United Kingdom (Reprieve) – British prosecutors have today stuck by a decision not to bring charges against the UK Government over its role in the 2004 kidnap and rendition of two Libyan families, including a pregnant woman and children aged 6 to 12.
The torture victims had demanded a review of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision in June 2016 not to bring any prosecutions, despite finding that a senior British intelligence official was involved in the operation and had – to a limited extent – sought political approval for it.
The CPS took two years to consider the original police investigation which produced a 28,000 page file. However, it completed the victim’s review in just seven weeks. The review staff were junior to the team who made the original decision not to charge, putting them in the position of having to challenge their superior’s decisions on a high profile case.
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 Bangkok, 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 Colonel 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, the CPS’ Director of Legal Services upheld the original decision not to bring charges.
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 2016 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, and the Sunday Times has reported claims from intelligence sources that Mr Straw approved the rendition.
Cori Crider, a lawyer for the two families at international human rights organization Reprieve, said:
“This was exactly what we feared would happen when the CPS froze the victims out of the so-called ‘victims’ review.’ This was not a run‐of‐the‐mill exercise. The lead suspect in Operation Lydd was a top MI6 official; the key witnesses included Ministers and heads of our intelligence agencies. It was vital that the review command public confidence. Instead the CPS flogged it through in seven weeks, without making even the feeblest attempt to engage the victims about their concerns. It looks like a complete stitch up.
“The DPP came into post saying that women and child victims got a “raw deal” out of the justice system – and she promised to make it better. The Belhaj and al-Saadi families have seen no sign that those words meant anything.”
This report prepared by Reprieve.