MI6 accused of lying about illegal rendition

Steve Swann, BBC |

Two men who claim they were illegally sent to Libya with the help of UK intelligence have accused ex-MI6 chief Sir John Scarlett of misleading MPs.

Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami Al Saadi say they were tortured after being handed over to Colonel Gaddafi’s former regime and are suing the UK.

Newly filed High Court papers question Mr Scarlett’s denials to a Commons committee of knowledge about rendition.

Ex-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had previously denied any UK involvement.

But the new legal documents also claim that Mr Straw – though he “emphatically denied involvement in rendition operations” – knew that the “UK had facilitated and arranged the unlawful rendition of the claimants”.

They also criticise Sir John Scarlett over his evidence to the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee.

They say he gave “incorrect and misleading” evidence when he stated that MI6 “has not assisted any… renditions to third countries, ie renditions to countries other than the US or the detainee’s country of origin”. They say neither of the men’s wives is from Libya.

Police probe

In March 2004 Mr Al Saadi was detained in Hong Kong with his wife and four children. His lawyers claim that the CIA sent a fax to the Libyan security services offering to pay for a charter aircraft in exchange for an assurance that the Al Saadi family “will be treated humanely.”

It is claimed that no assurances were given and that after his rendition to Tripoli Mr Al Saadi was beaten with sticks, flogged with whips and rubber hoses and given electric shocks. Mr Al Saadi says that during his detention in Libya he was interviewed by British officials.

Mr Belhaj and his pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar were detained in Malaysia in February 2004 en route to London.

His lawyers claim that MI6 sent a fax to the Libyan intelligence services informing them of their detention. They say they were subsequently flown to Tripoli, blindfolded, hooded and shackled to stretchers.

Once there, Mr Belhaj alleges that he was hung from a cell wall and beaten with batons. For four years, it is claimed, the Libyans’ treatment of Mr Belhaj “alternated between intense periods of interrogation and torture and periods of virtually complete isolation.”

A letter allegedly sent by Sir Mark Allen of MI6 to the head of the Libyan External Security Organisation appears to congratulate the Libyans for the safe arrival of Mr Belhaj saying “The intelligence about (Mr Belhaj) was British.”

Mr Al Saadi and Mr Belhaj are suing Mr Straw, Sir Mark Allen (who was MI6’s Director of Counter-Terrorism), MI6, MI5, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Attorney General for damages for false imprisonment and abuse of public office. The Metropolitan Police are also investigating whether any crimes were committed.

In a BBC radio interview last year Mr Straw said “We were opposed to unlawful rendition. We were opposed to any use of torture or similar methods. Not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it and nor did we turn a blind eye to it.”