Tony Blair has refused to apologize to rendition victim Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was tortured in Libya after MI6 intel led to his kidnapping and that of his then pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar, while the ex-Labour PM was in power.
Blair, speaking about the Belhaj case for the first time since the current UK government issued an apology and awarded an out of court settlement to the family, said he was “content to go along with” the apology. Blair but did not express any personal remorse over Belhaj’s rendition.
“This has been subject to a long legal process,” the former PM told BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “I have gone along with what the government has done, which is to issue an apology.
“I didn’t know myself about this case until after I left office, so I’m content to go along with that apology. And that’s all that’s frankly sensible for me to say.”
Rendition – defined as the practice of covertly taking a suspect to be interrogated in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners – was widely used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Belhaj and Boudchar were abducted and taken to a Tripoli prison under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
Belhaj was the emir of the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi guerrilla group. Boudchar was pregnant at the time, and was released shortly before giving birth. The couple fought for compensation after it was revealed that British intelligence played a role in their kidnapping.
A fortnight ago the UK government finally publicly apologized. Attorney General Jeremy Wright revealed that the pair had dropped their claims against former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, Sir Mark Allen for their roles in their rendition.
Wright also revealed that the UK government paid out £500,000 ($676,000) to Boudchar – but Belhaj did not seek compensation and has received no bursary from the Government as a result. Both will also receive a personal letter of apology from Theresa May.
“It is also important that we should act in line with our values and in accordance with the rule of law,” Wright said in his statement. “That means when we get things wrong, it is right and just that we should acknowledge it, compensate those affected, and learn lessons. I believe this is such a case.”
Boudchar, who was at parliament to hear the apology with the son she was pregnant with during her incarceration by Libyan forces, thanked Government for saying sorry. “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,” she said.
“This case has forced me to relive the lowest moments in my life for many years, and at times it has been a real struggle to keep going. But by today’s settlement I look forward to rebuilding my life with dignity and honor, and living free from the weight of these events with my husband and our five beautiful children.”
Belhaj echoed his wife’s sentiments in a statement. “I welcome and accept the prime minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the attorney general my thanks and sincere goodwill. For more than six years I have made clear that I had a single goal in bringing this case: justice. Now, at last, justice has been done,” he said.
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