UK apologises 'unreservedly' to Libyan dissident Belhaj in rendition saga

UK apologises 'unreservedly' to Libyan dissident Belhaj in rendition saga
The UK has apologised 'unreservedly' for the kidnap, rendition and torture of former Libyan dissident Abdelhakim Belhaj and his then-pregnant wife, following a six-year legal battle.
3 min read
10 May, 2018
UK Attorney General Jeremy Wright, who issued the apology on Thursday [Getty]
The UK attorney general has issued an official apology to former Libyan dissident Abdelhakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, after admitting that MI6 played a role in a CIA operation to capture and return them to Libya in 2004.

Following their capture, they were reportedly tortured by the CIA, before being rendered to Tripoli where they were subjected to further torture under the regime of former Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Boudchar - who was pregnant during her kidnapping and torture ordeal - was given a £500,000 settlement, announced in parliament on Thursday.

She attended the hearing in person, accompanied by her 14-year-old son Abdelrahim.

Belhaj, now a politician in Libya, did not ask for compensation and therefore was not offered any, Attorney General Jeremy Wright said.

He had originally demanded a public apology and a symbolic £1 settlement, as recognition from the UK government.

Wright read out an apology letter from Prime Minister Theresa May.

"Its is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least the affront to the dignity of Mrs Boudchar who was pregnant at the time," it read.

"The UK government believes your accounts. Neither of you should have been treated in this way."

Belhaj - the leader of an Islamist group openly opposed to the Gaddafi regime - was seized along with his wife in Bangkok in 2004. The pair were shackled and flown back to Libya where Belhaj was tortured and sentenced to death. Boudchar was released shortly before giving birth.

At the time of the kidnap operation, relations between London and Tripoli were warming, marked by Tony Blair and Gaddafi's famous "deal in the desert" bringing the Libyan leader in from the cold in 2007.

Boudchar said after the hearing: "I thank the British government for its apology and for inviting me and my son to the UK to hear it. I accept the government's apology."

Sapna Malik, Belhaj and Boudchar's lawyer, praised the apology, saying: "Today's historic occasion is a tribute to the resilience of our clients in our quest for justice."

"Today's candid apology from the government helps restore the humanity and dignity so brutally denied to my clients during their ordeal and is warmly welcomed."

The public apology comes after six years of legal battles waged by Belhaj and Boudchar.

They originally claimed compensation against Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary - as well as MI6's chief at the time of the kidnap - and the intelligence agency and Foreign Office themselves.

Mrs Boudchar penned an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday, slamming the nomination of Gina Haspel for the director of the CIA, alleging that US intelligence tortured her in Bangkok in 2004.

Haspel was the then-director of a so-called "black site" in Thailand, where Boudchar alleges CIA operatives punched her in the stomach and deprived her of sleep.

As a result, her baby weighed only four pounds when it was born.

It is unclear whether the UK apology will trigger similar action from the US.