By George Grant.
London, 19 April:
A former British foreign secretary is being sued by Abdul Hakim Belhaj over claims that he personally . . .[restrict]authorised Belhaj’s rendition back to Libya by the CIA in 2004.
The allegations, which were published in the British newspaper The Sunday Times, state that Jack Straw, who was then foreign secretary under Prime Minister Tony Blair, authorised the CIA to transfer Belhaj from Thailand via the UK-controlled Indian Ocean territory territory, Diego Garcia.
Belhaj’s lawyer, Sapna Malik, has also alleged that it was the British who first alerted Libya to Belhaj’s presence in Malaysia, from where he was planning to fly to the UK to claim political asylum.
Belhaj is also suing the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the government department in charge of MI6, the UK’s secret intelligence service, as well as Sir Mark Allen, who was head of MI6 at the time.
Belhaj’s lawyers have said that their primary objective in bringing legal action against Straw is to obtain a public acknowledgement of his and the British government’s role in the event, which led to Belhaj being tortured by Qaddafi’s security forces once back in Libyan custody.
Straw has refused to comment on the allegations, as they are subject to an ongoing investigation by the Metropolitan Police.
Back in 2004, the Blair government was seeking to develop closer relations with Libya in order to bolster cooperation from the Qaddafi regime on a number of issues.
The British were eager for Libya to follow through on its commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme, which Qaddafi announced he would do in December 2003, as well as to develop closer cooperation with Libya on international terrorism.
Prior to fighting in last year’s revolution, Belhaj was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an Islamist militant organisation said to have links with Al-Qaeda.
British intelligence had reason to believe that the LIFG was involved in recruiting young British Muslims to fight against British and other international forces in Iraq, and Belhaj himself was believed to have fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The British believed that the LIFG took part in a secret meeting in Istanbul in 2002 where a decision was made to attack targets in North Africa and Europe. The Moroccan city of Cassablanca was bombed the following year. The LIFG was also allegedly linked to the Madrid bombings on 11 March 2004 in which almost 200 people were killed.
Should Straw’s involvement in Belhaj’s rendition to Libya be proved, it would represent a serious embarrassment both for him and the British government. Both have strenuously denied the UK’s involvement in such practices in the past.
If successful in his claims, Belhaj could win compensation of up to £1 million. Some British news outlets have claimed that Belhaj has already been offered this amount by the UK government in order to avoid MI6 having to appear in open court. Belhaj himself appeared to confirm the offer this week when he announced that he would not accept it.