THE government lost a legal bid yesterday to block a couple from suing former foreign secretary Jack Straw for damages over Britain’s role in their rendition and torture.
Gadaffi opponents Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar were kidnapped in 2004 while travelling from China to Britain in a joint operation between MI6 and the CIA.
Both were handed over to Libyan authorities where they said they were abused and tortured.
Libyan national Mr Belhaj was jailed for six years and interrogated by “foreign” agents, including some from Britain. He said he was savagely beaten, hung from walls and cut off from human contact and daylight. His pregnant wife Ms Boudchar also spent four months in prison.
The government went to the Supreme Court to block their bid but, in a landmark ruling, the court has paved the way for the couple to sue then foreign secretary Mr Straw as well as former MI6 head of counterterrorism Sir Mark Allen.
The British government has never acknowledged its role in the CIA rendition programme — despite evidence being in the public domain — meaning nobody has been held publicly accountable.
Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German said: “The rendition of suspects has long been an open secret in which the British government has been complicit. I would like to see Jack Straw in the dock over this.”
Human rights group Reprieve believes the rendition was part of the so-called “deal in the desert” struck between Tony Blair and Libyan ruler Muammar Gadaffi in 2004, which occurred in the same month as the couple were snatched.
They have accused the government of wanting to cover up their role in rendition and torture. Ms Boudchar and Mr Belhaj have suggested that they would settle for a token £1 from each of those they hold responsible along with an apology and an admission of liability.
Reprieve strategic director Cori Crider welcomed the ruling and said the “stakes couldn’t be higher” following US president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to bring back the controversial practice of waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse.”
She said: “Our intelligence agencies may well be pressured to help America torture again.”
Mr Straw said in a statement: “I was never in any way complicit in the unlawful rendition or detention of anyone by other states.”
Mr Belhaj, an Islamist militant, was part of the Britishbacked Islamic Fighting Group in the 1990s, which tried to assassinate Gadaffi several times.
Since the start of the Natobacked uprising against Gadaffi in 2011, he has led Islamist militias in the country.
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