.”
Belhaj went on to say that contrary to reports, his action against the British government was not for financial gain, hence his readiness to accept token damages.
It is however certain that if pursued, the action against the British government, Straw and Allen is going to prove highly expensive. At the moment the proceedings are in relatively early stages.
“If the offer is not accepted, the case will carry on” said Malik, “ We have already served a claim and had a defence. The next step would be a court hearing on or about 16 April , where directions will be set for the next step”.
Belhaj also noted in his letter the British government’s moves with a Security and Justice bill, which would introduce secret hearings for cases such as his. If passed, said his lawyer Malik this evening, the legislation was almost certain to effect her client’s case.
UK government sources confirmed that the Belhaj letter had been received. However it was pointed out that since police were looking into allegations by former Libyan detainees of rendition into the hands of the Qaddafi regime, they were unable to make further comment.
In a similar case last December, Sami Al-Saadi dropped his action in return for a £2 million (LD 4 million) payment. The UK government paid the money without admitting any guilt or responsibility and Saadi signed an agreement that ended all further actions. A like offer is thought to have been made to Belhaj, but he refused to sign it, because he wanted admissions of guilt and apologies.