UK Government Wants Immunity in Torture Case

Abdel Hakim Belhaj wants to sue British agencies and former foreign secretary Jack Straw. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Lawyer acting for Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was tortured in Libya after MI6-aided abduction, says case has profound implications

Richard Norton-Taylor

The government is determined to prevent ministers and officials from being accountable to the courts for colluding in wrongdoing abroad even if it involves torture, three of the country’s most senior judges were warned on Monday.

In a case with “profound and far-reaching implications for the rule of law”, British officials would enjoy “impunity from its own courts”, the judges were told.

The warnings came from Richard Hermer QC, acting for Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his Moroccan wife, Fatima Bouchar, who were abducted in a joint MI6/CIA operation in 2004 and secretly flown to Tripoli, where Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces tortured him.

Belhaj wants to sue MI6 and other British agencies, and the then Labour foreign secretary, Jack Straw, accusing them of involvement in therendition operation and arguing that they should share responsibility for it. Lawyers for Straw and the government’s security and intelligence agencies claim they should be protected by the so-called “foreign act of state doctrine”.

They say that under this doctrine, British courts should not pass judgment on acts where British officials acted with foreign agents abroad. Government lawyers say any wrongdoing in this case happened outside the UK — in Malaysia and Thailand, where the CIA aircraft transporting the family landed on the way to Tripoli, and in Libya.

Read more