UK government attempts to stop torture case being heard

Cori Crider

The UK government has spent over £600,000 on lawyers in an attempt to stop a torture case being heard in court, documents obtained by human rights group Reprieve have revealed – even though the victims bringing the case have offered to settle for an apology and a token payment of one pound.

Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar were kidnapped and tortured in a joint MI6-CIA“rendition” operation in 2004, and have brought a case against the UK government, along with Jack Straw, who as Foreign Secretary was responsible for MI6 at the time, and a former senior director at the intelligence agency, Mark Allen, who took credit for organising their kidnap.

The lawsuit was filed in December 2011 after secret documents emerged in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall showing that Mr Allen claimed the intelligence responsible for the rendition was British.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recently announced that, despite having been handed over 28,000 pages of material by Metropolitan Police investigators, it would not be bringing charges over the rendition due to a “lack of evidence”.

However, the civil claim brought by Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar remains before the UK Supreme Court, which is currently considering whether it should be allowed to proceed.

The CPS decision, and the UK’s wider involvement in the CIA torture programme, is due to be debated by MPs this Wednesday.

Ms Boudchar was heavily pregnant at the time of the rendition, during which she says she was chained to a wall in a secret CIA prison in Bangkok, punched, and then bodily taped to a stretcher for the full 17-hour flight to Libya.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Ms Boudchar described the experience: “I was six months’ pregnant. I was so scared that I was going to die.” Mr Belhaj, as a prominent opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, was subjected to years of imprisonment and torture.

Cori Crider, a lawyer for the family and a director at international human rights organisation Reprieve, said:

“The government has wasted over half a million pounds in taxpayers’ money arguing that torture cases shouldn’t get their day in court, simply to spare the blushes of MI6 and the CIA. Meanwhile my clients Abdul-Hakim and Fatima are prepared to settle for just £3 – one pound per defendant – and an apology.

“The government must use this week’s Parliamentary debate on renditions as a chance to finally come clean over Britain’s involvement in rendition and torture, and apologise to the victims of this shameful practice. Saying sorry to the women and children that were kidnapped and abused by British intelligence is not only the right thing to do – it will allow our country to finally move on from this dark chapter in the ‘war on terror.’”