x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Libyan leader to sue Britain's former foreign secretary for illegal extradition to Qaddafi regime

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, now a military commander in Tripoli, says Jack Straw was complicit in his detention in Thailand and flown to Libya, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

A key figure in the Libyan uprising is suing Britain's former foreign secretary for sanctioning his illegal delivery into the hands of the Qaddafi regime for torture eight years ago.

Lawyers representing Abdel Hakim Belhadj, now a military commander in Tripoli, confirmed yesterday that they had served a writ on Jack Straw.

Mr Straw was the foreign secretary when the Libyan militia leader was detained by the CIA in Thailand and flown to Libya, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

Files found in an abandoned government building in Tripoli last year suggested British intelligence had played an active role in the detention of Mr Belhadj.

At the time, he was the leader in exile of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which British intelligence considered to have links to Al Qaeda.

Another Libyan dissident, Sami Al Saadi, is also taking action against Mr Straw over his forced, secret extradition for torture - also known as extraordinary rendition - from Hong Kong in 2004.

Mr Al Saadi, who launched a compensation claim against the UK government last year, believes British agents assisted in his seizure.

At the weekend, The Sunday Times reported official documents existed that proved Mr Straw had personally approved the extradition of Mr Belhadj, 45, and his wife Fatima, who were detained at Bangkok airport as they flew to Britain to seek political asylum. They had been living in exile in China.

Mr Straw, who has always denied any part in sending foreign suspects overseas for brutal interrogation, declined to comment yesterday.

The Metropolitan Police is investigating Mr Belhadj's claims of British involvement in an extraordinary rendition.

A spokesman for Leigh Day, a London law firm representing Mr Belhadj and Mr Al Saadi, said papers had been served on Tuesday on Mr Straw, who remains a Labour MP after his party's 2010 election defeat.

The civil action requires Mr Straw to produce documents relating to Mr Belhadj's extraordinary rendition.

It also claims damages for the "torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, batteries and assaults" suffered by the Libyan at the hands of the Qaddafi regime.

Sapna Malik, a partner at Leigh Day, said the action was intended to establish the part Mr Straw played in the extraordinary rendition of the two men.

"If the former foreign secretary does not now own up to his role in this extraordinary affair, he will need to face the prospect of trying to defend his position in court," Ms Malik said.

Mr Belhadj is also suing the UK government, its security services and senior MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen.

Sir Mark's 2004 letter, congratulating Qaddafi's former intelligence chief on the safe arrival of Mr Belhadj in Libya and boasting of Britain's role in the operation, was discovered after last year's uprising.

Now one of the most powerful military figures in the Libyan hierarchy, Mr Belhadj led his militia in a triumphant march through Tripoli last year after Qaddafi fled the city.

His decision to sue Mr Straw has caused discomfort in London even though the current, Conservative-led coalition government played a crucial role in supporting the Libyan rebels.

The government was "looking closely" at the legal action brought against Mr Straw, said a spokeswoman for the prime minister, David Cameron.

"The government's position on torture is well-known," the spokeswoman said. "We stand firmly against it and any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. We do not condone that and we do not ask others to do it on our behalf."

"We take the allegations very seriously. What is important now is to ensure a fair trial and civil proceedings."

Interviewed by the BBC last year, Mr Straw maintained the Labour government had been opposed to unlawful extraordinary rendition.

"We were opposed to any use of torture or similar methods. Not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it and nor did we turn a blind eye to it," he said.

dsapsted@thenational.ae